Hunting leone: for a few dollars more

  1. The Bounty Hunter plain - Tabernas/Gergal road, Almeria

The flat plain across which a horseman slowly rides in the opening scenes of FAFDM before being blown of his horse by a single rifle-shot is easily located in that area of the Tabernas countryside which holds so many of the now-decaying sets used in the Spaghetti Western films.
However, when I made my first trip to Almeria in 1972, I missed it completely, even though I probably drove past it at least four times. Back then, there were no new-fangled inventions like Video recorders to aid your memory, and it had easily been at least four years since I’d last seen the film. There were also no such things as multimedia computers with which to scan images, even if you could get hold of something to scan images from.
Yes, back in 1972, “Life was really hard… Eh Provvidenza?”
Obviously, the Western sets, of which there were so many littering the countryside between Almeria and Tabernas, were far easier to recognise than a piece of non-descript scrubland, or maybe I should’ve said: were almost unavoidably in-your-face. Those Western film-makers really didn’t have to travel very far at all to get the shots they needed.
As you headed along the main road from Almeria towards Tabernas in 1972, you’d see on your left the Fort from THE DESERTER, and a little further on a cluster of buildings where the finale of DEATH RIDES A HORSE was shot. If you turned right towards Tabernas at the fork in the road, you 'd see the SLEDGE Prison Fort on your right, with FAFDM’s El Paso behind it, and as you got nearer Tabernas , you’d see on your left the Tex-Mex town used in BLINDMAN and countless other movies. However, if you took the left fork in the road , you’d almost immediately see the McBain ranch from OUATITW on your right, with the El Condor Fort behind it. And on your left, a couple of years later, you’d see the newly constructed town from THE VALDEZ HORSES. What I didn’t know at the time, was that if I had travelled a little farther on that road towards Gergal, a mere 4 Kilometers from the fork in the road, I would have found the FAFDM plain on my right.
When I met up with Don and Marla a couple of years ago, and they re-kindled my interest in the Spaghetti Western locations, it was no longer any problem to get your hands on a video copy of FAFDM, and by then Don was frame-grabbing scenes from Leone movies on his computer like a man possessed.
Looking at his photographs, I was pretty sure I recognised the plain from the arrangement of the rugged hills surrounding it, and suggested a couple of places they ought to look during their 1999 trip, but what with all the other exciting things they found, the plain somehow got missed.
Finally, it was Professor Frayling’s biography of Leone that nailed down the location for us, although the Prof is disappointingly, yet understandably, a little innaccurate with his distances. We had the same problems with balky Odometers ourselves.

When you take the left fork of the Almeria-Tabernas road towards Gergal, you are now on a very modern highway, nothing like the winding, breathtakingly precipitous route of the seventies. After you pass the McBain ranch, or Rancho Leone as they now call it, the road climbs gradually to a plateau, and once on the heights, if you glance to the right, you’ll glimpse the FAFDM plain just over the tops of the earth ditches thrown up by the construction works, which are still, I might add, operating constantly all around you. You’re looking for a large mound on the right, with a short stretch of the old road still remaining beneath it, like a discarded piece of Scalextric. Here you’ll find a dirt track on your right, branching off the main road, and almost immediately curving back the opposite direction to the way you were travelling. It goes straight towards the mound and cuts through its centre, before disappearing in a sudden drop down onto the plain below. The track is impassable for vehicles from this point because of a chain and padlock, but you’re practically at Leone’s camera position here anyway, and it’s only a short walk down onto the plain.
If you do venture down there, be aware that this is private farm land. The right side, nearest the road (since you have now done a complete 180 degree turn ) is bounded by a gentle slope, ploughed with tight furrows of fine soil that explode into clouds of dust should you attempt to cross them. Whereas if you walk either to the left or ahead of you , you can confirm that you are indeed on a high plateau, bounded on these two sides by deep gorges where tiny white farm buildings cling to the hillsides and are approached by impossibly long and tortuous roads. At the farthest end from the chained gate, you can overlook what’s left of the formerly magnificent EL CONDOR Fort , somehow looking small and insignificant; easily dwarfed by the immense majesty of this baroque landscape.

The plain has occasionally been seen in other movies, most noticeably in John Milius’ THE WIND AND THE LION, but Leone was obviously very fond of it’s dramatic possibilities since he used it again in THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY. More of that later…

I wrote this in 2004, remember, and there’s a whacking great motorway running through the area now. However thanks to Google maps, we can see what the plain looked like in 2019, and note that there is still a small side road enabling access from the main road.


And here’s the map showing that sandy scrub area very plainly. The side road that gives entrance to the plain approaches from the top.
mapopening fafdm

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  1. Tucumcari Station - Lacalahorra, Granada

Practically every scene in every Spaghetti Western featuring the railroads was filmed on a short stretch of disused branch line running from the Station of Lacalahorra to the town of Lacalahorra. And it is here that we find Tucumcari.


A closer look at La Calahorra castle as seen in the above shot.

I discovered the place in 1972, whilst searching for the Flagstone of ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST. A Magazine article had mentioned Guadix, so I drove up there on the then very tiring, long and tortuous N324 out of Almeria. Nowadays you would take the new highway past the McBain ranch to Gergal, which then becomes the much improved and widened, but same-named N324. When I went with Don and Marla in year 2000, I couldn’t help but marvel how smooth and easy the journey had now become, but there were constant reminders of the past, where short discarded stretches of the old road could still be seen looping around the contours of the hills, snaking backwards and forwards and then suddenly being sliced off by this modern highway that just bulldozed a straight line all the way to Guadix.
Back in 1972, Tucumcari had been easy to find. Just after Finana, you leave the province of Almeria and enter Granada, and then the undulating hills recede into the distance giving way to wide and flat plains. You pass Hueneja Station on your right, its town on the left, and then Lacalahorra similarly arranged - station on right, town on left. The town is dominated by a beautiful castle, which features in THE WIND AND THE LION, and which is a useful landmark to finding Tucumcari. Indeed, when LeeVan Cleef leaves the train leading his horse down the ramp from the stable-wagon, the castle can clearly be seen behind him in the distance, silhouetted on it’s conical hill in the morning light - unmistakeable to those who’ve been there.
In those dim and distant days, it was a simple dirt track that ran off to Lacalahorra station, and the breathtaking vista of the town of Flagstone surrounding it. In year 2000, you’ve got a clover leaf junction, and a tarmac road, and I’ll tell you the bad news about Flagstone when I post about GBU.

