Does it get any better than Kelly’s Heroes? You’ve got Clint Eastwood, Donald Sutherland, Telly Savalas and Don Rickles all in their pomp. There’s comedy. There’s action. There’s drama. There’s even a bank robbery behind enemy lines during World War II! Seriously, it could be one of the greatest movies of all time. Yet many strange things happened behind the scenes of the beloved flick – and fans are only just finding out about them now…
20. The filming location
You’d think Kelly’s Heroes would have been shot somewhere in France, Italy or Poland. After all, it’s a World War II movie set in Europe. But you’d be wrong. The movie was actually predominantly filmed in a nation that no longer exists. Namely, the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
So why was the socialist state in southeastern Europe chosen for the filming of the movie? Well, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, because the nation’s army still possessed a sizable number of Sherman tanks. This was handy – as they were needed for the shoot. Perhaps more importantly, though, there was the motive of money. In Yugoslavia, movie studios could not, by law, take profits from other movie screenings out of the Federal Republic – but that cash could be used as funds for this production.
19. Fact or fiction?
American soldiers go behind enemy lines in Europe to rob a bank during World War II. Sounds a bit far-fetched, right? Well, as a matter of fact, it isn’t. Kelly’s Heroes is actually based – quite loosely, it has to be said – on a true story. The yarn was told in the book Nazi Gold: The Sensational Story of the World’s Greatest Robbery – and the Greatest Criminal Cover-Up.
That book – written by Douglas Botting and Ian Sayer – is about the theft of the Reichsbank’s gold. It’s estimated that it’d added up to an eye-watering $2.5 billion. This gold was moved on trains away from Berlin as the Allies closed in at the end of WWII. But then it was stolen. There followed a cover-up of Watergate-esque proportions as investigators discovered a grim world of corruption, racketeering and gangs.
There’s no denying that the Reichsbank heist was a really big deal. It was a large-scale crime with a monumental cover-up afterward. The investigators were obstructed at every turn – simply because there was an astonishing amount of gold and other valuables at stake. And when we say “astonishing,” we really mean astonishing!
17. Kelly could have been a different guy
Of all the actors in the star-studded ensemble cast of Kelly’s Heroes, one particular name arguably shines a little bit brighter than the others. That name is Clint Eastwood. Now a Hollywood icon, he was already a movie megastar thanks to such classics as A Fistful of Dollars, Where Eagles Dare and The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.
Yet Eastwood’s star turn as Kelly almost didn’t happen. The iconic actor only agreed to make the movie on the condition that his close pal and chief creative partner Don Siegel would be at the helm. But the director, who was at the time wrapping up the film Two Mules for Sister Sara, suddenly found himself dealing with a host of post-production headaches. So Siegel had to bow out, and Brian G. Hutton was chosen as his replacement. Luckily, Eastwood had already signed on the dotted line and couldn’t quit.
16. The movie could have been very different
Although Eastwood was signed up with no real way of dropping out, the actor wasn’t entirely content about the whole project. No, the iconic star of Sergio Leone’s most famous Spaghetti Westerns was not a happy bunny. And there was something in particular about Kelly’s Heroes that really annoyed him.
The gruff Hollywood star hated the way the studio edited the film. Eastwood felt that many of the filmed-but-cut scenes provided more character and philosophical depth and would have ultimately made Kelly’s Heroes a superior movie to the one that was released. He told French film magazine Positif in 1985,: “It was [originally] a very fine anti-militaristic script, one that said some important things about the war, about this propensity that man has to destroy himself.”
15. Mine-d your own business, producer
As those who have seen it will surely know, Kelly’s Heroes was supposed to be an adventure comedy film. Sure, several bits in it documented the horrors of war, but ultimately it was meant to be a family-friendly caper. But then a producer came in and sort of spoiled the fun.
Spoiler alert: about 70 minutes into the movie, three of the greedy U.S. servicemen – Corporal Job, Private Grace and Private Mitchell – are killed in action. Two of them perish by way of German gunfire, while the other is slain by an exploding mine. Sutherland was unhappy, later saying, “Nobody died. At least they didn’t die in the original script, but then some idiot producer […] insisted that there had to be deaths. Brian [G. Hutton] fought it, didn’t want it, but money shouted so Brian ended up giving him a minefield.”
