Hunting leone: duck you sucker

I went to Almeria in 1972 and tripped over so many western locations, towns, huts, churches, I lost count. If you were at one location, you could look around and see three more. In 1973, I went to Madrid and found some more great locations, and then in 1974 I returned to Almeria to mop up what I’d missed. Then I just sort of let it slide.
Some years later I was reading a copy of William Connolly’s fan magazine Spaghetti Cinema, and there was an article by a French fan Olivier Tocanne who detailed his location hunting around about the time I was there. I’d been writing articles about Peplum for the same magazine for years, but never thought to mention the location trips I had done. So the Tocanne article stirred my memory and I wrote some location hunting pieces for the magazine. That’s when Don Bruce stepped in. He contacted me and said could he meet me and discuss what I knew about Spaghetti western locations. And I said, of course, so he came from the US to little old England and I drew him some maps. Then he went with his wife Marla to Almeria and did some good hunting. Some of my maps had been a little shaky, so he said he’d pay for me to go with him in 2000, and see what we could find. He had an idea to do a book on Leone locations with pictures he had taken, pictures I’d taken in 1972 -1974 and a diary by me of our adventures. We returned in 2004, visited Madrid and Ireland and wrapped up. Before the book could be finished, Don passed away.
I am proposing to share with you the diary of our trials and tribulations on all five Leone movies. If you want to see the pictures they are on the DVD extras for each film called “Then and Now.”
This is the first couple of pieces for DUCK YOU SUCKER. There are occasional back references to the other Leone movies for which I also have articles. But there’s no point in posting anything else if there is no interest in this first sharing.

GIU LA TESTA - DUCK YOU SUCKER

  1. The Waystation - Gergal Road, Almeria.

(This is the place where to where Rod Steiger takes the coach, strips the occupants and rapes the aristocratic lady.)

I must have driven past the waystation several times in 1972 and 1974 because it sits on the road to Gergal, the C3326, which is your gateway to Guadix. Not having any photographic references back then, I could not possibly have recognised this building amongst all the others of similar construction that littered the route. It must have been some sort of farm, built of stone in that dry-walling style that is ironically such a common occurrence in my native Yorkshire.
To get there, you take the famous left fork in the Almeria - Tabernas road, and travel for approximately 9 kilometres, almost immediately passing the VALDEZ HORSES town on your left, the McBain Ranch and EL CONDOR Fort on your right. Soon after climbing the steep hill to the plateau, you pass the location of the opening sequence in FAFDM at the 4 Km mark, and a further 5 Km on to your left, you see the DYS Waystation.
The waystation actually sits right next to the old C3326, but because of the new roadworks, that short stretch of road has been cut off and bypassed with the superhighway now descending through a deep gorge cut into the mountains to the right, leaving the waystation high above you. However, you can pull off onto this old road, and have a wander around the building which remains very much intact after all these years. It’s something that truck drivers and travellers must do a lot, because the rear of the building is littered with drinks cans, newspapers and human excrement.
The shot of the stagecoach driver being yanked off his seat by the runaway horses, was probably not filmed here, since the stuntman obviously hits a dirt road, evidenced by the clouds of dust puffing up around him. This shot was probably filmed somewhere in the vicinity of the first scene. The old road passing the building was definitely tarmac back in 1972, and although this modernity would have been disguised with a layer of dirt for the film, it was not as rough and rugged as the dirt track that the coach driver is dragged into.

SHOCK HORROR UPDATE, 2001: The Motorway has finally bulldozed its way through this part of Almeria, taking the waystation with it.

  1. Sean appears on his motorcycle - The road to Rodalquilar, Cabo De Gata, Almeria

When Don and Marla first went to Almeria in 1999, they were equipped with some maps and instructions concerning film locations in the Cabo De Gata area of Almeria taken from an article by Oliver Tocanne in William Connolly’s publication SPAGHETTI CINEMA. In his several trips to Almeria in the late seventies, Olivier had mapped out most of the area with great success, identifying amongst others, the locations of Marisol’s Farm from FOD and the ranch from A PISTOL FOR RINGO. When I was there in 1972, I drove through this area and found absolutely nothing. But by the time Oliver was making his trips, he had access to the sort of photographic references which are so essential to pinning down these locations that change their character so much with the passing of time.
Don and Marla found Oliver’s maps rather tricky to follow in places, and hoping to get more up-to-date information, they made the mistake of visiting the Rodalquilar tourist office. I say “mistake”, because they ended up talking to a young girl who claimed to have been a location scout for Steven Spielberg in the shooting of “Young Indiana Jones”, but who wasn’t anywhere near old enough to remember the Spaghetti Western era. And because she knew nothing of the Western locations, she effectively denied their existence.
Don phoned me a lot from Almeria during that first trip, and I sat in England with the Tocanne map in front of me trying to figure out where he’d been and trying to advise him where he should go. But most of all, I advised him to ignore the girl because she was too young to know anything, and please put his trust in Tocanne.
Eventually, the results started coming back, and Don was visiting all these amazing places that Tocanne had discovered, and on top of that, finding even more that Tocanne had missed. Don was taking photographs of everything, and Marla was operating a Hi-8 Video camera, and sometimes when they were driving, Marla had the camera pointed out the front window of the car, so when you watched the Video tapes, you had this strange sensation of travelling with them and seeing the places at the same time they did.
Now a lot of the front windscreen stuff was endless road with distant mountains, or rough dirt track that was going nowhere, so I got the impression it was being recorded to prove that they were following a particular route that I had suggested, but that it wasn’t anything like how I’d described it to them or indeed remembered.
But one particular piece of the video tape covered their journey from the GBU Monastery at Cortijo de los Frailes to the town of Rodalquilar, which as we have already seen is a major landmark for access to Leone locations. And I’m sat watching this tape showing this road curving around the mountains, and suddenly the road straightens up, and ahead it passes between two rocky walls, and my jaw drops and I say to myself “F*** me, that’s Duck You Sucker”, and on the tape soundtrack, like an echo, Don is saying exactly the same thing.

We visited there on our year 2000 trip, and this particular stretch of mountain road hadn’t changed a bit in the thirty years since James Coburn arrived on his motorcycle and ran into Rod Steiger and his stolen stagecoach.

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Please do share more of your location stories - I’ve been to many of the locations areas in Almeria, but never tire of hearing others enthusiasm for the place. :slight_smile:

PS: Made this before and after photo in 2011 … I played with the colour and brightness of my pic to compliment the movie shot … unfortunately now there is a great f**king pylon ruining this location view … just happy that I got to see it in it’s more natural, if not more overgrown condition.

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There was some activity this week

https://www.facebook.com/AWFFOficial/posts/4468432316572055

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I’m no longer on FB, so I can’t see what that activity is … I stopped sharing my location comparisons there, as the photos were being re-posted without any credit for the original work.

One guy from Almeria actually set up his own website using the hundreds of pics I’d shared and not a single acknowledgement.

He wasn’t the only one who snatched the images without permission - at least two other FB SW writers/bloggers regularly lifted this stuff to enhance their own publishing - Manners, gentlemen!? :crazy_face:

no need to be on FB in order to click the link and see the post. There seems to have been an unearthing of remnants from the shooting of the movie, and later also a screening at Mini Hollywood or so

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The link just takes me to a log in page :confused:

Indioblack… Keep sharing … Great stuff Amigo

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This is cool stuff, I love before and after pictures of locations. Usually how it looked before is much better than how it is now, but sometimes they stay the same for the most part.

Please share more, this is neat.

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Impressive, Seb…

Any idea what they will be doing with the ‘Leone artifact’?
I hope it’s not going to some rich, private collector, who will simply store it in a crate somewhere… Cue John Williams…

There are probably a few more hidden treasures to discover in the ‘DYS’ bridge vicinity…

It’s a shame that Indiana didn’t discover it when he was engaged on the ‘Last Crusade’ in 1989… :smiley:

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The saga continues. Just remember, I wrote this stuff in 2004.