The road to Lacalahorra station parallels the railroad track, which is on it’s left, for most of the way, almost imperceptibly moving nearer and then suddenly performing a hard left turn across it. About 1.5 Kilometres down the road, and before the conjunction, there is a short dirt track straight up to the railway line, and an old ruined building. Tucumcari was built over this ruin, and after FAFDM, it was demolished for the next station to be built over it for the next movie - In 1972, I got the ruin when it was covered by the RED SUN station.
A word of warning: when you turn onto the dirt track, you pass over the top of a drainage ditch which creates a sudden hump in the road. Don’t hurtle over the top of it like we did on the way in, or you’ll smack the underside of the car when the suspension compresses. Try and take it slowly, as we learned to do on the way out.
Sometimes I think Don learned to drive by watching Steve McQueen in BULLITT.

Anyway, if you go today, as I said, you get tarmac, so no worries there.

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  1. Colonel Mortimer shoots Guy Calloway - Hoyo De Manzanares, Madrid

For the scene where Colonel Mortimer bags his first bounty-kill, and reveals that amazing armory of weapons hidden in his saddle roll, Leone returned to the San Miguel of FOD: The Western set at Hoyo De Manzanares, North of Madrid.
Comparing scenes from the two movies, it is quite clear that the Baxters’ end of town had been remodelled, with a row of new buildings that form a visual barrier to that end of the street.

  1. White Rocks - Colmenar Viejo, Madrid

The story goes that Leone shot White Rocks, the town where Manco gets his first bounty-kill, twice.
Apparently he was unhappy with the mood of the scene the way he first shot it, and because they had some money left over at the end of the filming he decided to re-shoot. Now unless I’ve got this completely out of whack, the reshot scene is the one at night, where Manco arrives in a creepy town whose gothic buildings claustrophobically loom over the steep and narrow rain-drenched street along which he leads his horse.
The shooting-it-twice story claims that these scenes were filmed in Italy, which is why the brightly sunlit morning shots, when Manco collects his reward, look to be somewhere else altogether. Funnily enough, they aren’t. Both night and morning are shot in exactly the same place - Colmenar Viejo.

I found this place in 1973, thanks to a magazine article about THE LEGEND OF FRENCHIE KING: that slapstick French Western with Claudia Cardinale and Brigitte Bardot slugging it out as rival gangleaders. These were Euro-babes of the finest quality, way before the term was coined, and whilst I couldn’t take my eyes of Claudia, I’m sure there was another section of the audience that was glued to Brigitte. In the end I’d always claimed that our team won, since I’d seen a newspaper story of the time that said a man had been prosecuted for stealing a still of Claudia Cardinale in this exact same film from outside his local cinema. It was the shot of her in a basque and fishnet tights.
I have a copy of the still myself, but I was not that man.
Nobody stole any pictures of Brigitte; so game, set and match!

To get to Colmenar Viejo, you follow our route of Year 2000, and take the M605 Motorway North out of Madrid: You’re there in about twenty minutes.
Colmenar is a large town sprawling over a hill to your left with a sandy church spire pointing into the permanently blue skies, and almost immediately that you’ve passed it, you take a narrow side road off to the right. A short way up here, you arrive at a modern Military base bristling with Helicopters. There’s a wide gate to the left of the base with warning signs about it being a private road to the house, which one can almost glimpse in the distant haze, but since we saw several joggers pass through here, we decided it would be okay to go in. Ahead of you, an imposing triangular hill dominates the skyline, to which I normally ascribe the title “Spartacus Hill”, since it is beneath this magnificent landmark that Stanley Kubrick staged the final battle scene in SPARTACUS where Crassus’ Roman Legions smash the slave army of the titular hero.
Below the hill is a gently undulating grassy plain, dotted with low trees and occasional clumps of rock. And lots of Bulls.
The area is in fact famous for being Bull-rearing country - you know, the sort that Matadors fight.
What should also be here, of course, is White Rocks. But unfortunately, Rule Number Three rears it’s ugly head again, and not for the last time: “a lot can happen in thirty years”.
There is nothing left, and in 2002, we could not find a sign of anything ever being here, apart from a a few bricks cemented against a timeworn rock: A tell-tale sign that we had also seen at Hoyo.

Back in 1973, there was still a big Western Town here that, like the one at Hoyo, featured in just about every Spanish Western ever made. Over the years it had been adapted and altered to suit the demands of the particular Westerns being shot at the time, changing it’s character to such a remarkable extent that it could be almost unrecogniseable from film to film.
It was for this reason that I only spotted the town being used for the morning sequence of FAFDM, and because of the “shooting twice” story, I went along with the idea that the night sequence was somewhere else, particularly as the main street looked so narrow.
But Don finally proved that the two sequences were from one and the same town just prior to our trip of 2002, when I sent him some screen grabs from a Spanish Western called LOS RURALES DE TEXAS that I’d picked up in a Supermarket in Almeria.
We’d been arguing about which direction Main Street faced, and Don was of the opinion, based on what he’d seen in some other movies, that I was 90 degrees off. I knew I wasn’t, but despite making several new maps for him, showing where my photographs had been taken, he still couldn’t see how it worked. And when Don made the 2001 trip, the confusion was exacerbated by one of the guards at the Army base telling him that the base was actually built on top of the town. Then to make things even worse, this “expert” claimed that SPARTACUS was filmed on the other side of the hill.

When we returned to this location in 2002, we were after a final reckoning. I knew the base wasn’t built on the town, because I had photographs from 1973 showing the perimeter of the base running alongside. I also knew damn well which side of the mountain SPARTACUS had been filmed. But what was to make things now more difficult was the fact that the gate which led to the town was heavily padlocked and no longer accessible to casual travellers. This meant we had to climb over a wall, in full view of the army base, and hope that no-one seeing us, with our maps, cameras and binoculars, would mistake us for enemy spies.
We then followed the road to the fork, where with the aid of my photographs from 1973, I was almost able to convince Don that the right fork was a continuation of Main Street.
There was quite a cool wind blowing across the rolling plain from the snow capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada, and despite the bright sunshine, we were beginning to feel the chill.
I suggested to Don that we might stroll towards “Spartacus Hill” and get the view back towards the army base, which might put things in better perspective. But he wasn’t too well dressed for a long hike in the chill air, and I began to think better of it on account of all the bulls that we could see grazing in little clusters all the way across the plain.
So we decided to walk back, and since there was absolutely no sign of life at the base apart from a single Chinook helicopter performing steep landings and take-offs, we casually strolled along the perimeter fence back towards the gate. And as we got onto the flat, Don suddenly saw something exciting amongst the many gorse bushes strewn to the south of the dirt road - a pile of bricks. It was the foundations of a building. Then we found another, and another. Some plaster, rusty nails, pieces of wood. Slowly it was coming back to life before our eyes. Here was the Western town, and here would have been the main street heading through the rough grass towards a curve in the dirt road where it used to join up. It was much higher up and much nearer the gate than I remembered, but it was definitely lined up in the correct direction. And now all those photographs that I took in 1973 made absolute sense, so I don’t think I’ll be hearing Don talking about “90 degrees off” anymore.