14. Near-death experience
Sutherland did not have much luck on the set of Kelly’s Heroes. During filming in Yugoslavia, poor Don suddenly became gravely ill with spinal meningitis. Things got so bad that his then-wife, Shirley Douglas, was sent a telegram that told her to come to the far-away European state immediately. It also warned that it was likely Sutherland would die before she arrived. Yikes.
The actor later recalled his frightening experience to the Irish Examiner. He revealed, “I got sick in the middle of shooting… I came to Yugoslavia for a day’s filming, and I was out for six weeks. They took me to hospital. I had spinal meningitis. They didn’t have the antibiotics, so I went into a coma, and they tell me that for a few seconds, I died. I saw the blue tunnel, and I started going down it. I saw the white light. [But] I dug my feet in.”
13. Woman troubles
Thankfully, Sutherland made a full recovery from his scary bout of spinal meningitis. But it would not be the only headache, so to speak, that he would have to deal with on set in Yugoslavia. So, what else did the poor Canadian have to put up with?
Well, the actor would be informed, via Eastwood, that his wife had been busted attempting to purchase hand grenades for the militant group the Black Panthers. Douglas – herself an actress and the daughter of prominent Canadian politician Tommy – was caught out by an undercover FBI agent. Apparently, Eastwood burst into laughter when telling Sutherland about her personal check. Some friend you are, Clint!
12. Michelin Guide to… World War II
Right at the start of the film, there is a scene in which Telly Savalas’ Big Joe is trying to figure out where it’s best to stay in Nancy, France. Curiously, Joe is using a Michelin tourist guide book to locate such a place in the city, which lies in the northwest of the country. Peculiar, yes, but factually accurate. Allied troops definitely used these books during WWII.
Believe it or not, when the Normandy invasion was being devised, staff officers raised concerns about how troops would navigate if the withdrawing Nazis reversed or removed the road signs. So the American government secretly reprinted the most recent Michelin guide from 1939. So when storming the beaches on June 6, 1944, Allied forces clutched the handy books. They proved valuable for the rest of the conflict, too.
11. Cut Female role
Kelly’s Heroes is well known for its band of brothers, who turn their attention away from the war to looting a significant amount of gold. Besides Eastwood, Sutherland, Savalas and Rickles, the likes of Carroll O’Connor, Gavin MacLeod, Stuart Margolin and Harry Dean Stanton also star. But did you know there may well have been a sister in there with the brothers?
Well, it’s true. Ingrid Pitt, who had appeared in Where Eagles Dare with Eastwood shortly beforehand, was going to be cast in the movie. But before filming had even started, her role was slashed from the screenplay. Poor Pitt later disclosed how she was “virtually climbing on board the plane bound for Yugoslavia when word came through that [her] part had been cut.” How cruel!
10. Parody tank commander
Fans of Kelly’s Heroes will no doubt remember with fondness the German Tiger tank commander. Expertly portrayed by German boxer-turned-actor Karl-Otto Alberty, he has a memorable confrontation with the band of brothers. Nonetheless, the character appears to be something of a parody. But of whom, exactly?
Well, eagle-eyed viewers and avid movie watchers may have noticed that Alberty’s Tiger tank commander is very similar to a certain character from another movie: the German Lieutenant Christian Diestl in the 1958 film The Young Lions. Yes, the Marlon Brando-portrayed Nazi is uncannily similar in both his Aryan appearance and particular manner of speaking.
9. Call to Hogan
The Young Lions is not the only pop culture reference stuffed into Kelly’s Heroes. Yep, the flick contains more knowing winks and tips of the hat – including one to a popular TV series of the era. So which show was it, and how did the filmmakers squeeze it in?
The TV series in question was the similarly titled Hogan’s Heroes. The World War II-based sitcom, set in a Prisoner of War camp, aired from 1965 until 1971. There were a whopping 168 episodes of the popular show across six seasons. And in Kelly’s Heroes the Rickles-portrayed Crapgame dials up a “Hogan in Intelligence.” This is a sly nod to the show’s titular character, Colonel Robert Hogan, who masterminded a covert intelligence network out of Stalag 13.