  1. Juan and Johnny’s al fresco lunch - Mountain road above “El Paso”, Almeria

I saw DUCK YOU SUCKER soon after my first trip to Almeria in 1972, and I certainly remember paying close attention to the landscape in this sequence. Steiger and Coburn are perched atop a high hill enjoying an al fresco lunch, with the whole of the Tabernas landscape stretched below them. It seemed to me, from what I recognised of the view, that they must be somewhere just above El Paso, and not only would it be great to find this location, it would also give me a fantastic vantage point from which to use my telescope to try and spot other locations.
In 1974, I drove past the entrance to the El Paso Western set from FAFDM, and headed for the hills. The road split soon after, with the left fork being chained off and disappearing into nowhere, whilst the right fork climbed visibly up the nearby hillside. I followed the right fork through several twists and turns, along a dirt road that was in dangerously bad repair, and which got worse the higher I climbed. There were deep ruts and large stones that had to be avoided, whilst being careful not to drive too close to the cliff edge and it’s vertiginous drop. Somewhere near the top, the road passed to the left of a flat grassy plateau and I pulled over to take in the view. As I stepped from the car I realised that I had arrived at the exact place I was looking for, because all around me was littered the debris of the exploded Stagecoach.
Flash forward to 1999, and I’m sitting with Don and Marla in Pizza Express, Leeds, with our maps and photographs littering the table, and a very patient waitress serving our wine. I’m showing Don how to get to the DYS coach with squiggly lines drawn on a notepad (it’s my second bottle), and Don and Marla are nodding at my scrawl as if it really looks like a proper map, and then carefully folding up the pieces and filing them after I’ve finished.
Then they went to Almeria, and followed my instructions, but they didn’t find the coach. What they did find instead, which I never did, was the exploded Bridge, but I’ll get to how that happened later.
Don convinced me that he and Marla had taken the correct route, and every time I asked them if they’d gone all the way up the hill, I kept getting the answer “right to the top”.
“Yeah, but are you sure you went to the top of the hill”, I’d say
“Right to the top”, Don would answer.
My conclusion was that the remains of the coach had been cleared away, and that Don and Marla had actually passed the correct spot but been unable to recognise it properly.
Flash forward to year 2000, and Don’s driving us past the renovated El Paso and on to the fork in the road. The left fork has a shiny new chain compared to the one I saw back in 1974, but the right fork is still quite open, and the road has been resurfaced with gravel. The reason for this is that there is a lot of industrial traffic using the road: Large trucks carrying dirt from quarrying operations; so the biggest danger now is not getting your wheels stuck in a rut, but getting rammed off the road by a giant truck leaping at you from around the next bend.
Fortunately, you can see bits of the road zig-zagging across the mountainside above you, so if you spot a truck hurtling down, trailing a cloud of dust, your best bet is to pull over to the nearest bit of off-road flat land, and wait. And wait. And wait some more. Because, just when you think the truck’s not coming, that’s when it bursts round the corner, looms over you momentarily like an iron Dinosaur and then zooms past and quickly disappears, leaving you choking in its trail of dust.
Unfortunately, the higher you get, the less opportunity there is to find somewhere to pull over, so honking your horn on corners might be enough to trigger the truck driver’s mind into confirming that the loud bang he just heard was someone’s car he’d bulldozed off the cliff.
At one sharp, inward turn of the road, underneath an overhang of tall black rocks, there is actually a little shrine with a Madonna figurine, a message of respect and some fresh flowers to commemorate the life of someone who died in an accident on this very road. To the right of this shrine, up a shallow incline where the old road used to run, is the plateau where the stagecoach was blown up, and miraculously after thirty years, the remains of the coach are still littered around the landscape.
I think the reason that Don didn’t see this in 1999, was that I’d always told him that you couldn’t miss the coach, because it was right next to the road, and the new road now seems to have been built up a good twenty feet higher than the plateau, making it tricky to approach on foot from above. Which is why I now recommend approaching from below, just opposite the shrine.
Don was like a kid in a candy store amongst all that debris, sifting through it trying to figure out how much he could load up and bring back to the US. Unfortunately, thirty years of baking sun had worked their magic and the wooden parts of the coach were incredibly brittle. If you were to pick them up too quickly, or grip them too hard, they would crumble before your eyes. And that’s perhaps just as well, because if they are too brittle to cart away, then maybe they’ll stay there for another thirty years.

  1. Flashback #1: The Car - Howth Castle, Dublin, Ireland.

According to Professor Frayling’s biography of Leone, all the Irish scenes for DUCK YOU SUCKER were filmed in County Wicklow, Ireland. So naturally enough, in 2001, Don and Marla flew over to Ireland and began a massive search of the County named by the Professor, the result of which is that they found absolutely nothing.
The particular place they were looking for was an old castle or stately home which could be glimpsed to the right of screen in the final shot of the car driving into the distance.
What Don had spotted was something that was partially obscured by a row of ornamental bushes, and which looked like a window shaped in the form of a cross set into a tall tower. He felt that this could be used to identify the building and that the County Wicklow tourist office might have a list of stately homes which would fit the bill.
Unfortunately he drew a blank here, because there are over three hundred such sites, and a lot of them are privately owned and innaccessible to the public. Plus, he didn’t know it at the time, but he was in the wrong County.
Flashing forward to March 2002, we find Don preparing for what I refer to as the Duck You Sucker trip. At this stage we have the last two major locations from this film and for the book confirmed: the Bank of Mesa Verde in Spain, and the Pub in Ireland; and the plan was that Don and Marla would fly over for a few days and photograph these locations. But Don is still nagged by the complete lack of information regarding the car sequence, and is clutching desperately at that one clue - the window in the shape of a cross. So he powers up his computer, and logs on to the net.
I didn’t know anything about this, until the next day when I got an e-mail headed “Found the Car Scene”, accompanied by a photograph of Howth Castle that Don had downloaded. Apparently, he’d been on the net for three hours, searching the websites of every historic building in Dublin, and incredibly he’d come up with an exact match that could have almost been taken from the same position that Leone had set his camera.
It was Howth Castle, locally pronounced as Howt, Hoot, Hooth, Huth, and any other combination you can think of. All I remember is that whatever pronunciation I used, it wasn’t the one used by the person with whom I was conversing.
Howth Castle is on a headland to the east of Dublin, and although a private house, its grounds are accessible to the public, as is the Transport Museum. And it was this last little snippet that pushed my brain into overdrive. The way I saw the scenario was this:
Leone visits the transport museum to find a car for the film. He sees the perfect model, but the museum says that he is only allowed to film it being driven in the grounds of the Castle. Now according to New Zealand actor David Warbeck, who played James Coburn’s friend, whilst Leone was sorting out the car, he also found a bus that he fell in love with, and he hired this too. The scene involving the bus and a bunch of giggling schoolgirls waving to James Coburn was never used in the film, but since Howth Transport museum is dedicated to public transport, I fully believed the bus would be there too.
It’s funny how you buld up these ideas, and then watch open-mouthed as they completely crumble in the face of reality. The Transport museum wasn’t opened until 1986 - 15 years after Leone filmed DUCK YOU SUCKER, so although he filmed the car ride here, he certainly didn’t hire the car from here.
However, what I was able to get from Mr Liam Kelly, who was in charge of the cash desk at the Museum, was a list of phone numbers belonging to experts in antique cars and car hire, and this led me to a gentleman who admitted that he’s famously known as “Jimmy Boland from Clondalkin”.
Mr Boland has been in the business of collecting, renovating and the hiring out of antique cars to film companies for over thirty years. He certainly remembered DUCK YOU SUCKER, and immediately reeled off a stream of information regarding the car. It It was a 1906 Bianchi, made in Italy, with an 8 litre chain driven engine that he had acquired in 1968 from Lord Montague of Beaulieu, England. About twelve years ago, he sold it on to another buyer, after which it changed hands several times before returning to Italy and the hands of a private collector. The registration number - W 1032 - shows that the car was initially registered in Sheffield, England, which is about ten miles from where I was born.
It will be remembered that in the film the car was actually driven by David Warbeck, but Mr Boland clearly remembers teaching James Coburn how to drive it. And he also confirms that for the telephoto close-up that opens the sequence, the car is being transported on a trailer.

