After finishing his 'Dollar' trilogy, Italian director Sergio Leone initially wanted to step away from the Western genre and start working on his next project, which ultimately would become 'Once Upon a Time in America'. When Paramount offered Leone a chance to work with his long time favorite actor, Henry Fonda (originally invited to play Eastwood's role in A Fistfull of Dollars and later asked to play Lee van Cleef's role in the sequel), Leone simply couldn't refuse.
He started working on a new western with Bernardo Bertolucci and Dario Argento and together they came up with an interesting story about two conflicts happening around the fictional town of Flagstone. For the main part, Harmonica, Leone turned once again to Clint Eastwood, who by that time, wanted to move on and declined. He then turned to the man who he initially asked to play the man with no name
(who actually did have a name - three different names in three different films, but that's another story..), Charles Bronson.
Most of the film was shot in and around what is now known as Mini-Hollywood, an rugged area in the Almeria region of Spain. Here, Flagstone was built from scratch, only a few kilometers away from the western town-set built for the Dollars-trilogy. Both sites still exist and have become real tourist attractions, although most visitors do not realise that these sets were actually built for the Leone spaghetti westerns.
There are two scenes in the film, however, that were NOT filmed in Europe.. The first wasthe buggy ride from Flagstone station to Sweetwater, on the road in the picture below, and the second is the famous recurring flashback scene in which Harmonica is forced to play his brother's funeral music during the latter's hanging. And that site still exists today as well, surprisingly, all the way in Monument Valley..
While doing a road trip from Albuquerque to Las Vegas, back in 2009, I had the pleasure of visiting Monument Valley. It's an amazing National Park, which constantly rings bells. The mittens
that seem to appear like huge mushrooms in a barren field are a constant reminder that you're walking in a real life movie set. They feature in so many Wild West publications and film productions, that the moment you seem them you start having deja-vu's.
The filming location isn't actually inside Monument Valley, but it's a few miles down the road (highway 163) towards Mexican Hat. It's on a somewhat elevated plateau and probably chosen because it offers a great view OF Monument Valley. When you travel northwards from Monument Valley, you will first pass that very famous straight stretch of road that's on the front of so many road maps and travel guides of Utah (and sometimes of the USA in general). Then, after a few hundred meters, you will find two seperate roads leading to the old airport, on the left of the road. Take either of these roads and drive to the most upper side of the landing strip. From there on, a small track leads to a strange looking structure that stands there in the middle of nothing, pretending to be some sort of old gate. The track leads conveniently around it, like a roundabout, leaving the stucture helplessly in the middle..
If you wouldn't know the information behind it, you would pass this site without paying attention, because most of the structure is gone. All that remains are the two base parts of what once was the original arch. It was constructed especially for this scene as a wooden structure, its beams clad with bricks. At some point in time, the whole thing collapsed, so what you see above, is what you will get when you visit this site. The concrete track, which can be seen in the bottom part of the above photo, was made so they could easily move the camera crane on the rugged terrain.
Most of today's visitors to one of the western sets in Mini Hollywood, Spain, are treated to what they probably think is the original arch, since a replica was built. Obviously, what would give it away is the absence of the Monument Valley back ground, but on the other hand, that could have been a matte plate as well..
Anyway, it's a mighty cool site to visit, so if you're ever visiting Monument Valley and you do like your classic westerns (why else would you visit John Ford country?), make sure you'll get there before it totally falls apart.
In 2016, The Good, The Bad & The Ugly
celebrates its 50th anniversary and to celebrate this, you will be offered a chance to join us on a tour of the Spanish filming locations used by Sergio Leone in the five films he made: A Fistful of Dollars
, For A Few Dollars More
, The Good The Bad & The Ugly
, Once Upon a Time in the West
and Duck, you Sucker!
More information about this amazing tour will be announced on January 2nd.