8. Clint’s minor hit
Have you seen Kelly’s Heroes? I’m guessing if you’re still reading this article that you have. Well, remember when the movie’s lead actor, Clint Eastwood, belts out a song? Yeah? Not a bad set of pipes, that Mr. Eastwood. Granted, he’s no Ariana Grande or Jeff Buckley in the vocal department, but he can sure hold a tune. But what about that song?
The song Eastwood was singing is called “Burning Bridges,” and it served as the theme tune for the movie. The main version was performed by The Mike Curb Congregation. The interesting thing, though, is that a single was created out of the actor’s effort, which was released by Certron Records. Produced by Allen Reynolds and Dickey Lee, the record also featured a B-side entitled “When I Loved Her,” a Kris Kristofferson number also sung by Clint.
7. Taking a Mulligan
Ah, Sergeant Mulligan. A humorous minor character in Kelly’s Heroes played, no less, by Telly Savalas’ younger brother George. Not the brightest bulb in the box in the movie, it has to be said. It’d actually be fair to call him a bit of a klutz. But what is the hidden gag about him the writers cunningly inserted into the film?
It was fairly well concealed and probably only picked up on by fans of one particular sport: golf. You see, in that popular pastime, there is such a thing as a “mulligan.” It is the chance to ditch and re-play a bad shot. And in Kelly’s Heroes, Sergeant Mulligan is notable for his inaccuracy – and continually slammed for it.
6. Odd how much he loved Oddball
Earlier on we talked about Donald Sutherland’s considerable trials and tribulations during the filming of Kelly’s Heroes. They included his then-wife being arrested by the FBI for trying to buy hand grenades for the Black Panthers. And oh, you know, very nearly succumbing to spinal meningitis. To the extent that he could even see the light at the end of the tunnel.
So you might think that Sutherland utterly hated his time filming Kelly’s Heroes. You’d be wrong. Don loved it. He later remarked, “I thought it was a terrific script. Oddball took over my life. He inhabited me… I was in love with my Sherman tank.” On his beloved character, the Canadian added, “I liked everything… He was exactly who he was, and he carried me with him all the way through the six months of shooting.”
5. Fun and games
Sutherland wasn’t alone in having a blast during the filming of Kelly’s Heroes. No, the actors all seemed to get on well and had a lot of fun together. Don’t know about you, but that’s kind of heartwarming to know – that it was a laugh and no major egos were flying.
Sutherland would later confirm that it was genuine fun to be a part of that group. He revealed to the Military Times in 2020, “We had little campers out in a field near each location. Clint’s had a sign on it, ‘Clint Eastwood: Private.’ Don Rickles’ was right next to Clint’s and it had a sign on it saying, ‘Don Rickles – Mr. Friendly – Everybody welcome.’” He concluded, “That’s what it was like 24/7.” How cool.
4. Landis’ bold prediction
Exceptionally eagle-eyed viewers of Kelly’s Heroes might have just caught sight of a familiar face. Especially if they were watching the movie several years after its 1970 release. Yes, in a scene where some nuns are shown, a soon-to-be-famous man can be seen. That particular male in drag as Sister Rosa Stigmata is the director and actor John Landis.
The uncredited extra was a relative nobody during the time of shooting. But Landis was convinced that he would one day make it as a film director. He was so confident he would even incessantly tell Sutherland so. The Canadian offered to appear in his movies if he ever reached his goal. And, spoiler alert, he did. Awesomely, the Don performed in Landis’ flicks The Kentucky Fried Movie, National Lampoon’s Animal House and even upon a billboard in The Blues Brothers.
3. The price of gold
In Kelly’s Heroes, the titular character and his band of badly behaved brothers eventually pinch gold totaling $12 million. During the second major global conflict, gold was valued at $35 per troy ounce. As of today, the luxurious metal is worth about $1,000 per ounce – which is a little over 28 times as much.