4A Deleted Scene: The bus - Glendalough, County Wicklow

When Don was researching the Irish end of DUCK YOU SUCKER, the location that was always mentioned was County Wicklow. Even Professor Frayling, in his biography of Leone stated: “for the flashbacks Leone filmed around the vale of Glendalough, and in the country house gardens of County Wicklow.” But as we now know from the previous chapter, the country house garden where the filming took place is in Dublin. So why was everyone so wrong about County Wicklow? Well bizarrely, they weren’t, because Leone actually did film in the vale of Glendalough, but the shots were never cut into the final film.
Little is known of this deleted sequence, other than that it involved a busload of schoolgirls being driven through the countryside during one of James Coburn’s wistful memories of his youth in Ireland. David Warbeck remembered it as being a scene that Leone dreamt up on the spur of the moment. As he describes it, Leone was at a museum looking for the car he was to use, when he suddenly saw this antique bus. He thought it was absolutely marvellous and was determined to get it into the film somehow. “How the hell are we going to do that?”, gasped an incredulous Warbeck. Leone thought for a moment and then suggested: “a country bus full of virginal schoolgirls driving past!”
Well Don, Marla and I were to meet one of those virginal schoolgirls, in march 2002 at Ryan’s bar in Dublin, thanks to an Irish radio programme called Morning Glory, presented by Kay Sheehy.
Don had been drawing a series of blanks regarding the location of the Irish pub in this film. A year earlier, he had visited practically every pub in County Wicklow, and even found one that if you had a really good imagination and a stick of dynamite might be able to make match. His final desperate efforts were to involve mailing the local radio stations in the hope that one of their listeners might know something, and excitingly, the producers of Morning Glory replied. A week later, Don was doing a full interview about this book and in particular his search for the Irish pub, live on air, and the listener response was phenomenal. Not only did the pub get named (several pubs, actually, of which I will tell later), but several people phoned in with their stories about appearing as extras in the film, one of whom was Leonora Carney, at the time a 19 year old student.
Thanks to Morning Glory, we were given her name and phone number, with the enticing suggestion that we might like to phone her as “she has an interesting story to tell”.
Leonora Carney is a vivacious and attractive middle-aged lady who teaches music at Dublin’s Maynooth College, and is an accomplished concert pianist. Back in 1971, she was a student in Dublin, and happened to be walking with a friend past the pub where Sergio Leone was filming the scenes with James Coburn and David Warbeck.
As she tells it, she went over to see what all the commotion was about with the lights and crowds, and out stepped… James Coburn. At the mention of his name, her voice rises with an obvious thrill that is still present after all these years.
Then out came Sergio, and immediately saw Leonora. It was obvious that he took quite a shine to this attractive 19 year-old, and immediately invited her to be in the film, promising to make her a star, and insisting she sat on his knee whilst he directed the rest of the scene.
A few days later, and Sergio’s antique bus is outside Jury’s Hotel in Dublin, picking up a small group of “virginal schoolgirls”, amongst whom are Leonora’s sister and several of her student friends. The bus is to take them down to Glendalough for the filming, but one of Sergio’s aides delays Leonora for a few minutes, and when she steps outside Jury’s, the bus has already left.
Leonora was shocked to think that her days as an extra were suddenly over, but a moment later Sergio’s aide comes to her rescue and says that she can have a lift with Sergio - in the back seat of his limousine…
When Sergio finally got round to the film-making, he spent all day shooting the bus:
"Going up the road, then down the road. Then up the road. Then down the road, " remembers Leonora, “And then down the road once more.”
The girls were made to remove their modern make-up, but once they got on the bus, they all secretly got their eyeliner out and began making themselves up again. After all, they were supposed to wave out of the window as James Coburn (her voice goes breathless again) drove past, and they wanted to look their best.
At the end of the day, Leonora got £10 for her troubles, but was hugely disappointed when the film came out and the bus sequence had been removed. However her taste for the glamour of film-making continued, and she has subsequently made brief appearances as an extra in several other movies shot in Ireland, including Samuel Fuller’s BIG RED ONE where she played a girl “with a stomach so flat you could fry an egg on it”, and Michael Crichton’s THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY, of whose star Sean Connery, she says, was “a real gentleman.”

I asked “Jimmy Boland from Clondalkin” about the bus that Leone used for these deleted scenes, but his memory was less clear about this aspect of the filming. He confirmed that he did own such a bus at the time that Leone hired the1906 Bianchi, but could not remember Leone filming it. However, he did remember that David Lean used it in RYAN’S DAUGHTER.
It was a Crosley bus made in Stockport, England for the Royal Flying Corps, of which six were subsequently purchased and refitted for civilian use by a rural bus company in Ireland in the 1920s. Some years after the filming, Mr Boland sold it on to a Mr Frank Smith, a private collector at Alderley Edge near to Stockport where the bus had originally been built. It now belongs to his widow, MrsVera Smith.

More later

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That’s basically what I thought when I first saw the bridge remnants years ago…

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Thanks for your positive responses. Here’s some more trials and tribulations…

  1. Blowing up the Church Tower - Castillo De La Bateria, Rodalquilar, Almeria

This scene was usually omitted from the UK and US versions of the movie, and I saw it for the first time in a German Satellite transmission, although it was apparently in the US Laserdisc version. It’s a location that Leone has already used before: The Castillo De La Bateria, Rodalquilar - the exterior of Indio’s church in FAFDM.
The main change to the location was the construction of a new bell tower, which naturally enough was the only part of the structure to get blown up when Steiger rested his foot on the plunger.
Full details of how to get there are in the appropriate FAFDM chapter

  1. The Station at Mesa Verde - Main Station, Almeria.

The shot from inside the railway carriage with Steiger in the foreground, as the train arrives at the station of Mesa Verde is filmed at the railway station in Almeria. If you look towards the skyline during the mix, you can clearly see the modern white Almeria Hospital building and the domed water-tower on top of it.
The rest of the scene with Juan and his family crossing the railway lines and arriving outside the station is also all filmed at Almeria station.
However, I cannot confirm that the interior of the station was filmed in the same place. The station has been extensively modernised, with a completely new building alongside the old, perfectly preserved facade. When I tried to wander inside the old part, I was stopped by an armed policeman, but the glimpse I had, suggested that it wasn’t really big enough to have served as the location for the scene.
In the film, when Steiger arrives outside the station, Leone pulls off one of those wonderful “lies in time and space” that is part of the fascination of cinematic language. Ahead of the Station is a magnificent cathedral, and in what appears to be a reverse angle cut, Steiger is looking at it. Just then, a man from the crowd runs forward and stumbles into Steiger as a gunshot rings out, and in the reverse of this shot, as Steiger spins around, he is seen with the Cathedral behind him.
There is no cathedral in front of Almeria station. What Leone did was simply to film the reverse shots somewhere else, and match the continuity of the action. The somewhere else is 200km away in Guadix

  1. Cathedral at Mesa Verde - Cathedral at Guadix, Granada

The main road from Almeria to Guadix is less of a switchback than it was thirty years ago, so your journey will be far less tiring than when I first went there. The old road continued in a straight line past the station of Lacalahorra and OUATIW’s Flagstone, and into the City, where the magnificent Cathedral was almost impossible to miss, situated as it was on a rise above the central traffic roundabout to your left.
Today’s wide and modern highway now approaches from a different direction and instead of going in a straight line to the City Centre, it now loops to the northeast, to your right, and crosses the railway line, before rising up onto the edge of the rocky hillsides from where you get spectacular views of the tree-dotted slopes and the dry sandstone pillars that give the impression of a mini-Grand Canyon. The City is now spread out below you on your left, and suddenly there is a sharp left bend in the road that sweeps past an area of neat troglodyte homes with gaily-painted doors and windows, and takes you over a railway bridge, where immediately on your right you can see the station, and to your left the tall brick buildings of the sugar factory, of which, more later.
The road then continues in a straight line down the hill and towards the City Centre, with the Cathedral dominating the city skyline ahead of you.
It’s a quiet city that has mushroomed with new housing since I was first there in the seventies, but you shouldn’t have too much trouble parking here so that you can walk up and get a good look at the cathedral. And you’ll need to do that so that you can find the execution wall.