Not only was this location popular for the Western town, and the SPARTACUS battle, but many other sets had also been constructed in the vicinity, where the undulating landscape effectively kept them hidden from each other, thus creating the appearance of a totally different location. Just below the town in 1973 for instance, you would have seen the FRENCHIE KING ranch, and about five hundred yards to the South an old log cabin which I was stunned to discover was actually used in the 1959 English Comedy Western THE SHERIFF OF FRACTURED JAW, which paired up the unlikely duo of Kenneth More and Jayne Mansfield. So does this mean that the British actually began the Spanish Western Industry?
It’s also worth noting that whilst I was there in 73, German director Volker Vogeler was shooting YANKEE DUDLER, a movie about four German lederhosen-clad brothers who have interesting adventures out West. I didn’t see the credited star Geraldine Chaplin on set, but the movie’s other star Willliam Berger turned up to watch the shooting, even though I didn’t see him perform any scenes.

Now, perhaps at this point I should mention that Prof Frayling’s biography of Leone makes the claim on page192 that White Rocks was actually part of the El Paso location now known as Mini-Hollywood in Almeria, which I will be describing more fully in the appropriate section of this book.
However, I strongly disagree with this, and would offer that photograph 12 in the same book that claims to be taken on the “White Rocks” set is very definitely at Colmenar. Prof Frayling makes no mention of any of the White Rocks scenes being shot twice, which is an interesting omission, but the Almeria claim may lead to another tantalising theory. Could it be possible that the missing, discarded scenes that Leone was so unhappy with, actually were shot at Mini-Hollywood? The answer to that we may never know.

So here in 2021 things have changed enormously, and you mostly notice the new housing estates that have cropped up everywhere. Your best bet for getting to the location is to find the Ermita de Nuestra Senora De los Remedios, a medieval hermitage which actually featured in EL CID. It’s the bit before the intermission where the CID leaves his wife in the care of nuns and sets off to confront the Moors. The historical El Cid actually set off from Medinaceli, which is where the Mesa Verde bank is in DYS. Spooky no? (At least that’s what the locals claim). With your back to the hermitage, you go up the road to your right and on the opposite side of the road before the military base, you find the hermitage car park. The dirt track passing between the base and the car park is your route to where White Rocks used to be.


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  1. Indio’s Prison - “A bit here, a bit there”, Almeria

Professor Frayling’s biography of Leone tells of assistant director Tonino Valerii scouting many of the locations that Leone used in FAFDM. In describing Indio’s prison, he is quoted as saying that it had it’s interior in Rome, and it’s external steps at the Almeria bullring, “plus a bit here, a bit there…”
One of the “bits” that Don and Marla were the first to find during their 1999 trip was the roof of the prison where Indio’s men sneak up and kill the guards. This was filmed at a large walled farm with it’s own integral chapel, known as El Cortijo Del Frailes (Farm of the Monks), which on the surface appears to be still in very good condition to this day. (Make sure you spell this correctly in your SatNav, because there are many Cortijo de los Frailes around as well)
On the large scale map covering the Natural Park of Cabo de Gata-Nijar, the place is denoted by two red dots, identified with the words “Ermita del Fraile” and “Caserio del Fraile”.
It is approached by continuing on the road from Los Albaricoques to Rodalquilar, and taking the left fork in the road. If you neglect to do this, you pass along the edge of a large hill on your left, and then get a second chance to find the place by taking the next dirt track on your left, which follows a long and very straight route up to the front of the farm.

Leone was to use other parts of this farm for sequences later in FAFDM and also in GBU, where it’s frontage is instantly recogniseable as the Monastery to which Tuco takes the sunburnt Blondie to recuperate and where he ends up meeting his brother, the priest. It has also seen service in QUIEN SABE, in the sequence where Klaus Kinski in his priest’s outfit stands on the roof and hurls dynamite at the Federales: " In the name of the father… BOOM! In the name of the Son…BOOM! (I hope I’m quoting this correctly - last time I was in a church was in Turrillas) However, I appear to be getting ahead of myself again, because the important reason for us being here is to go inside the Chapel, currently defaced with multilingual graffiti, including the statement in English: “Sergio Leone was here!”
Did you do that Professor Frayling???
You then walk to the far end, away from the altar, as Don and Marla did in 1999 and take the staircase up to the roof, where you find that strange configuration of flat troughs bordered by low walls which appear to be the continuation of the internal walls jutting through the roof. When Don showed me the place in year 2000, he told me that it was very quickly falling into ruin compared to their last visit. A lot of the doors had been kicked in, and parts of the roof had collapsed, making it treacherous to stand up there. But by putting our weight on the raised tops of the internal walls, and holding our breath, we were able to carefully traverse the roof and get all the photographs we needed.


I’m the handsome one. The one with the hat. The other dude is Don Bruce.


The search for Indio’s prison doesn’t stop here, however, because we were determined to find the other part of the roof area where Indio leaves his cell. The frame-grabs clearly show a prominent hill framed between the two rows of cells, and whilst we didn’t expect to find the structure still standing, we were pretty damn sure we would find the hill.

The way it came about was this: We’d been to Mini-Hollywood, and when you go there now, it’s just a disappointingly lacklustre theme park of the sort you might get at Blackpool. On the way in, you get ambushed by some guys in cowboy outfits who shove guns in your hand, slap cowboy hats on your head, and then take your photographs. When you’ve finished your visit, they demand money for the photographs, and presumably if you don’t pay, they mail copies to all your friends.
Now some of us didn’t struggle too hard to prevent this happening, and that night back at the hotel, I was just admiring my two-gun pose and the rakish angle of my stetson when my eye was caught by a massive hill looming over me in the background. It’s the largest hill in the range around Tabernas and can be seen for miles, but it’s a very strange shape, a shape that in a Chameleon-like way looks different from wherever you choose to stand: From one angle, it’s domed, another sharply peaked, another like a sloping table. There was something about the mountain that made me think of the one seen from Indio’s prison, and next day I got Don to drive me up there first thing so I could test out the theory.
“Stop here, Don. No a bit further, now back up. Let’s try this way instead…”
It just wasn’t working: I could get all sorts of shapes, but not the one I wanted.
“Okay let’s get out of here.”
As we hit the main road, I saw it: A peaked hill, with a broken piece jutting out like a nose part way down it’s steepest face. It was definitely the one in the background of Indio’s jail, but something was very wrong - there was a second hill right next to it but nearer to us, spoiling the shape, and there was no way you could get it to not be there.
We pulled in on the opposite side of the road to Mini Hollywood and started wandering across the lumpy landscape, consisting of a series of small ridges and low troughs, like walking across the back of a giant set of fingers.
Then I saw the trick: the second hill was actually almost the same height as the first one, and if you walked further away from the road, and backed off, you could get it to hide within the shape of the one with the broken nose. Exactly as Leone had done. Because Leone had shot the sequence in the evening, with the sun behind those hills, and the silhouette effect had made the nearest hill vanish completely. Then Don looked at his feet and said - “Well, I’ve got a foundation post here…” And suddenly we began to see all the bits of rubble, the wood and the plaster that told us this had once been the site of a film set.
So there you go: another “bit” of Indio’s jail is just across the road from the entrance to Mini Hollywood.