This put the value of the gang’s gold somewhere between $360 to $400 million. Then try adjusting for inflation – assuming that the errant soldiers were able to retain the gold bars until now. The total value in today’s money would be, roughly speaking, between $2 billion and $2.5 billion. Not bad, huh? An even 12-way split between the crooks would give each a cool $200 million.
2. A vastly different movie
Eastwood was disappointed with the fact that numerous scenes were cut from the movie. But what was cut, and just how different would Kelly’s Heroes have been? Well, two particular deleted parts included some nudity, which may be why they were chopped. One sees the platoon encountering a group of Nazi soldiers while girls enjoy a skinny dip in a pool. Another has Oddball and company going across lines to a local village, where women run around semi-nude.
What else was slashed from the motion picture? Well, there was a notable scene where Kelly and Big Joe talk in the barn about their disenchantment with the war. Eastwood’s character also laments how he was, in his opinion, scapegoated for the botched hill attack that saw him demoted. This sequence is likely what the Hollywood icon was referring to in particular when he bemoaned how the film could have been better.
1. Swedish superfans
In the 1990s, some 20-or-so years on from the release of Kelly’s Heroes, Swedish superfans of the film decided to embark on an ambitious project. They were going to build a lifelike model of the small village in which the famous robbery occurs, no less.
The Swedes were clearly sticklers for accuracy. They would travel to Vižinada, in modern-day Croatia, to properly size up and emulate the village as best they could for their 1/72-scale model. Clearly, they also had some money to spend, as they hired a plane and a pilot to take aerial images of the scene of the robbery. But their escapades alerted Croatian authorities, who mistook them for spies and detained them for hours. Where was Google Maps when you needed it?
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is another Clint Eastwood flick that regularly features at the top of greatest-ever movie lists. And for very good reasons! The flick is directed by the legendary Sergio Leone, for one thing. Ennio Morricone’s searing soundtrack then elevates it further – and stars Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef and Eli Wallach are the icing on the cake. And yet many incidents behind the scenes may come as a surprise to even die-hard fans… But enough talking. When you have to shoot, you shoot. Right?
40. The bridge was originally blown up with no cameras rolling
Some scenes are difficult to capture twice — especially when an expensive prop gets demolished in take one. So imagine how annoyed you’d be if your set-piece prop got destroyed without so much as a single camera rolling! This is exactly what happened during the first take of the iconic bridge explosion in this movie. Due to a mix-up, the original bridge was blown up while nobody was even filming it. Happily, the Spanish army helped rebuild the bridge, and Leone got the sequence he was looking for.
39. Language was a problem
The movie’s director was Italian. The main stars were American. The movie was mostly shot in Spain. Many of the extras were Italian and Spanish. The result was a whole host of language barriers that were mighty difficult to overcome. Director Leone could barely speak English, for example. And stars Eastwood and Van Cleef had no Italian. But Eli Wallach was able to converse with his director through French, a common language the two shared.
38. Ennio Morricone didn’t want the trumpet
Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack is one of the most iconic aspects of the entire movie. But, according to IMDb, the composer didn’t initially want to use the trumpet for the film’s signature tune. That was director Leone’s idea. Fortunately, Morricone relented – and the rest, as they say, is movie history.
37. Who was the main star?
Most would identify Clint Eastwood as the main star of the film. The legendary actor is the eponymous Good and has certainly gone on to enjoy the most celebrated career of the guys playing the three titular characters. Yet it’s Wallach’s Ugly — a.k.a. Tuco — who has the most screen time. And it’s Wallach who many would say has the most memorable lines. So, really, it’s anyone’s guess!
36. Wallach narrowly avoided serious injury on a horse
Wallach gave his all in his portrayal of Tuco. While filming the opening scene in which Eastwood shoots Tuco down from a noose, Wallach was very nearly seriously injured. What happened? His horse bolted at the sound of the gunshot and sprinted off for almost a mile. Unfortunately, Wallach was astride the horse with his hands tied. He had to cling on for dear life using only his knees as grip!
35. Eastwood’s poncho was designed to add bulk and may have been a bit smelly
Eastwood’s played similar characters in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and sister films A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More. He is instantly recognizable due to one item of clothing: his iconic poncho. Eastwood first wore the poncho in A Fistful of Dollars when Leone decided he needed to add bulk to his star’s lanky frame. It was never washed throughout the course of the three films, either. In fact, Eastwood admitted in 2020 that he still has the poncho – and that it still hasn’t been washed. Pee-ew!