  1. The execution wall - Guadix, Granada

To get to the execution wall, you walk past the left side of Guadix cathedral, and then take the second street to your left, which brings you out above the ramps that zig-zag into the Plaza de la Paloma. Opposite you is the Church of Santiago, Compas Del Cardenal Don Gaspar De Avalos.
I remember arriving at the square from this direction back in 1974, and as I descended the ramps the excitement began to mount with the gradual realisation that I had stumbled into this real-life location with it’s strange geometrically painted walls that had figured so memorably in the movie. And unusually for the time, I actually had with me a widescreen ratio photograph from the film that I had torn from a Photoplay magazine that showed the moment that the three rebel prisoners were tumbling to the ground in a hail of gunfire.
A couple of years earlier I’d stopped at the Guardia Civil station on the way into town, in order to ask about ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, and the Officer’s eyes had lit up at the mention of Leone, and he’d gestured at the city with pride and said it was here that Leone had filmed. Of course, he was referring to DUCK YOU SUCKER which I hadn’t seen then, so nothing of what he was saying made sense to me. But I continued on into the city and had a little drive around, and the Cathedral looked great so I photographed it, and then I turned back to visit Flagstone at Lacalahorra.
When I got back to England and saw DYS, or FISTFUL OF DYNAMITE as it had now become, I was stunned to realise that the Mesa Verde Cathedral was the one I’d seen in Guadix, and the words of the Guardia Civil officer suddenly made sense. I was sure now that the execution wall and Bank of Mesa Verde must be there too. So on my 1974 trip, I made a particular point of going to Guadix in order to find these places, and although I found the wall, I did not find the Bank of Mesa Verde.
The street leading from the bottom of the square is called Calle Ancha, and back in year 2000 after we’d photographed the wall, I led Don and Marla down towards the high street, hoping that on the way, we might find a clue to the location of the Bank of Mesa Verde, which I also believed was in Guadix.
We crossed the main road and spotted a group of about ten or fifteen men hanging around outside a coffee bar on the shaded side of the street. Their ages ranged from mid thirties to about sixty or seventy, which would make them just the right people to ask about things that had happened here back in 1972. So brandishing the frame grabs of the Mesa Verde Bank, I wandered over and asked if anyone recognised the place. With that many people taking part in the discussion, and with the photographs having to be passed from hand to hand for detailed inspection, the conversation, exciting as it was with the nodding and shaking of heads, pointing of fingers and floods of difficult-to-follow Spanish words, dragged on for a while, and I guess Don and Marla got bored and wandered off. Don had been suffering from a form of flu that he’d picked up on account of the air-conditioning at the hotel, and he wasn’t too sprightly that day. In fact I always considered it a sign of grim determination that he’d managed to drive us all the way up there from Almeria at all.
When the conversation started, I had been full of hope, but as it continued, the shaking of heads began to outnumber the nodding of heads, and I felt that this somehow signified that I had been wrong about the Bank of Mesa Verde being here in Guadix after all. No-one seemed to recognise the Plaza, and even my helpful pointing to some of the buildings and stating “montaje” - fake, did not seem to make things any clearer. Then one of the men turned the page over and spotted the photograph of the execution wall that was on the other side. Excitedly drawing my attention to it, he pointed up the Calle Ancha which we’d just come down. Yeah, yeah, I said, we’d been there. Oh, he said, and turned back to the photo. Then he looked up and raised his arm, and pointed past my right shoulder, and I turned and standing right next to me was this dapper man in his sixties, with a straw hat and a walking cane. And I’m thinking, oh he should be old enough to remember. And the first man says “He was in the movie”.
At this, the old man smiled enigmatically. So I turned back to the first man and said “Where in the movie?” And he took the photograph, pointed at the three men standing against the execution wall, and said “this one”. His finger was so big, and the group of three men in the photo were so small that I couldn’t make out who he was referring to, so in my notebook I drew three little blocks to represent the three men, and drew a hat on the middle one, because I particularly remembered that he was wearing one. “Which one?” I repeated. And the first man pointed to the middle one with the hat. And all the while, the dapper old man is standing next to me smiling enigmatically.
“What’s his name?”
The first man said something I couldn’t quite catch, so I proferred the notebook towards the old man, and asked if he could write his name. But the first man said, no, because he cannot read or write - he never learned. So I asked him to spell it out, and then I showed him what I had written, and he nodded, and the old man’s name is Luis Bermudez.
I looked at the man, I looked at the photo, and then I looked around and realised that Don and Marla were not there to enjoy this exciting moment. So I knelt down on the floor, and tore off the photograph of the execution wall, and I handed it to Luis Bermudez. “This is for you”, I said. “Wait here.”
Then I turned to look for Don and Marla, and fortunately I spotted them almost straight away, seated in the shade of some trees just over the road, and I yelled for them to get over here NOW!
"This guy here, says this other guy over here is in the movie. He’s one of the men being executed. This one, the middle one. So now Don’s suddenly interested and wants a photo of himself with Luis Bermudez. (Don was never one to miss a photo-opportunity that might raise his profile.)
Anyway, whilst Luis appears to be enjoying this moment of celebrity recognition - although it’s hard to tell with that enigmatic smile of his, somebody taps me on the shoulder and indicates this other guy, who’s about 50, and says he was in the movie too. And this guy holds his hands behind his back to indicate that he’d been one of the prisoners who’d been tied up too.
And at that point, Don’s cynicism kicks in, and he says "we stay around here long enough, we’ll find they’ve all been in the f***ing movie. And you know, I bet they were.
Comparing the photo of Luis Bermudez taken in 2000 at Guadix with close-up frame grabs from the movie, we feel that there is a strong possibility that he could have been the man on the left of the group of three prisoners, the one who turns and spits at the poster.
(Which is what we went with for the location comparisons on the DYS DVD.)

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I don’t blame you if you don’t bother reading this chapter. I’ve given the game away with the heading, so you know where it is and can move on. But I originally wrote this whole sorry saga to give some idea of just how freaking hard it can be to track down locations when faced with so many conflicting stories, and how sometimes dogged determination and a stroke of luck is all that’s needed.