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Thanks again,
Love hearing these stories - it’s my kind of archeology !

I’m wondering why Leone and his team, Carlo Simi etc, didn’t just take that prison shot from the roof of the Banco El Paso … perhaps that part of the set hadn’t been completed at that stage of shooting, but it would give a very similar shot, with choice of suitable lens, albeit a couple of hundred yards further back.

I would suggest that Leone wanted to create that beautiful shot between the two cell blocks looking straight at the large hill in the centre, and you couldn’t actually get it from the El Paso bank.

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He was quite the perfectionist, one of the reasons we love him. :slight_smile:

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  1. Indio’s Church Interior - Turrillas, Almeria

One of the best location clues we got from Professor Frayling’s biography of Leone was the piece he wrote about the Interior of Indio’s church, which I am convinced we would never have otherwise found.
He described it as being “filmed at the sixteenth-century church of Santa Maria at Turrilas (sic): a steep and windy drive south from Tabernas”.
I wasn’t quite sure what the Prof meant by “windy”; whether he was saying the wind blew a lot over there, or the road snaked around a lot. As it turned out, it was both. The road is very steep and clings precariously to the hillside, gradually winding it’s way up to the heights of Turrillas, and taking the full blast of the wind that lifts off the Tabernas plain.
It was one of the scariest rides of my life. As a passenger, you’re either on the edge of the road hanging over a precipitous chasm, or you’re pushed against the cliffs and looking out the driver’s window at clear sky. Fortunately, Don’s a helicopter Pilot, so if we’d missed the next sharp 180 degree turn on the way up, I guess he could’ve auto-rotated his way down to the safety of the valley floor. At least that’s what he told me.
Turrillas is actually west of Tabernas on the N340 towards Sorbas, and then you take the first right turn, which leads you south into the steep hills and up to the town.
One other piece of information gleaned from Prof Frayling’s book was the fact that the local casting director Luis Beltran was twice stabbed by local gypsies over who was allowed to be an extra in the film and who wasn’t. Next to Turrillas in my notebook, I’d written: “Beware knife-wielding gypsies!!!”.
Once you get into the centre of the town, the neatly cemented streets are surprisingly flat; their narrowness and the proximity of the whitewashed buildings successfully managing to hide those magnificent views or those scary vertiginous drops - whichever way you care to look at it.
The church was closed, of course; bolted, barred, go away Stranger, there’s nobody here!
I walked around the far side and found a dark, dank bar, with a local man just about to amble his way inside. “Senor, per favor, este aqui?” I said ,waving the photographs of Indio’s church in front of him.
He didn’t seem to know.
Is the church open I asked?
"No:"He knew the answer to that at least.
A heavy set man in the bar came forward, to see what was going on, conferred with his friend and then confirmed what we already knew - No, the church is closed. Then they returned to the important job of getting alcohol into their bellies.
I wandered back to where the car was parked to find Don and Marla being baked by the ferocious heat of this mid-day sun. I thought it best that they keep a lookout for knife-wielding gypsies whilst I was doing all the talking.
“There’s some people here”, says Don, indicating a group of women sitting in a half-circle, in the deep shade of the Church entrance, most of whom seemed to be enjoying a mid-day smoke-break.
Umm, women - I wasn’t sure whether it was acceptable to speak to women when their husbands weren’t there, this being Old Spain and all. But the ages ranged from about thirtyish to about eightyish, and I guess the presence of the older women counted towards the younger ones being chaperoned, so I started the conversation.
The youngest woman recognised the photographs of the church interior straight away.
“La muerte Tenia…” I offered helpfully
“…Il Precio!”, she finished the sentence for me.
“Is the Church open?” I asked hopefully. But already they were babbling amongst themselves, and suddenly one of the older women was trotting back from her house with the key. Trotting back? I never saw her leave!
The door was opened and we were ushered inside like Royal guests.
I cannot begin to describe how beautiful that church interior is. The statues, the vases of flowers, the candles…
I actually removed my hat in respect.
“Muy bueno.” I said, lamely.
There was some nodding.
“Magnifico”, I tried.
Proud smiles everywhere.
Then I remembered that bit in THE WILD BUNCH where they get to the Rio Grande, and the Mexican Kid, Angel, gazes across at his homeland, breathes the air in deeply and says with a sort of wonderment “Muy lindo!” Then Ben Johnson makes a disparaging remark about Mexico not looking so “lindo” to him, and Angel says: “you have no eyes”.
I figured “lindo” must have been a pretty good compliment, so I gazed around the church, breathed the air in deeply and said with the most wonderment I could muster: “Muy lindo!”
And there was happy laughter from everybody.

The story goes that the church was practically derelict and with no roof when Leone came here to film the Indio scenes. And it was perhaps the sudden influx of film-money into the village that enabled them to afford such a splendid restoration.

When we left, Don handed the photographs from FAFDM to the young woman who had been our guide, and she was so grateful, she was almost breathless. The other women started suggesting where the photographs might be displayed, and the girl suddenly grasped them to her breast, indicating that they were hers and then in mock anger started waving her arms around, and telling the other ladies that she was the one who would decide where to put them.
She then made a big show of stroking her chin and looking slowly around the ante-room where we had now congregated. First she held them to this wall, then to another, but she was pantomiming that something was not quite right.
“Ah Ha!”, her hand suddenly shot in the air and she was pointing towards a large religious painting on the main wall. Marching towards it, she climbed onto a chair and placed one of the FAFDM photographs over the bottom corner of the painting, carefully sliding it into the dark wooden frame.She then stepped back to admire the result, and satisfied that it was perfect, climbed up and slipped another photo into the other side of the frame.
Now I would’ve thought that covering up religious paintings with photographs from Spaghetti Westerns was a crime punishable by excommunication, but everyone was so happy seeing those pictures up there, and so proud of their church, that they just smiled and laughed, and couldn’t thank us enough. And I’ll tell you - that was one of those moments that was hard to leave behind.