34. Eastwood and Wallach got close
Stars Eastwood and Wallach became firm friends. Yet the pair got closer than they ever could have imagined when they ended up sleeping in the same bed upon Wallach’s arrival in Madrid. There were no hotel rooms available, so Eastwood invited his fellow actor to join him while staying at a friend’s house. But that meant they had to share the same bed. Anne Jackson, Wallach’s wife, later quipped that her husband was proud of the fact he was the only man to have ever slept with Eastwood.
33. Fans restored the cemetery
The graveyard in the movie is the setting of one of the movie’s most important scenes. The crew originally built Sad Hill Cemetery in Mirandilla Valley in Burgos, Spain, just for the film. Then they left it to fall into decline – but hardcore fans later formed the Asociación Cultural Sad Hill and restored it. Participants could even prepare their very own graves. After all, in this world there are two kinds of people…
32. Those pistol grips were familiar
Blondie’s pistol grips in the movie are pretty memorable. The gun handle features awesome silver rattlesnakes. But if you think you may have seen those grips before, you’re probably right. Eastwood rose to fame playing Rowdy Yates in the T.V. series Rawhide. And Yates secures a pistol with rattlesnake grips from a gunslinger in one particular episode. Eastwood carries the gun for the rest of the series – and in the Dollars movies.
31. The movie’s soundtrack was a huge success
The movie’s soundtrack is iconic, to say the least, and it proved a huge success for Morricone. After entering the Billboard album chart, it remained there for over a year. It went gold — representing more than 500,000 copies sold — in the United States and sold more than three million copies worldwide.
30. Van Cleef wasn’t happy with everything he had to do
In one scene, Van Cleef’s Angel Eyes slaps Rada Rassimov’s Maria. Van Cleef wasn’t impressed. “There are very few principles I have in life. One of them is I don’t kick dogs, and the other one is I don’t slap women in movies,” the actor reportedly said. A stunt double had to be used, with Van Cleef’s face intercut.
29. The movie’s original title changed more than once
Perhaps one of the most enduring parts of the movie is its title. People have heard of it even if they’ve never actually seen the picture. Yet Leone originally had “The Magnificent Rogues” in mind, or even “The Two Magnificent Tramps.” American executives suggested “River of Dollars” and even “The Man With No Name.” Luckily, all of those alternatives were rejected.
28. Only five actors spoke English in the movie, and all were dubbed
Due to the multicultural nature of the cast, only five actors in the entire production actually spoke English. This includes the movie’s three main stars. But it wasn’t a problem. As was the style with Italian movies at the time, the dialog was added in post-production. So all the words you hear were later dubbed in.
27. Eastwood cheated death while filming
Eastwood had a narrow escape during shooting. As Blondie and Tuco take cover behind sandbags during an explosion in one scene, a rock strikes the bag right next to Eastwood’s head. That was a pure accident and would have resulted in serious injury — perhaps even death — if it had hit the actor. Thankfully, it didn’t.
26. Eastwood had very specific demands
Although not an A-list star at the time of filming, Eastwood still had movie-star demands. He wouldn’t commit to the movie unless he received $250,000 and the bonus of a Ferrari. After an initial stand-off, Leone relented and Eastwood finally signed on the dotted line. Only then could filming begin.
25. Eastwood didn’t like cigars
Blondie is often seen puffing on cigars during the movie – yet this was not Eastwood’s idea. In fact, the actor hated smoking and was annoyed by Leone’s insistence on retaking scenes in which a cigar was dangling from his mouth. “You’d better get it this time because I’m going to throw up,” Eastwood reportedly shouted at his director, according to Eli Wallach.
24. Charles Bronson was earmarked for a role
Director Sergio Leone had firmly set his sights on actor Charles Bronson for a role in the film. Bronson was established as a star of the genre through T.V. roles in The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters and Have Gun – Will Travel. He had also appeared in movies such as Guns of Diablo and The Great Escape. However, Bronson was already busy filming another iconic movie — The Dirty Dozen — so couldn’t take up Leone’s offer.