  1. The Bank of Mesa Verde - Medinaceli, Soria.

“The bank itself was a building in Burgos” says Professor Christopher Frayling in his biography of Leone, when describing the whereabouts of the Bank of Mesa Verde. It’s an impressive but maddeningly vague statement, and yet it’s the only clue in print that alludes to the actual location of this elusive and important element in the plot of DUCK YOU SUCKER.
I had always argued that the Bank was in Guadix, like the Cathedral of “Mesa Verde” and the execution wall, and when I visited Guadix in 1974, I strolled for a while around the streets of this steep and hilly city, expecting at any moment to wander away into that unusually flat square, where I could sit in a restaurant, sip cold beer and gaze out at “Thee Bank”.
Having no photographic reference with me, I really couldn’t ask the locals, and so I went away, disappointed at not finding the place, but fairly sure that with more time at my disposal I could have been there.
Flash forward 26 years and I’m arguing this out with Don: “It’s definitely in Guadix - if I’d have spent more time there, I’d have found it!”.
Don’s curious about Frayling’s statement, “What if it is in Burgos? You think he’s wrong?”
“I don’t believe it’s in Burgos, it has to be in Guadix. Maybe he means that the interior of the Bank is a building in Burgos. It seems an awful long way for Leone to go just to shoot one scene.”
“Well, maybe we should check Burgos so that you can prove Frayling is wrong.”
Don always had this strange idea that I enjoyed proving people wrong about things, and in particular, proving that Frayling was wrong about things. Okay, so maybe that’s the way it comes out, but in reality my driving obsession is to find the truth, and in this industry of fantasy and spin, finding the truth is an uphill struggle.
We were staying in Madrid during the first four days of our year 2000 trip, and having located San Miguel from FOD, and the shattered town from GBU on the first day, we had spent the next two days driving up to Covarrubias in Burgos province to cover all of the GBU Civil War scenes. Don felt that we should spend our last day driving up there again and then going the extra 32 kilometres to the City in order to check out Frayling’s theory. If we did that, we’d not have time to get to the FOD river, or the rocky location in GBU where Blondie rescues Tuco from the bounty hunters, two of the many places whose possible locations I had inked onto my map. It was a tough call, but I think even then, Don was not ruling out coming back here another year to sort out what had been missed.
What finally convinced me, however, was the realisation that we were flying down to Almeria the next day, and if we didn’t check Burgos, what would we do if we got to Guadix and it wasn’t there?
That was the persuasive argument that saw us driving 237 kilometres all the way up to the ancient City of Burgos through a dull and drizzling Sunday morning. I had bought a map from a motorway service station on the way there, and began scanning for possible city squares that might stand-in for the Plaza of Mesa Verde, but when we got into the city, it was so built up and busy with traffic that we decided to stop and ask the locals, rather than attempt the tour on our own. Don pulled up outside a small garage, whilst Marla and I went inside to strike up a conversation.
We show the pictures around as usual, and most of the people recognise the movie, which they refer to as AGACHATE MALDITO, but nobody thinks the buildings are in Burgos. An old man tells us that he’s lived in Burgos for 40 years, and he’s sure it wasn’t filmed here. And as far as Marla is concerned, that wraps it up: “He’s lived here forty years, he would know if it was filmed here.”
Amongst the interested crowd is a tanned guy in his forties, who seems desperate to help us, almost like it’s a point of honour not to let us down. He asks us to wait a moment whilst he goes out to his car and presently comes back with a massive guide-book to Spain. Then, after conferring with the old man and another customer, and leafing through the book to study and point at different pictures, they appear to come to some sort of agreement signified by a nodding of heads, and after closing the book solemnly, he comes over to deliver the verdict. The general consensus is that it’s at Lerma.
This is an amazing possibility. Lerma is the town on the Madrid - Burgos highway where you turn off to Covarrubias to get to the locations used for the Civil War sequences in GBU. We can now start to theorise that Leone spotted this town square when he was here shooting GBU, and remembered it when he needed somewhere for the Bank of Mesa Verde. In fact, when we first drove past Lerma and those other villages on the road to Covarrubias, we often joked that the quickest way to prison would be to drive in there, grab the nearest local and say: “You got a bank around here?”
Well we’re all for thanking this guy, whose name is Daniel, and driving straight for Lerma, but he glances at his watch, decides he has enough time, and asks us to follow him.
For a Sunday, the traffic is incredibly busy, and Don has to concentrate real hard in order to follow the twists and turns that Daniel’s car is taking, and at the same time not spectacularly fall foul of some serious traffic violations. We move further into the old part of the city, and Daniel indicates that we park at the side of the road. “Is this safe to park here?” asks Don.
“He seems to think so,” I shrug.
Then we’re walking down these tourist-filled streets in the constant drizzle, and Daniel, who keeps checking his watch, keeps us moving at a fast pace. We stop at a building that turns out to be a tourist information office, which is clearly not supposed to be open, but Daniel rings the bell and hammers on the door, and pretty soon an official turns up. He doesn’t seem too perturbed at being disturbed, and after a short conversation in which Daniel shows him the frame grabs of the Mesa Verde bank and gets yet another confirmation that this is definitely not Burgos, Daniel is leading us down more twisting streets and further into the old part of the city.
We arrive at a second tourist office, which this time is open and is being manned by two young ladies. Daniel shows them our frame grabs, and then they start pulling out some brochures and city guides for him to study. The girls are obviously too young to have been around when Leone shot his movie, but they are certainly giving Daniel the information he requires.
He checks his watch again, and then doubles back, taking us through a side street and then into a bookshop where he begins a conversation with the bookseller. It now becomes clear what he’s doing - he’s trying to get a photograph of something like our frame-grab that will prove exactly where it is. Lerma is his best guess, but it might be one of the other towns in the area, and he wants to be sure.
Unfortunately, he can’t find anything that will help, but thanking the shop-keeper, he leads us back to the car, checks his watch once more, and then asks us if we’d like a coffee.
“Are the cars okay, parked here?” I ask
“No problem” he nods.
So we go into this coffee bar, and order some refreshing drinks, and before we know what’s going on, Daniel’s buying us our coffees. “No, no,don’t let him do that” says Don, “he shouldn’t be doing that - we should be buying him a coffee for all he’s done.”
So I try to explain to him that we are very grateful for his time, and we’d really like to pay for the coffees, and we hope he isn’t going to be offended, and eventually, with great reluctance, he allows us to pay for him.
We sat with him for a while confirming that we were going to go to follow his advice and visit Lerma, and periodically he would check his watch, and then hop to the door to look outside.
“Is he sure it’s okay to park here?” Don asks.
When Daniel sits down again, I ask him if it’s okay to park here, and he smiles and shakes his head. A few moments later we’re dashing out to our cars, and with a last wave we see Daniel disappear into the traffic as he races off to his delayed appointment and we return south towards Lerma.

One of the things we learnt from Daniel and the other people of Burgos that he took us to meet was the Spanish word “montaje”, which they often used when pointing to certain of the buildings in the photograph. I asked him what it meant and he came up with “fake”, which we refined into “film-set”. Apparently, the problem everybody was having with recognising the location, was that not all of the buildings were real. Some of them were architecturally inconsistent with what is normal in Spain, and as a consequence had to be “montaje” - a fake set built for the film. And one other thing of importance came out - Lerma was everybody’s best guess if Mesa Verde was indeed shot up here in the province of Burgos, but they all really thought that the architecture was far more consistent with that found in Southern Spain.
Honestly, I wasn’t feeling smug.

We soon covered the 32 kilometres back down south to the Spaghetti junction around Lerma, and following my instructions, Don took the left turn into the town, and proceeded to drive us through the narrow streets and up to the highest and most central point, where I now fully expected to step back thirty years, or maybe even ninety years into the town square of Mesa Verde. Unfortunately, the streets were very narrow, and hardly opened out at all. There was little room for a town square unless you took a stick of dynamite and blew up a whole stack of houses, and so we stood in the centre of this quaint little town with our frame grabs held at arms length and discussed which houses we would need to demolish.
The problem was that all the houses looked much older than thirty years, and the other problem, about which Don kept reminding me, was that none of the houses were three storeys tall, like in the movie. I usually added “and like in Guadix” when that thought cropped up. But in my heart I really would’ve liked to have nailed Mesa Verde down here. It seemed so appropriate now, based on our mythical scenario of Leone passing through Lerma to Covarrubias for GBU, and storing the town square away in his mind for future use. I decided it was time to ask the locals, who seemed to be in short supply this rainy sunday morning - perhaps they’d seen us with the photographs and heard us discussing dynamite.
We set off back down through the narrow streets on our way out of town, and pulled up next to a likely group of people who were of about the right age to ask. I showed them the photographs, and although they knew of the film, they didn’t recognise the town square. One of them suggested Almeria, of course, on account of the architecture, and the fact that that’s where they shoot all the Westerns. I told them that we had been talking to some people in Burgos, and they were the ones who thought it might have been shot here in Lerma.
“In Lerma?” the old, bespectacled Gentleman asked. I nodded, and everybody began to laugh.
“This isn’t Lerma,” he said. And then turning around, he looked for a gap between the houses behind me and pointed to a town on the next hillside south of us: “That’s Lerma,” he said.
I can’t remember exactly how the conversation went when I got back in the car, but I know I felt pretty stupid explaining that I’d taken the first turn and got us into Villalmanzo when I should’ve taken the second turn and got us into Lerma.
But to spare me further embarassment, lets flip-wipe ahead to find us in the centre of Lerma, with our photographs in one hand, and our metaphorical stick of dynamite in the other.
It’s a much bigger town than Villalmanzo, with wider streets and more open spaces, and there is a rather large square at the highest point, the “Plaza Mayor” filled with parked cars, and overlooked by a grand building, the “Palacio Ducal” at one end, but it’s not Mesa Verde.
While Don looked after the horses again, Marla and I headed into town for the nearest saloon in order to talk with the locals. Fortunately, we immediately bumped into a young Brazilian student who spoke terrific English and who said he was on his way around the World. I though that was pretty impressive, because when I was his age, my only ambition was to find all the Spaghetti Western locations in Spain, and ironically, here I was still looking for one.
He was able to translate Spanish into English for us, and he left his drink behind to take us through town to the main tourist office where everybody had agreed was the best place for us to go and ask.
The man at the tourist office took one look at our photograph, and said “Almeria”.
He was in his mid thirties, and knew of the film, but was probably too young to have remembered if it had been filmed here in Lerma. However, he wasn’t going to give up easily. So he takes his jacket off the rack, scoops up a couple of brochures from the display stand, walks us to the door and locks up the office. Then he marches us through the streets to the “Plaza del Pan”, the old market place (Mercado Viejo), picking up Don on the way.
The square is rather small, and it’s not flat, but he makes a pretty good argument for a couple of the buildings matching ones in the photograph, and he explains how the square used to have a theatre that burned down over thirty years ago, and how it’s all been rebuilt, and maybe it could have been here. And I look around and notice that some of the buildings have three storeys, and I point that out to Don. But he’s not convinced, and in the end, neither am I.
What if it’s in the next town on the way to Covarrubias? What if it’s Covarrubias? We spend the rest of the afternoon doing the Civil War circuit again, but this time checking out the town squares. It’s not Santo Domingo, it’s not Isola, it’s not Hacinas, Barbadillo, Covarrubias. It’s not in Burgos, Professor.