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  1. El Paso - Mini Hollywood, Almeria

El Paso was specifically designed and built by Carlo Simi for FAFDM in 1965. It was called “El Poblado El Fraile” by the Almerian film office, and is an unmissable sight on the road from Almeria to Tabernas.
After Leone had finished with it, ownership passed to Producer Arturo Gonzalez who must have made a fortune in renting it out to other production companies, judging by the huge numbers of films that were made here.
When I got there in 1972, courtesy of a tour bus from the hotel at Roquetas de Mar… You see, sometimes location hunting is handed to you on a plate. No need for military maps, binoculars, shovel to dig your car out of the sand… Nope, ask for excursions from the hotel.
As I was saying, when I got there in 1972, the entrance to El Paso was guarded by a square prison fort, known locally as “Fort Presidio” or “Fuerte De Dino De Laurentiis”, since it had been built in 1969 for his production of A MAN CALLED SLEDGE. The interior of the fort was at the time being used as a storage area for larger props, and currently in the inventory were a large collection of Roman statues used in Charlton Heston’s version of ANTHONY & CLEOPATRA, and a whole bunch of plaster cactus made for Michael Winner’s CHATO’S LAND.
Freaky thing happened, whilst I was there chatting to one of the bus drivers. This guy next to him suddenly lunged forward and smacked me on the chest. Then he stepped back and stamped his foot on the ground, crushing something under it. There had been a spider on my shirt. A tiny little thing. Very bad, he said. Would make me ill with headaches for a week.
You see what dangers we location hunters face. Not a walk in the park after all.

In 1974 the Fort had completely vanished, and according to Jose Enrique Martinez Moya’s book “Almeria, un Mundo de Pelicula”, this had come about because the owner of the land had demanded that De Laurentiis pay him a rental fee to keep the Fort there. When the money was not forthcoming, the landowner had it completely demolished, such that there was left no trace whatsoever of it’s existence.
Over the years, the character of El Paso has changed considerably. On my first visit in 1972, it was almost like a Ghost Town, eerily silent as the dust blew down main street and the odd door creaked as you passed; it’s condition probably very similar to when Leone used it for FAFDM and GBU. In 1974, it was bustling with the film crew and an army of extras for Antonio Margheriti’s BLOOD MONEY/STRANGER AND THE GUNFIGHTER. Some of the buildings had been redecorated and repainted to suit the current production, in particular the Bank which was now called “Monterey Bank”, but the arrangement of letters really didn’t fit the design of the building at all.
When the Westerns declined in the late 70’s, El Paso was falling into ruins, and in 1980 the owners decided to invest in some rebuilding work and turn it into a tourist attraction, imaginatively calling it “Mini Hollywood”. The major part of this work involved taking the one-dimensional “flats” - those flimsy structures which were just frontage, with blacked-out windows to stop the light streaming through, and a few poles holding them up from the rear - and replacing them with complete three-dimensional buildings.


The saloon serves drinks to the tourists and there is entertainment from the dancing girls on the hour. Plus there’s a huge restaurant hidden round the back of the street with an excellent choice of cuisine where you can serve yourself with as much as you can eat.

Don and Marla visited in 1999, and were not at all impressed by the improvements. All the buildings had been repainted in primary colours; there were souvenir shops, ice cream stalls, hot-dog stands, even a zoo for the children. And the icing on the cake was that you got to sit through a Western stunt show. By year 2000, Don didn’t even want to go there, and it wasn’t pleasant for me to see all those gaudy coloured structures that only vaguely resembled the El Paso that I knew of some thirty years before.
However, I mustn’t be too hard, because I have to admit that the theme park concept has probably saved this Historic site for future generations, and if this hadn’t have been done, then there would probably have been as much left of it as there is of the SLEDGE Fort, whose foundations, incidentally, are now buried under the El Paso car park.

This is the remains of the wooden bridge that used to be the entrance to the town. It is directly in line with the main street.

Postscript:
I took my daughter there in 2016. She loved it. She was phoning all her friends and telling them that we were at this western town that “My Dad discovered 50 years ago.” Bless her.
We watched the rodeo show, with a bust-out from jail, a gunfight, a hanging, and a guy falling from a balcony onto a pile of straw. So as not to have the trouble of breaking the balcony, and then having to put it back each time, they had put a little hinged double-gate there. So the two guys are fighting, and then one of them turns round and pulls back the gates in a rather dainty manner, at which point the audience erupts in laughter. Then the other guy pretends to hit him on the head, and he somersaults into the straw.
I actually enjoyed it.

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Tragic waste of a beautiful prison set - I was first aware of it in the final reel of ‘Hannie Caulder’ (1971)
As a kid I had a Super 8 projector and a short sequence from the film, re-titled ‘Shots of Vengeance’, which shows Raquel take her revenge on Strother Martin, Jack Elam and Ernest Borgnine … I was fascinated by the prison and the desert backgrounds, which at the time I didn’t know was Spain. I put that little 200ft spool of cine film down as the reason I got hooked on film locations :slight_smile:

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I actually watched Hannie Caulder at our local cinema, two days before I set off for my Almeria holiday. I likened it to a recon movie before a bombing mission - identify targets, don’t miss. The fort was absolutely intact, and you could walk around parts of the walls. The entrance to the underground prison was a fake. Just a little domed structure that went nowhere, other than by the magic of cinema transporting the actors to Cinecitta. I ducked my head and went inside, which is probably where I picked up the spider.

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  1. Riding away with the safe - the road past Castillo De La Bateria, Rodalquilar


(Warning, this story may upset people of a nervous disposition)

