Let’s start out by saying that The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (1966)is a wonderful film. But, as is most common in the film industry, it was one hell of a film to make. At times, the actors probably thought that the director Sergio Leone probably had it out for them. Eli Wallach, for one, would go on record years later that he was nearly killed 3 different times while making the movie and Clint Eastwood nearly gets pounded by a 12 lb rock on film during the bridge explosion.
Wallach mentioned this in his autobiography and complained that while Leone was a brilliant director, he was very lax about ensuring the safety of his actors during dangerous scenes. For instance, in one scene, where he was to be hanged after a pistol was fired, the horse underneath him was supposed to bolt. While the rope around Wallach’s neck was severed, the horse was frightened a little too well. It galloped for about a mile with Wallach still mounted and his hands bound behind his back. He reportedly, held on for dear life, with his knees, until they were able to catch and calm the animal down.
The second time he almost died, Wallach was almost poisoned during filming when he accidentally drank from a bottle of acid that a film technician had set next to his soda bottle. This acid was put into an identical soda bottle, so he didn’t notice any difference between the two. The acid was used to burn the bags filled with gold coin to make them rip open easier when struck with a spade. He drank a lot of milk afterwards and filmed the next scene with a mouthful of sores.
The third time Wallach’s life was threatened was during the scene where he and Mario Brega—who are chained together—jump out of a moving train. The jumping part went as planned, but Wallach’s life was endangered when his character attempts to sever the chain binding him to the (now dead) henchman. Tuco places the body on the railroad tracks, waiting for the train to roll over the chain and sever it. Wallach, and presumably the entire film crew, were not aware of the heavy iron steps that jutted one foot out of every box car. If Wallach had stood up from his prone position at the wrong time, one of the jutting steps could have decapitated him.
Now the one that surprised me the most was when I was watching the bridge explosion scene, you can clearly see a head-sized rock impact violently the sandbag right next to Clint Eastwood’s head! The bridge in the film was reconstructed twice by sappers of the Spanish army after being rigged for on-camera explosive demolition. The first time, an Italian camera operator signaled that he was ready to shoot, which was misconstrued by an army captain as the similar sounding Spanish word meaning “start”. And he blew up the bridge with not a single camera rolling.
Luckily, nobody was injured in the erroneous mistiming. The army rebuilt the bridge while other shots were filmed. As the bridge was not a prop but a rather heavy and sturdy structure, powerful explosives were required to destroy it. hence, the very REAL shrapnel blowing away from the blast and hitting around the actors! Leone said that this scene was, in part, inspired by Buster Keaton’s silent film, The General.
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly was directed by Sergio Leone for Arturo Gonzales Producciones.