23. The Good wasn’t all that good
Clint Eastwood’s character, Blondie, is the Good of the title. Yet during the course of the film, Blondie kills no fewer than 11 men. Eli Wallach’s the Ugly sees off six, while Lee Van Cleef’s the Bad only kills three. It seems the Good really wasn’t that good after all.
22. There are some historical inaccuracies
Almost inevitably for a period piece, there are a couple of historical faux pas in the movie. Most significantly, the film’s story features the use of dynamite. Yet this hadn’t even been developed at the time of the American Civil War — which serves as the backdrop for the movie. And then there was Van Cleef’s pipe. This has a visible feature that wouldn’t be invented for a few more years.
21. The set is now a theme park
Most of the movie’s town scenes were shot on the very same set. Created by designer Carlo Simi, the set was also used for the El Paso scenes in For a Few Dollars More. These days you can visit it as a Western-style amusement park called Mini Hollywood in Almeria, Spain. It would be a cool place to pretend to be Clint Eastwood, no doubt.
20. Wallach was chased by a dog through the cemetery, unscripted
Toward the end of the movie, Wallach runs through a vast cemetery. Yet the look of fear on the actor’s face may very well have been real, as a dog seemingly came out of nowhere to pursue him. The same dog can actually be viewed briefly at the very beginning of that same scene.
19. Wallach drank acid on set
Poor Eli Wallach ended up with nasty blisters inside his mouth after drinking acid during filming. The acid was on hand to be used to help the bags filled with gold rip open more easily. Yet some bright spark had had the idea to store it in a lemonade bottle. Wallach unwittingly took a slug and got a nasty shock. Fortunately, some milk limited the damage.
18. Where’s the dialog?
Famously, there is no dialog for a significant part of the opening of the movie. But did you know that not one line is uttered in the first 10 and a half minutes of the film? No wonder the flick’s suspense and use of music are so powerful if they can hold our attention for that long.
17. Eastwood wasn’t happy with the script
Eastwood was supposed to be the star of the movie, but that honor may well be held by Wallach. In playing Tuco, Wallach not only gets more screen time than Eastwood’s Blondie, but he’s also hands down the funniest character on screen. Unsurprisingly, Eastwood thought he would get upstaged. And maybe he was.
16. Wallach almost lost his head
Eli Wallach almost bit the dust during the scene in which Tuco cuts his handcuffs off with the wheels of a speeding train. Director Leone insisted the actor perform the stunt himself – but Wallach was very nearly decapitated by an overhanging step-rail. And that’s the very same take that you see in the movie.
15. Wallach was convinced to star after watching two minutes of Leone movies
Wallach was initially reticent before taking on the role of Tuco. The prospect of a Spaghetti Western — a Western directed by an Italian — didn’t really appeal to the actor. But watching a mere two minutes apiece of A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More had him convinced. And it’s a good thing it did because Wallach’s performance really is a star turn.
14. One of the most popular lines was ad-libbed
One of the most oft-quoted lines from the movie was just an off-the-cuff quip from Wallach. “When you have to shoot, shoot. Don’t talk!” So says Tuco after shooting a character who has the drop on him but pauses to brag about his skills with a gun. But it wasn’t scripted, and it had all the cast and crew in stitches. Wallach hadn’t even meant it as a joke.
13. The movie was never really planned
Despite its popularity, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly was never a long-held idea in Leone’s mind. As legend has it, the concept came from the scriptwriter during a meeting with U.S. movie executives. After selling A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More for American distribution, Luciano Vincenzoni pitched the idea of this next movie. It’s safe to say the money men liked what they heard!
12. The Spanish army played a pivotal role
Director Sergio Leone must have been grateful for the presence of the Spanish army by the time filming wrapped. Not only did around 1,500 troops appear as extras in the movie, but they also assisted in creating the sets. That includes building the bridge that is blown up in the film. A captain in the army was even given the honor of pressing the detonator.