We resume our quest several days later in Almeria, where in contrast to our day in Burgos, the sun was high and hot. I’m fully pumped up with knowing that I’m right and that the Bank of Mesa Verde has to be in Guadix. One important factor in my strong belief rests with the film TEPEPA, or VIVA LA REVOLUCION. This movie starring Tomas Milian and directed by Giulio Petroni has several scenes filmed in Guadix, exactly where Leone filmed. The execution wall features memorably, but there are also scenes in a restaurant which looks remarkably similar to the one that Coburn occupies, and which overlooks the Bank of Mesa Verde. My feeling was that both these locations would surely be very close together for them to be used by both films.
So when we get there, I march Don and Marla up the rise into the City, past the Cathedral, and towards the execution wall, which I feel will be a good starting point to finding the Bank. The principle being that “Leone don’t hike”, and since he’s here shooting the execution, he’s probably just turning the corner to shoot the Bank.
When we passed the cathedral on our way to the execution wall, I stopped and talked to a middle-aged lady who was having her furniture moved around in the cool hallway of her shaded house. I showed her the execution wall pictures in order to save time in re-locating it, and she gestured off to the left exactly where I expected it to be.
I also showed her the pictures of the Mesa Verde Bank and square. She seemed to recognise them pretty quickly and made a wide gesture towards Granada, seeming to suggest that the Plaza was in Guadix, but along the Granada road.
After visiting the execution wall, and our previously described encounter with Luis Bermudez, we took a short drive along that road to Granada, but the city just seemed to disappear into modernity, and none of the locals in this area seemed to recognise the photographs of the Plaza at all.
So we retraced our route back through the City Centre, and it was then that Don spotted the Guardia Civil station. I’d actually been here at this very spot thirty years before, when I came in on the old Almeria - Guadix road, and back then I’d stopped to ask the police about the locations of Leone’s films. Of course at the time, the filming was completely fresh in everyone’s mind, and when I mentioned Leone, the Police officer’s eyes lit up and he threw his arms around in a wide circle, gesturing to the whole of Guadix saying “Here is where Leone filmed, here!” And the pride in his voice was clear.
When Marla and I spoke to the police this time, there was a lot of puzzled looks and shaking of heads. They vaguely remembered “AGACHATE MALDITO”, but they said that the town had changed over the thirty years with a lot of rebuilding, and maybe that was why nobody recognised the Mesa Verde Plaza.
So we went back to the Cathedral, and I had all the photographs out and was making plans to search the City for Plazas, when this guy in his forties on a motorbike rides up to us and asks us if we need any help. Now this guy didn’t have goggles on, or a long white coat like James Coburn wore, so we didn’t actually see the green banner above his head proclaiming “Banco Nacional De Mesa Verde”, but it was our best hope.
So we showed him the picture of the Mesa Verde Plaza, and I made a point of suggesting that this or that building might be “montaje”, and he nodded sagely for a moment and then indicated that we follow him.
It must have been fun for Don racing through those narrow twisting streets trying to keep that buzzing motorbike in sight, and not throwing up on account of the flu, but I didn’t notice, because I had this image of the Bank of Mesa Verde in my mind, and at the next moment I fully expected us to turn a corner and it would be there.
The motorcyclist took us to a plaza at the top of town, where the street floor was covered with market produce and pottery, coloured cloth and beads, surrounded by bright white buildings and dominated by a white church. It looked like something straight out of a Spaghetti Western, but it wasn’t Mesa Verde. At the far end of the plaza, was a little tourist information office, and our motorcyclist fetched the official out and we showed him our photographs, but they elicited no recognition at all. He then took us to another Plaza lower down than the execution wall, and this was a fine-colonnaded square with high buildings, complete with another tourist office. The official here told us that this plaza had been built on the ruins of an old plaza, but he was too young to know if it used to look like Mesa Verde.
Finally, our motorcyclist took us to a wide area created by a meeting of streets just above the plaza of the execution wall, and I stood there in the middle, looking around and imagining the new buildings not there and maybe the Bank over this side, and the restaurant over there. But I guess I was fooling myself, because I just didn’t feel I was here. Whenever you get near one of these locations, you can feel it. There’s something exciting about being near, the moment before you arrive, and I wasn’t getting that at all. I couldn’t help but realise that the Bank of Mesa Verde was just not here. I felt that somehow it had been overtaken by progress, and that wherever it was, it had been lost by time.

When I got back to England, Don sent me a photo that he’d taken of me standing in the middle of the road at Rodalquilar where Coburn had stood with his motorcycle, and above me he’d painted a green ribbon with the words “Where the f*** is the Bank of Mesa Verde.”

Hopefully, the story doesn’t end here…

I wrote those despairing words of faint hope back in year 2000, because, barring a miracle, I truly believed that the Bank of Mesa Verde was lost to time. However a series of fortunate circumstances led to some rather interesting clues that eventually convinced us that we should all make one last trip back to Spain in 2002 for the sole purpose of jointly discovering this final piece in the puzzle.
It seemed to have begun with Jose Enrique Martinez Moya, the author of “Almeria, un Mundo de Pelicula”. Being a native of Almeria, he was an expert on a great many of the filming locations in the province, but had little knowledge or interest in those other locations that were to be found in the rest of Spain.
In the winter of year 2000, Jose was involved in the organisation of a Leone Festival held in Almeria, which was attended by Carla Leone and a number of actors, artists and technicians who had worked on the clutch of Westerns that had been made by her late husband. Here, Jose met Production Designer Carlo Leva, and it was Leva who mentioned the Bank of Mesa Verde being located in a small town somewhere North of Madrid called Medina Coeli.
A year later, Don was in Almeria with prolific Spanish actor Aldo Sanbrell, touring the known Western locations to photograph him in situ and to encourage him to reminisce about the scenes in which he was involved. Jose was to end up joining with Don, Marla and Aldo for some of the trip, and when the Bank of Mesa Verde came up in conversation, Jose told Don that he’d heard it was at some old town near Madrid called Medina Coeli.
Now ordinarily, with a piece of information like this, Don would immediately book the very next flight to Madrid and then drive straight out to the place that had been mentioned. But the problem here was that nowhere in Spain is there a town called Medina Coeli.
So another year passes, and we’re still working on the book, and for some scenes we realise that we’re having to admit that we still don’t know where the location is. And one of these scenes is the Bank of Mesa Verde, which for me has become something of a bete noir. Then one day, as Don is checking out the forum on the Sergio Leone Web page, he sees a posting from Luca Morsella. Immediately, the wheels in Don’s head go into overdrive. Luca Morsella? Could he be the son of Fulvio Morsella, the man who was Leone’s business advisor, his producer, and the brother-in-law of his wife Carla?
Yes, indeed he was. So Don immediately got in touch with him and asked him point blank: “Where is the Bank of Mesa Verde?” And Luca said: “Medina Coeli”.
Don couldn’t sleep that night. He now felt sure that Medina Coeli had to be the place, but it didn’t exist on any map. Nor could he find it on the net. It had to be a mistake of memory, or spelling - the town wasn’t Medina Coeli, but it had to be something like it, and it had to be north of Madrid.
So he e-mailed me in desperation to see if I could find anything on my maps of Spain that might fit the bill. And the nearest thing I could come up with was Medinaceli, a small town approximately 143 kilometres northeast of Madrid, in the province of Soria. And when I told that to Don, he said that’s what he’d come up with too, and he was booking his flight as soon as the office opened.
At the same time that Don’s natural instinct to get out there and personally check this information was kicking in, my natural instinct to be sceptical was kicking in too:
In the preface to his biography of Leone, Professor Frayling describes how he met Luca Morsella in 1981, how Luca provided the entree for Frayling into Leone’s circle in Rome, and how he had “been a mine of useful information ever since, as well as a friend.”
So my argument went: If Luca Morsella is such a mine of information for Frayling, then how come Frayling’s book says of Mesa Verde “the bank itself was a building in Burgos”, rather than the “bank itself was in Medina Coeli, a small town north of Madrid”?
Like, they never discussed it?