Rule Number Six: “Never drive into soft sand!”
It was the moment when Don looked one way and saw Castillo De La Bateria, and I looked the other and saw those famous rocks. And we figured that to get his camera angle, Leone would’ve had to move off the road some way. So we turned round and spotted this little dirt track right next to the Castillo, and deciding that this was where we should go, Don reversed the car and began to drive along there. We didn’t get very far forward because the track curved around and then abruptly vanished into a clump of brushwood. And now we suddenly couldn’t get back, because the front wheels were up to the hub-caps in soft sand.
Don gunned the engine, and tried to get a purchase with the wheels, but it was a front wheel drive, and they were just digging themselves deeper.
It was one of those Laurel and Hardy moments - we sort of looked at each other, rolled our eyes, and went “uh oh!”
Well, looking back, it seems quite amusing now, but you have to know that this was the second time in our Spanish trip that Don got the car stuck. And he still hadn’t quite learned the lessons.
We started to do all the futile stuff again; jacking up the chassis so we could shove stones and branches under the front wheels; me trying to push, while Don tried to reverse. We even found a complete door that had been discarded in the gulley next to us, probably by the last suckers who got stuck here, and we jammed that under the drive-wheel. But nothing was working, and that was no big surprise to me. Then Don spotted a car heading back to Rodalquilar from the beach, and I dashed to the road and flagged it down.
“Lo Siento, Senor. Necessito un Telefono por El Coche. Vamonos a Rodalquilar?”
It was a young man and his wife, and I think I’d told them that I needed a Telephone on account of the car, and could we go to Rodalquilar where I knew there was a tourist information office.
They opened the back door and re-arranged the sun-loungers that were piled on the backseat to give me some room, and then motioned me to get in. I turned and yelled to Don: “I may be some time!” And then we were speeding up the dusty road towards Rodalquilar, and hopefully a telephone.
I tried to converse with them, explaining that the car wheels were stuck in the sand, and the man, realising that Spanish was not my native tongue, started to slowly but carefully speak to me in English. He’d obviously been afraid to use the language at first, because he probably was a little unsure of himself, but he actually spoke very well, and it was far better than my concocted Italo-Spanish.
He said that I was very lucky to have spotted them, since they were the last people on the beach. It was mid-afternoon, and they’d finally decided to leave because their car was getting so hot where it was parked, that they were worried the engine would overheat and refuse to start.
A short way along the road we passed a field in which there was a lorry being filled with dirt by a tractor. The wind was very strong by now and the dust was blowing everywhere, with great clouds of the stuff billowing across the road like a veritable sandstorm.
Did I say “Tractor”?
The thought suddenly hit me - what we needed was a tractor to pull us out of the sand, and there was one right here.
I got the gentleman to stop his car, then leapt out and started running across the field to ask if these guys could help. I waved to the tractor driver to stop, and was about to tell him my problem, when the car driver comes running up behind me and takes over in Spanish. There’s a lot of gabbling going on, and the driver of the lorry is here too now, and finally there appears to be some sort of positive agreement, so the car driver turns to me and says:
“He’s just got to finish filling the lorry - about ten minutes, then he’ll get your car.”
That was great news! I thanked the driver profusely, and watched him walk away across the dusty field towards his car, and then with a final wave, this Knight of the road was off towards Rodalquilar, trailing a plume of dust behind him.
Whilst I was waiting for the lorry to be filled, the driver came across and started chatting to me. He asked if I was German, because he said that he knew a little of that language having spent some time working over there. I think he must have mistakenly detected a trace of Germanic accent in my pronuciation of Spanish - and here’s me thinking I sound just like Rod Steiger in DUCK YOU SUCKER.
I explained that I was English, and had an American friend back at the car. So we elected to continue our conversation in Spanish.
Then he asked if I had a rope with which to haul out the car.
“A rope? Isn’t there one with the tractor?”
There wasn’t. But on the back of the lorry amongst all the debris and rubbish being piled in amongst the soil, there was what looked like some twisted steel cable. “How about that?” I asked.
The lorry driver nodded and strolled back to his vehicle to try and haul the cable from out of the the rest of the rubbish. But the other end was obviously lodged deep under the load and wouldn’t budge. So he waved the tractor over, and attaching the free end to the jaws of the fork, he got the driver to back off and haul it out. There was a moment or two where it looked like it wasn’t going to budge; where the force of the tractor was shaking the lorry on it’s suspension, and threatening to haul it’s wheels into the air, but eventually the cable came free.
Well, now we were set, so I sat back, lit a Toscana and waited. I couldn’t help thinking of Don back there at the car, all on his own, gazing at the lonely road whilst the blustery wind blew clouds of sand across the dark mountains as the sun slowly cast it’s evening shadows; and him sat there wondering when I was going to get back. And then I remembered that bit in ONE-EYED JACKS, where Karl Malden goes to find some horses, and leaves Marlon Brando sat atop a wind-strewn hillside surrounded by Rurales. Malden gets the horses, and rides on, and Brando gets caught by the Rurales and ends up in jail.
Heck, I couldn’t leave a friend in trouble - I’m British, for God’s sake.

Half way through the Toscana, trouble arises. This little guy with a flat cap comes marching across the field to find out what’s going on. He’s apparently the site manager, and he’s in charge of getting the field cleared so they can build a new hotel. He sort of reminded me of Louis De Funes: overly officious, a real know-it-all, and with that same kind of rubbery face.
“That cable is no good” he tells me. “It’ll break!”
“No, it’ll be fine,” I say.
“It’s only Aluminium, it’ll break.”
“It’ll be okay.”
Well, he’s not going to leave it at that, is he? So he picks up the frayed end of the cable that’s been mashed and twisted by what looks like years of heavy duty in a Car-crusher, and separates out a single strand of wire. Then he bends it at 90 degrees and starts twisting it round. Naturally enough, after about five or six turns it snaps off: “See!”
I stared at him for a moment, spat out a flake of Toscana from my tongue, and muttered “Bravo!”
That’s when I ought to have shot the little shit.
Unfortunately, I didn’t dare risk causing any trouble, because at the time, I was relying on the good will of the tractor driver to come and haul the car out of the sand, and this guy seemed like he was his boss. In fact, he seemed like he was everybody’s boss. So I just had to go along with his ridiculous arguments.
“So, where do I get the right sort of cable, then Senor Asshole?”

The right sort of cable, apparently, needed to be made of steel, and he suggested I go and ask at the local Bar, which was an adobe affair, hidden amongst the cluster of buildings at the back of the field. Of course, this was Siesta time, so the bar was well closed, and I had to hammer for several minutes on the wire-screen outer door to get the owner out of bed.
“Lo Siento Senor. Por favor. Necessito Un Corde…”
Now there are some people in some places who would have probably come right out and wrapped Un Corde around my neck, but he just stood there, struggling to hold his trousers up, and pleasantly listened to my request. Then he thought about it for a moment, and finally shook his head “No, Senor”.
“Gracias Senor. Lo Siento”
“De Nada.”

“La Funesse” was by now standing in the middle of the field and pointing out bits of dirt that our tractor driver had missed, so I marched up to him and told him that there was no other cable around, and we’d have to use the aluminium one.
So what does he do? He picks up a single strand of the aluminium wire again, and starts to go through the whole twisting demonstration again.
“Yeah that’s what I’d like to do with your scrawny neck, you turd!” I thought.
But I didn’t voice the thought, and instead tried to explain to him with suitable hand motions that all I needed the cable to do was pull, and not twist around. Heck, the darn thing nearly pulled the lorry over when they were struggling to get it out from under the debris.
Of course, none of this made any impression on La Funesse, he just continued twisting off bits of that aliminum wire and throwing them onto the ground contemptuously, with the odd spit, and a string of invective that weaved colourful variations on the concept of “Muy mal.”
I think the guy’s intransigence was now beginning to grate on the lorry driver, who obviously could instantly recognise a total asshole when he saw one. So he went over to his cab and climbed on to the front of the container, where they was a whole tangle of discarded wire and rope bound together. With some difficulty, he got most of it disentangled from the rest of the load, and when he was satisfied, he threw it down into the dirt, took a large knife out of his cab, and began the long process of cutting out what he thought might be a suitable piece of cable.
Seeing what was going on, La Funesse marched over to inspect the conglomerated bundle with which the lorry driver was struggling and presumably pass judgement on its suitability.
He may have been an asshole, but he was a brave man to stand so close to the lorry driver and offer advice whilst the latter was waving that giant knife around.
Well, fortunately for everybody, the cable that the lorry driver was separating out was going to be just perfect. It had the Funesse seal of approval, so nothing could go wrong.
By now the tractor driver had finished his ten minute job of filling the back of the truck, and since it had taken over half-an-hour, there had been plenty of time for the lorry driver to get the cable ready.
I thanked him profusely and then clambered onto the side step of the tractor where it’s driver had indicated I ride. Then we bounced off across the field and down the dusty road at top speed, with me clinging onto the flimsy hand rail that was bolted onto the outside of the tractor, and presenting what I thought would be a singularly heroic posture as we rode to the rescue of our buried car.
And the only thing going through my mind at the time was - “I hope Don’s got the camera ready!”