11. The cemetery is the focus of another movie
The graveyard featured in the famous face-off toward the end of the movie is known as Sad Hill Cemetery. It was purpose-built for the film but later went to ruin. However, many years later it was lovingly restored by fans of the film. Events surrounding that restoration are covered in the 2017 documentary Sad Hill Unearthed.
10. Eastwood and Wallach’s heights caused problems
Clint Eastwood is a tall man: around 6’ 3” in height. Wallach – who passed away in 2014 – was around 5’ 7” tall. That difference caused director Leone some headaches. At times, the Italian struggled to get both leading actors into the same frame. Yet no one can doubt the screen chemistry between the two actors once Leone did.
9. Eastwood did not play nicely with Leone
It’s fair to say that Eastwood had reached the end of his tether with his director by the end of the shoot. Leone was famously a perfectionist, and this clearly got under Eastwood’s skin. The two never worked together again. Leone did approach the actor to feature in his 1968 hit, Once Upon a Time in the West. Eastwood declined.
8. One song in the movie has proved a hit with other artists
Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack to the movie is iconic. Yet one of the film’s songs — “The Ecstasy of Gold” — has proved more enduring than others. It has been used in films and T.V. shows, and it has been covered or sampled by a multitude of artists. This includes Metallica, The Ramones, Yo-Yo Ma and even Jay Z.
7. Wallach couldn’t use a holster
Eli Wallach’s character famously uses a lanyard instead of a holster to carry his gun in the movie. But that was never originally scripted. Things only turned out that way because Wallach couldn’t holster it without looking at what he was doing, somewhat eroding the authenticity of a supposed gunslinger. The lanyard was a compromise.
6. Leone originally didn’t want Van Cleef for the movie
The three stars of the movie are bona fide legends of the screen. Yet Lee Van Cleef, who plays Angel Eyes, was not director Leone’s first choice for the role. The Italian wanted Charles Bronson instead. One reason Leone wasn’t keen on Van Cleef for the part was because the actor had featured in Leone’s For a Few Dollars More as a good guy. So it was quite the turnaround in characterization for a Van Cleef/Leone role.
5. The American trailer has the characters confused
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is an Italian movie, so much so that the original name of the film is Il Buono, il Brutto, il Cattivo. Translated, that means The Good, the Ugly, the Bad. So when Italian trailers were made for the film, that is the order in which the characters were introduced. When the trailer was simply dubbed into English for America, though, the order of the character introductions was mixed up. So Wallach is the Bad in the trailer – which is, of course, wrong. And that’s bad.
4. The movie is actually a prequel to the two other Eastwood Spaghetti Westerns
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is the third film made as part of Sergio Leone’s Western series, known in America as The Man With No Name or the Dollars trilogy. This film was made and released last — in 1966 — but takes place first chronologically as it is set during the American Civil War. A Fistful of Dollars (1964) and For a Few Dollars More (1965) both take place after that conflict. Yet Leone never actually intended for the three films to be connected. That was a marketing ploy by U.S. distributors United Artists.
3. A sequel was mooted – but ultimately canned
Although The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is an unofficial prequel to A Fistful of Dollars, Leone intended it as a stand-alone movie. But due to the popularity of the film, a sequel was discussed. Steps were made in preparation, too, and Clint Eastwood even suggested he would narrate the movie. According to Eli Wallach, this movie would have seen Tuco chase Blondie’s grandson to secure the first film’s gold. Ultimately, though, director Leone decided he didn’t want his characters used again.
2. The movie made Eastwood a star
As strange as it may seem now, Clint Eastwood was far from a star in the U.S. when he made The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Although known for his role in the T.V. series Rawhide, Eastwood was struggling to break through on the big screen. His role in the movie, along with A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More, catapulted him to fame. Yet those two films hit big abroad before they ever did in the States. In fact, it was only because of their popularity in Europe that the three films were released in America in the same year: 1967. That was the 12-month period that made Eastwood a Hollywood icon.
1. Critics panned the movie
Upon its release, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly received lukewarm reviews. And that’s being kind. “It must be the most expensive, pious and repellent movie in the history of its peculiar genre,” wrote Renata Adler of The New York Times. Yet over time the movie, along with its two sister movies, A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More, have become established classics. It’s funny how the passage of time can change opinions.