In the intervening weeks before his flight, Don found several web sites for Medinaceli, some which referred to other towns which had a “Palacio De Medinaceli”, and others which featured an apparently famous Roman Arch at Medinaceli itself. But there was nothing yet on any of these sites that would convince me that it was worth flying out there. And as I sat at the computer desperately scanning the net for some confirmation that we were either right or wrong, I continued to be plagued with the fear that our hopeful extrapolation from Medina Coeli to Medinaceli was going to end up proving an expensive and wasted journey for Don and Marla.
Then I came upon this:
http://usuarios.lycos.es/colaso/
I’d begun to use the Yahoo search engine on Spanish sites only, and the first page I encountered was this one by “Charlie Brown and Friends”: Students, apparently, judging by their group photograph. It was headed “Medinaceli, Ciudad Del Cielo” - Medinaceli, City of the Sky, and over several pages was told the history of the town, accompanied by many photographs, of which two concentrated on the large square.
It looked nothing like Mesa Verde.
The houses along the facing edge of the square were supported by a shaded colonnade that stretched all along it’s length. Above them rose the cathedral bell-tower, and to the left was a Palace with two three-storey towers at each end. There was no restaurant, no bank. The palace towers were wrong, the cathedral shouldn’t be there, the colonnade ruined everything. The only thing that was of any use was that there was indeed a set of four rounded arches in the building at the centre of the colonnade, and that might have fooled you into thinking that this was the place.
So, with a real sense of disappointment, I got out my new Special Edition DVD of GIU LA TESTA, and skipped to the appropriate sequence in order to get some frame grabs that would prove how Medinaceli could not possibly be Mesa Verde. And then the scales fell from my eyes.
The four rounded arches which were on the ground floor of the central building, and mirrored on the balcony above were, at first glance, the only similarity between the photograph of Medinaceli and the plaza of Mesa Verde. But what really clinched the comparison was a crest in the centre of the middle arches. So, if you imagined the restaurant - which everyone to whom we’d shown the original frame grabs insisted was a fake, because it was not of Spanish design - were to be superimposed to the left of the arches and further forwards into the square, you had something that could be possible.
Then I looked up at the roof of the restaurant, which had a low horizontal wall running along the top edge. You could see through this wall to the sky beyond, because it was an ornate design with circular perforations. But at the far left, there appeared to be something behind it blocking the light. And that something was exactly where the cathedral tower could be seen rising behind the houses in the Medinaceli photograph.
Now I turned my attention to the houses on the right of the four rounded arches: Again at first glance this was all wrong. The long balcony matched, but the roof was wrong, and the colonnade in the Medinaceli photograph had become a solid wall in the Mesa Verde images. Could these have been covered with a fake wall?
Then I saw the oblong crest above the balcony, and there was no doubt whatsoever that this was in the exact same place in both the town photograph and the film.
At this stage I thought that I had some pretty impressive matching clues, but I really wanted to see if the Ducal Palace to the left of the photograph of Medinaceli could be seen in any of the film’s images. Stepping through the DVD, I found the perfect shot.
It comes just as Rod Steiger’s character leans against the restaurant window and sees the James Coburn character seated at a table in the restaurant. There’s a point of view shot for Steiger peering through the window that reflects the left side of the square, and sure enough, there was the Ducal Palace.
I quickly scanned all the pictures, circled the matching clues and posted them to Don.
About an hour later, he e-mailed back with some more photographs of Medinaceli that he’d taken from a different internet site, but headed his e-mail with the words: “You’re right. We’ve just got back - how’d you like to see our photos from the trip?”
Yeah right. Nice wind-up

Three weeks later we met up in Madrid, and on Monday 25th march 2002, we were driving Northeast out of the city along the N11 through Alcala De Henares, Guadalajara and several smaller towns towards Medinaceli.
We were fooled at first, because just after you follow the signs off the motorway, you pass through a little town at the bottom of a valley surrounded by steep hills, which is signposted “Medinaceli”. This place is not promising at all, being a combination of old buildings and modern Industrial units, and what’s more, there is no town square, and no cathedral. However, if you continue on the road past the town, and wind up the steep hillside, you can see above you on the very crest of the hill, an old town of stone buildings, and a beautiful Roman Archway. You can also see the cathedral. And even from half-way up the hill, we all knew we had arrived.
Driving past the arch, we entered the eerily quiet town and having parked the car, walked the short distance towards the Cathedral and the town square.
The light was blindingly bright, reflecting harshly from the whiteness of the paved square, and the bleached stone of the Ducal palace, whilst black shadows engulfed the colonnade of buildings that we had come to find. Above us was a canopy of dense blue sky, devoid of cloud. The air was fresh, with a bracing coolness that disguised the intensity of the sun’s burning light.
Medinaceli became Mesa Verde through the magic of cinema. The colonnade had been disguised by flat panels, whilst the restaurant had been constructed in the square as a full three-dimensional building, which had subsequently been dismantled after filming. The Bank itself was a flat, propped up by scaffolding in front of another row of houses. The town hall, with it’s zig-zag lines of red bricks had been merely painted over, and was now back to it’s plain white stone, serving as an infants school. The famous building with it’s vertically paired sets of four arches is the Alhondiga, a business office for merchants, and the oldest part of town, dating from the fifteenth century.
One of the residents who lives in a house overlooking the square proudly invited us inside to see his home and share a drink whilst he told us something of this beautiful town. This was Alfonso Larraz Isturiz, a lawyer who works in Madrid during the week, but like most of the residents retires to his home here in Medinaceli for the weekend.
He explained to us that that Palacio Ducal had been renovated about three years previously, and this explained the appearance of the two three-storey towers at either end of the building, which were not evident in the scenes filmed by Leone. We told him that we had almost missed finding this place because of the smaller town in the valley bottom that was confusingly signposted Medinaceli, and he agreed that this fooled a lot of people. “Everybody hears about how wonderful Medinaceli is”, he said, “and when they pass the town below, they wonder what all the fuss is about, and drive on past”.
I get the feeling that the proud residents of this beautiful and quiet place of solitude, this “Ciudad Del Cielo” - City in the Sky - would like to keep it that way.

(I trust that Don will now adjust the photograph of me taken on the road to Rodalquilar, so that the words on the green ribbon now simply read “Medinaceli, Ciudad Del Cielo”.)

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I visited Medinaceli again in 2016. My lady friend was interested in witches, and this being the city of the sky, it had many stories of witches flying around on their broomsticks and scaring people, so it seemed appropriate that I whisk her off there on her broomstick.
I’ve marked the set of arches that clinched the deal in identifying this place. There are actually four arches, but in the movie, one was hidden by the restaurant.
The city has changed a lot over the years. The gift shop with all the witch paraphernalia has gone. Nearly every restaurant was closed with a sign telling you to phone a number if you wanted to make a reservation. But it’s still worth a visit.

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Brilliant stuff.
Thanks for sharing all this Amigo

Great to read - I have visited some of these locations and plan to see a few more🤠

The saga continues…

  1. The Federale armoured column - mines above Cortijo De Los Frailes, Almeria

When Don passed back through England on his return from the year 2000 trip, he visited the British Film Institute in London and got access to a whole box of photographs taken on the set of Leone’s films. You can’t just buy these photographs, you have to select the ones you want, and then they arrange to have them re-printed from the original negatives. The photographs Don selected were duly shipped on to him in the US, and one particular shot from DYS was so intriguing that he mailed it to me over the net. It showed Rod Steiger with binoculars on a platform overlooking what appeared to be a mining area, and below him in the distance was a column of armoured trucks. This shot, which suggests a whole new sequence, isn’t in the film, but a single close-up of the trucks passing through this particular area still remains. Without the photograph, it would have been almost impossible to discover this location, but by careful study it became obvious that this was in the area of Cortijo de los Frailes, and after much discussion and studying of the maps of the area, we agreed that it must be at the abandoned mines, along the chained road to the north of the Cortijo.
Don and Marla were able to confirm all of this when they returned to a cold and wet Almeria for the Christmas Holidays of Year 2000. The road is still passable, and if you are courageous enough to ignore the many “pericoloso” signs designed to frighten you away, the view from the mountainside is spectacular.

  1. Revolutionary Camp - Manziana, Italy

Luca Morsella told Don that this sequence was filmed in a forest North of Rome that has been used numerous times over the years by Italian Film Producers. I can certainly confirm the similarity in look that it has with forest scenes from some of the Peplum features that were filmed in the sixties, but the only possible clue to the exact location that I have comes from the “Fofi Papers”, a collection of anecdotes about the Italian Film Industry told by the people who actually worked in it.
Here, in this extract taken from translations in issue 72 of “Spaghetti Cinema”, Duccio Tessari describes some of the favourite locations:
“…we shot at Cinecitta and in nearby Manziana. The base was Manziana because there were the woods. Then Montecelato, for there was a waterfall that was used by all our directors, from Campogalliani to Visconti, from Lizzani to Cottafavi, all the directors from Italian cinema, for any type of film, they went to Montecelato. Then Torre San Lorenzo, and again Fogliano. Fogliano was one of those classic locations which served well for everything.”