When we arrived, we discovered that Don had been very busy. He’d actually found a piece of rope of his own and already attached it to the rear chassis of the car, ready for the tow. I didn’t tell him the long saga of the struggle we’d had getting a cable that would meet with the Funesse seal of approval, but that could wait for the bar that night and a table full of Bloody Marys.
There was a tense few moments as the tractor backed off and the rope began to take the strain, and gradually inch by inch began to stretch and stretch, and the tractor was moving back, the car was going nowhere, and that rope was still stretching.
Heck, I know we should have tied La Funesse to the tractor and used him to haul the car out of the sand, but you get all your best ideas too late, don’t you?
And anyway, the car had by now made it’s first little judder backwards, and immediately he’d felt the move Don was gunning the engine, the sand was kicking, the rope had stretched as far as it was going to stretch, and the whole thing was suddenly over.
Our car was back on hard dirt, and we were trying to shove large peseta bills into the tractor driver’s hand whilst he was smiling back at us, and refusing to take them.
Well, we made him take them, and said that he should buy everybody a drink in the bar at Sorbas where he lived, and maybe we’d come by and have a drink with him one day.

Anyway, the whole point of the story is that on the opposite side of the road to where our car got stuck is a famous bunch of rocks that Leone used in FAFDM and subsequently GBU. In the former, you see Indio’s men ride past the rocks with the stolen safe, but instead of going straight into their hideout, which is to their left, they go to a bunch of palm trees which is way back at Tabernas.

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Great pics, and fascinating anecdotes, IndioBlack.

It all brings back great memories of when I visited these locations.
Some of the most magical experiences in my life, personally, standing where the greats filmed and stood.

Keep your memories and pics coming, amigo… :smiley:

Thank you for your kind words. I just thought the notes written in 2004 would put into perspective the trials and tribulations of location hunting in the old days. We didn’t have mobile phones in year 2000, never mind in 1972 when I started. No google maps. You can practically find anything on google maps now. They even have notes on the maps saying "Trincheros Langstone (El bueno el feo y el malo) to show exactly where the GBU trenches are. They didn’t exactly jump out at us back in 2000. But that’s another story.

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  1. Colonel Mortimer shoots Manco in the neck - Mini Hollywood area, Almeria

“Don’s Hill”

The problem with the hills of the Sierra Alhamilla that lie between Almeria and Tabernas is that, wherever you look, you’ll see hills that look identical to ones you’ve already seen in another direction. But there’s one particular piece of topography that seems to have a certain uniqueness, and it’s a hill that looks like someone’s bulldozed a channel straight through it, and left two smaller hills behind. It’s a particular place of which Leone appears to have been very fond, since he featured it a couple of times in FAFDM and also returned there for GBU.
In the former, it is one of the places that Indio’s gang ride past during the scenes around the El Paso bank robbery, and later it’s the place where Mortimer shoots Manco in the neck in order to give authenticity to the story that Manco’s going to spin to Indio about how all his men got killed in an ambush.
Now in discussing this hill, I’d normally be struggling with some semi-descriptive term like “the bulldozed hill”, or maybe something colourful like “the camel’s back”; but fortunately Marla beat me to it during the1999 trip by simply naming the place “Don’s Hill”, on the grounds that it was Don who found it.
To get to Don’s Hill, you need to turn off the Almeria Tabernas road at Mini Hollywood, and then, instead of stopping at the car park, you continue on the road that leads up into the mountains. As you pass the town on your right, you come to a barrier which is usually open, and if it isn’t you’d have to ask at the mini-zoo kiosk for someone to open it.
Continuing on away from the town, the tarmac gives way to dirt, and presently you come to a fork in the road. The left fork is barriered and chained, whilst the right fork is clear and open.
Now as you might have gleaned from reading this far into my ramblings, location-hunting is not for the faint-hearted, and if there’s a choice between taking a hard road or an easy road, you usually have to take the hard one.
Which neatly leads me to Rule number seven: “You have to work for it.”
It was at this point that Don got out the bolt cutters. “It’s a long walk up there, Mike, it’ll be a lot quicker in the car.”
Ummm…
Down on the Cabo De Gata, near to the town, is a large quadrangular building with steep walls and watch towers and armed guards, and the sun beats down on it all day, without mercy.
“I’ll walk.”
“C’mon Mike, hold the chain steady while I cut through it.”
“I’m walking…”
It was a hot morning, and the road was steep, but the cool breeze made it a pleasant enough hike. It’s a little further than you’d like it to be: Each time you think you’ve got to the top of the road, there’s another curve around the next corner going even higher, and another beyond that…
Fairly soon you pass an interesting gorge on your left, with the remains of a dynamited bridge almost camouflaged by the riot of trees and shrubs that cast their deep shadows across the sloping terrain. I’ll discuss this in more detail at the appropriate point, but you might as well know that this is the dynamited bridge from DUCK YOU SUCKER.
As you continue past the bridge, the road does it’s sudden switch back in the opposite direction, and then curves to the left around the bottom of Don’s Hill.
To get the best view, you need to take the very steep slope past the hill - it’s actually steeper than it looks in the film - and continue on to where the road turns sharp right onto the heights above.
From here you get a magnificent view of the Campo De Tabernas and the surrounding hills, but more importantly from this vantage point you can actually see the location of at least fifteen different Spaghetti Western sites, ranging from those still-standing to the ones that are only marked by the merest of traces of debris in the dust.

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Great story.
I was going to check out the Rodalquilar valley next trip to Almeria - I assumed the rocks were up the valley to the left. Looks like the original road in the movie, past the rocks is the current road to the left, past the tower.

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Let me know if you need any help with directions. Now we’ve got google maps, it’s a piece of cake.

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What you are doing brings back so many memories, Indioblack. Thankyou. :smiley:

  1. Agua Caliente - Los Albaricoques, Almeria

The unmistakeable entrance to Los Albaricoques. Don had trouble pronouncing the name, and being an aircraft aficionado, called it Los Albacores.

For the Mexican village of Agua Caliente where the finale of FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE is played out, Leone returned to the Almerian village of Los Albaricoques which he had previously used as the outskirts of San Miguel in FISTFUL OF DOLLARS. The curved road which leads up to the village is still lined with yuccas, but now also sports steel masts for power lines and other signs of modernity.
When you reach the low plateau, and stroll down the old main street, you are exactly following the route that Manco takes as he reconnoitres ahead of Indio’s gang; although the fresh whitewash, the colourfully painted doors and windows, the newly tarmaced street and the criss-cross of powerlines above the occasional smoking chimney make it look like a very different place.

Further on, when Manco dismounts and confronts the three bandidos who had been lurking behind the adobe buildings, you are on the other side of town, facing in the opposite direction to the way you entered.
Behind you are the Tennis courts and the stone circle where the final showdown between Mortimer and Indio takes place. And in the centre of the circle there is an an abandoned and rusting cement mixer, a relic of the extensive rebuilding that has taken place in this village over the years.

By 2004, the cement mixer had been moved

To your left is the open countryside, with the edge of the town marked by low trees of the type that the little boy stands beneath, when attempting to knock down apples with a stick. The actual tree featured in the film is no longer there, but there are others like it nearby, although I cannot guarantee that they are genuine apple trees.
To your right is where the Cantina should be, with a balcony for Van Cleef to stand atop and shoot at the fruit with his rifle; but there are none of these details left, even though the building to which they were affixed still stands, freshly whitewashed.
There were few people in evidence as we walked around and admired their village, and lined up this building and that building with our photographs, but from within doorways darkened by shade, we could hear the occasional sound of a radio, or a baby crying, whilst in our minds we could hear the echo of gunfire and a stirring DeGuello from the Morricone score.

Don and I lost no opportunity to emulate our heroes.

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  1. Indio’s Courtyard - Cortijo del Fraile, Almeria

There was one place that we were having real difficulty in finding: the courtyard of Indio’s hideout at Agua Caliente. It wasn’t in Los Albaricoques where the rest of the Agua Caliente footage was shot, and since most of the scenes take place at night, it was certainly going to prove to be a very troublesome place to locate amongst all the villages and farms scattered around Almeria, when you didn’t have the advantage of a prominent mountain to match up.
One of the proposed places to search was a little village called Polopos that I had visited in 1974. It had been mentioned in magazines of the time regarding other Westerns, but most of the recent sources for the Leone films make the claim that Leone himself had indeed filmed there.
Back then you had to take a very long and narrow road out of Almeria, west towards Cabo De Gata, and then north towards Vera. The town itself was approached by a dirt track that passed through a fast-flowing stream, and although it was very wide, it was also fortunately quite shallow.
The town had been used quite extensively for the final sequences of the Dino De Laurentiis production A MAN CALLED SLEDGE, for which, at the top end of the town, had been built an elaborate ruined church with a prominent tower.
Nowadays, the N-340 motorway races you out of Almeria and across the Cabo De Gata plain towards Polopos in less than half-an-hour; but be careful, because the side-road to the village is now no longer accessed by a simple left turn.
Being a motorway, the junctions are somewhat more complicated than they used to be, and you actually have to turn off at junction K.494 to find a narrow road heading north, parallel to the motorway for about 2 Kilometres, and then turning sharp right and winding into the hills for another 3 Kilometres. You now enter Polopos from the top end of town, very near to where the movie church had been built, but unfortunately there is nothing left, save for a few tell-tale pieces of plaster strewn around the flattest part of the hillside.
In the centre of town is a small square with the real church, which also featured in SLEDGE, A PROFESSIONAL GUN, and many other Westerns.
We parked here and began to ask the locals.
There was a young man, hardly old enough at the time of Leone’s movies to remember anything, but he recognised the film, and since he had lived here all his life, he knew that it had been quite a centre for film activity. He was currently employed as a driver for the production QUEEN OF SWORDS that we had recently encountered filming in the ramblas of Tabernas. I was told by the crew that it was an International co-produced TV series set in “Old California” which sounded to me like a cross between XENA WARRIOR PRINCESS, and ZORRO. And when I mentioned this, they jokingly warned me: “Don’t mention Zorro!”
The young man studied our pictures of Indio’s courtyard very carefully, and then pointed south of the village to a place he called “La Polopia”. It wasn’t on the map, but there was a place to the south called El Punto, and when I pointed it out, he agreed that it was near there.
We have subsequently discovered that Aldo Sambrell lives in Polopos: Now he would’ve been the person to ask!

The river that you originally had to cross to get to Polopos is now completely dried up, and towering over it is a hillside clustered with small whitewashed buildings, many in ruins, and on the side of one is painted “El Punto”. The largest building that had the most potential of once housing Indio’s courtyard was currently inhabited. It was completely square, with the central area now covered, and looked like it had been forged together out of lots of small buildings. Don wasn’t sure that this was the place, because in the one wide shot of the film taken in daylight, the blurry mountains didn’t seem to match.
I spotted the owner of the house with his wife and two children seated on the shaded side of the building, and he had spotted us. So I walked towards him to apologise for being on his property, to find out if this was the place that featured in our FAFDM stills, and to ask his permission to let us take some photographs.
This guy was certainly old enough to remember those heady days of Western filming, and he was very positive: “Oh yes, this is the place. This is where Sergio Leone filmed.”.
In my other ear, Don is mumbling “This ain’t it, Mike, nothing matches.”
So I pointed to the ramp in the screen grabs, and asked the man: “Donde esta?”
And he walks down the hill a bit, picks up a stone and tosses it ten feet away from him towards the corner of the building. “It’s there” he says.
So I walk down and join him, and pulling out another picture, I say “What about these arches?” And he throws another stone: “There!”
Okay.
Then he starts gesticulating and gabbling in high-speed Spanish about where everything was shot, the horses here, the guns going off there, bodies and carnage…
Don is still sceptical, but we’re here, so I do a few pans with the Video camera, Don takes a couple of stills, and then I thank the old man, and we walk back towards the car.
Don says: “When we write this up, we’ll have to say that this is a probable location - not verified.” And this is exactly what I would have said, and where the story would have ended, but for the fact that Don had been tenuously following his own rule: “Take plenty of photographs, and when you get home, study them closely - you might see something you missed when you were there.”
So rule number eight: “The photograph sometimes sees things you don’t.”
And this is how it happened:

About a week after Don and Marla got home, I got an e-mail from them headed “Why do we always assume Frayling is wrong?”
Well, I don’t actually always assume that Professor Frayling is wrong, it’s just that he has been known to be annoyingly wrong - something as simple as sending you left instead of right, or telling you 15 Kilometres when it’s really four; and sometimes spectacularly wrong - like when we got stuck up a one-way dirt-track to nowhere, because he quoted the wrong village to be “near”.
Anyway, according to Frayling’s biography of Leone, the Indio courtyard was filmed at the back of the Cortijo del Fraile. We’d been there, we’d walked around it, and perhaps because we were looking for the firing-squad wall in DUCK YOU SUCKER, we just hadn’t seen it. But the photographs that Don sent me with the e-mail showed us everything that we hadn’t seen, and so the Prof had been right all along.
My apologies Professor, that’s one to you. It’s also rule number nine: “Sometimes the Professor is right.”

Here endeth the FAFDM saga

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