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  1. The Bridge - Mountain road above “El Paso”, Almeria

Back in 1974, when I found the remains of the exploded coach, I had approached from the El Paso set, and driven up a long, winding, pock-marked dirt track that clung precariously to the steep and crumbling hillsides of the Sierra Alhamilla. At a particularly bad set of ruts in the road, I had stopped and studied my map, and then turned back to admire the view - and to some extent gauge how safe I was with my car inches from the edge of a deep ravine. Looking back towards El Paso, I could see how the ravine was pinched to a narrow gap by the shape of the plateau, and speculated that this may well have been the exact spot where the bridge sequence had been filmed. Without photographic comparisons from the film I had nothing to confirm this; nor indeed were there any remains of the structure in evidence, but for almost thirty years I had always believed that I had found the place.
When I first met Don & Marla in year 2000, I drew them a map of how to get to the site of the exploded Coach, and explained that if you stopped and looked back down the ravine, you could see where Sergio filmed the bridge sequence. Then Don & Marla flew off to Almeria, and one night Don phones me excitedly to say that he’d found the bridge.
“Oh good”, I said - thinking “so what.” I’d seen where the bridge had been in 1974, so Don goes to the same place, and naturally finds the bridge. Nothing newsworthy there.
And then he says: “You can still see the remains.”
“Wha??? Remains?”
"Not only that, " he goes on, “but there are these little stone huts where the cameras had been placed to protect them from the explosion. If you put the camera looking through the narrow slit in each hut, you get the exact framing for each shot as seen in the film.”
I’m completely speechless at this point. How come he’s seen the bridge, and I didn’t?
So I listen to Don describing the location for a few more minutes, whilst I try and gather my thoughts together and send them back in time to1974. Then I take him through the route that I took to the exploded coach:
“Okay, so you go past El Paso on your right, with the cemetery on your left…”
“What cemetery?”
“Well, it’s called Boot Hill, and there’s all these little wooden crosses and headstones stuck in the ground.”
“We didn’t see any cemetery.”
“Okay, but you have El Paso on your right, and you’re heading for the hills?”
“Correct”
“And you follow the winding road all the way up the hill.”
“All the way.”
“And you didn’t see the exploded carriage on a little plateau on your right?”
“No. But you get to where the road has a chain across it…”
"They’ve chained the road?
“Yes”
“Shit.”
“I tell you, I’m taking bolt-cutters next time, because it’s quite a walk.”
“Yeah, I can imagine.”
“Anyhow, about half a mile or so later, you come round the curve of this hill, and there’s the bridge ahead of you.”
“On your right?”
“No, on your left.”
I think we must have had this same conversation with slight variations on and off for over a year by phone and e-mail, often accompanied by maps and sketches, and photographs of the region with big black arrows all over them. But it was only when we actually got there and started to drive up the road that all became apparent: The road forks.
I’d taken the right fork and found the exploded coach, and Don had taken the left fork where the padlocked chain had been installed, and about three hundred yards up the mountain, he’d found the bridge. (He’d also kept going and found the mountain road where Indio’s gang ride past, and which Marla christened “Don’s Hill”, but you should have already read about that in the appropriate section.)

We were subsequently to discover that the bridge had been located some years previously by Almerian authors Lola Caparras Masegosa, Ignacio Fernandez Manas and Juan Soler Vizcaino in their book "La Produccion Cinematografica en Almeria, but they had erroneously attributed it to Sergio Corbucci’s film “C’ENTRIAMO NOI CON LA RIVOLUZIONE”.

(Incidentally, the stone huts for the camera positions were very small cylinders with domed roofs, about 4 foot high, sunk in a little, and with the back open so the camera would fit in. There’s a photograph of one in the “Location Comparisons” on the DVD.)

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14.Villega’s betrayal: Firing Squad in the rain - Medinaceli, Soria

For some reason I had always thought that the rain-drenched Firing Squad sequence had been shot at the Cortijo De Los Frailes. Leone seemed to return there so very often to pick up backgrounds for his other films, perhaps because when seen from different angles it could stand in for almost anything, and always looked different from film to film. At the rear was a large courtyard with high walls, any one of which could be the execution wall with it’s striking white vertical lines painted there to show the unfortunate prisoners where to stand in order to aid each marksman’s aim.
So it was quite a surprise for me when we found ourselves in the El Granero bar at Medinaceli, listening to the barman recount memories of the night that Sergio Leone had lined up all these water-trucks in a nearby square adjacent to the cathedral, with their cannons shooting streams of water into the air to simulate rain, whilst a bunch of extras dressed as soldiers aimed their rifles at another bunch of extras dressed as prisoners.
“But that’s in Almeria”, was my instant and stunned response.
“No,” the barman shook his head, “here.”
“What’s that?” said Don, who was desperately trying to follow the conversation that I was attempting to carry out in Spanish with our host. I think that Don had easily understood the concept of the shooting rifles which the barman had mimed quite expertly, and the idea of “canone” and “agua” with the barman’s hands tracing jets of water shooting to the skies and then arcing down into the square, and I think at this stage he was just beginning to realise that something of significance was being revealed.
Well, he was way ahead of me.
So I said to Don: “He says they shot the execution in the rain here, but that’s Cortijo De Los Frailes, isn’t it?”
“No, no, we just thought it might be there.”
“I thought you knew for definite.”
“No, it was just a possibility.”
“Oh!”
“So, is he saying it’s here?”
“Yes. He says it’s just down there by the Cathedral. Trucks, water cannon, guys shooting prisoners with rifles.”
By now, I’d caught up. It wasn’t Los Frailes, it was here. It was filmed in the same place as the Bank of Mesa Verde. Which was why we were here in the first place.
So I turned to the barman and asked him if he could show us which wall they filmed against. And he took me to the door, indicated that I face right, and pointed to a wall at the far end of the street just next to cathedral. “There,” he said.
Unfortunately, we had no frame grabs for this sequence, because we hadn’t expected to be looking for it, but I did have some fairly strong memories of the shots because I had been re-watching the DVD just a few days before to try and get some idea of the action which occurred in the flashbacks to the Irish pub that we also intended to pick up on this trip. The pub flashbacks and the rain executions are intercut, so I had inadvertantly stored a fair amount of imagery in my mind from the latter whilst it was running into the former.
The first thing I did was to stand against the wall to check how high it was, since it looked shorter than I remembered. Then having convinced myself that it was indeed high enough, I proceeded to scour the stonework for some remnants of paint that might have come from those vertical lines that had been drawn upon it. There was indeed a small patch of white on one of the stones, but whether this was paint, plaster or cement I have no idea. Looking back down the street towards El Granera, I could imagine the truck with Doctor Villega being parked at the junction, and along the Cathedral wall next to it would be the crowd of peons witnessing the executions.
This was most definitely the place. Not that I doubted the barman, of course, apart from the momentary shattering of my illusions concerning the Cortijo De Los Frailes. But this man certainly knew a great deal about the filming, which is an unusual bonus that we do not often find in our location hunting.
Normally we go into a bar, and spread out the location photographs, and nobody knows we’re in the same place. This time, it was like a Poker Game. When the barman saw our photographs, he reached under the counter and pulled out a brown folder, and from this extracted three sheets of paper on which were printed location shots of the filming. Placing them carefully in front of us he looked back with a glint of triumph in his eyes, and Don folded immediately.
Then we were told that an old lady comes into the bar occasionally, and that she also has photographs of the filming, so Don got to work exchanging e-mail addresses in order that the barman could get copies of these photographs and send them to us over the net. And then after the ritual exchanging of photographs - our frame grabs for the location shots - we downed another celebratory glass of Sangria and then retired to the restaurant upstairs where we were to enjoy some excellent cuisine amongst such exquisitely decorated surroundings.

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This is what I believe to be the execution wall, exactly where the barman indicated it to be, at the back of the cathedral. In this shot, the cathedral is directly behind me. The wall is not so high as in the film, but I shot this in 2016, so a lot has changed since they shot the movie. The building beyond the wall has two low windows, quite widely separated. If you look at the space between them you can see a re-plastered space, roughly door-shaped which matches where the door is seen in the film.
(Well, that’s the kind of internal argument we location hunters make to ourselves when things don’t actually match up perfectly :wink:

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