Hunting Leone: The Good, the Bad and The Ugly

  1. The Ghost Town - Sierra Alhamilla, Almeria
    Our clue to the location of the Ghost town, which features in the opening scene of GBU, was that very first brief shot of the Almerian hills that are suddenly blotted out by the grotesque features of Al Mulock looming into giant close-up from such an unexpectedly unusual direction.
    Don had been studying the photos he had taken in 1999 of the purpose-built Western town, generally referred to as Tex-Mex, and believed he had a fairly close match with the background hills. He felt that the Ghost Town may have originally been built on the same plateau, but was prepared to accept that it probably no longer existed.

According to Jose Enrique Martinez Moya in his book “Almeria, un Mundo de Pelicula”, Tex-Mex is known as El Poblado de Juan Garcia. It was to be built with investment from Sergio Leone, Juan Garcia and Alberto Grimaldi in order to be used for Leone’s next project (GBU), and then leased out for future Western Productions. Before the project was completed, Grimaldi was forced to back out, because of pressure put on him by his Spanish distributor Cesareo Gonzalez. The new town was obviously going to be in direct competition with the El Paso of FAFDM, and El Paso was now owned by Arturo Gonzalez, Cesareo’s brother. If Grimaldi went ahead and the new town took business away from El Paso, Cesareo suggested that he wasn’t going to be able to handle the distribution of Grimaldi’s films in Spain as favourably as he had been doing.
However, Juan Garcia continued with the project, creating a town styled one-half Mexican, and one-half American, and the place became so popular and successful that whilst El Paso crumbled into ruins and eventual resurrection as a theme park, Tex-Mex is still being used as a film location to this day, but they now call it Fort Bravo, and it is a theme park.
To get there, you used to take the Almeria - Tabernas road, and at the bridge just before town, you would suddenly turn off down a dirt track to the left-hand side, and follow the river bed curving back towards Almeria for about a quarter of a mile. Then you would take a sharp left turn up a steep track onto the plateau and straight into the town.
Back in 1972, that’s how I got there, but foolishly I didn’t keep my speed up during the river-bed part of the route, I didn’t stay on the harder edges of the track, and I ended up stuck in the soft sand. Fortunately, the caretaker at Tex Mex had a shovel and a generous nature, and since I was only driving a tiny SEAT car, it was pretty easy to get me out of the rut and moving back onto hard ground.
These days, there’s a fairly substantial hard track leading directly to the town, which branches off the main highway just before the bridge. Although there is a veritable Spaghetti junction of dirt tracks sprouting off every end of the bridge in all directions anyway, so you are a little spoilt for choice.
When Don, Marla and I arrived in year 2000, there was a full Production Company inhabiting the place. New buildings were going up, the streets and hacienda were being decorated with authentic-looking props, wranglers were chasing unruly horses, carriages were getting a new lick of paint and polish, and a large girder and corrugated tin warehouse was under construction at the back, possibly to shoot interiors, store props, or house post-production facilities. This was for an International Co-production of the TV series QUEEN OF SWORDS (“don’t mention Zorro”), set in Old California, and mainly occupying the Mexican end of town.
We spoke briefly with the American stunt co-ordinator/Sword Master Anthony De Longis who was really proud of the work he did teaching Ellen Barkin to use the bullwhip in WILD BILL, and Michele Pfeiffer’s whip-work as Catwoman in BATMAN RETURNS. He was particularly pleased that Michele had bothered to mention his sterling work when she demonstrated her newly learnt skills on Television.
He’d just received a package from the States containing several of the latest DVD movies, and the little group of American crew members gathered around him were getting really excited at the titles he was pulling out of the box. I promised him that he’d enjoy US MARSHALS, but some of the others were so new, nobody had heard of them.
“Listen,” he said, “the reason this package is the highlight of our lives is because we’ve been out here for two whole months!”
He seemed to be enjoying the work, however, and we watched him for a while training one of the cast in the correct procedure for handling what looked like a very heavy, very long and very sharp double-edged sabre. After a little chorus-line practise with footwork, and some demonstrations of thrusts and parries which, with Anthony’s careful attention and instruction, the actor meticulously copied, they turned to face each other and began to duel. It all looked very exciting and incredibly dangerous as those silvered blades flashed in the Almerian sunlight, noisily clashing against each other with alarming speed and ferocity. And I felt that it must have taken a lot of courage and a lot of skill for Anthony to stand there and face the fledgling sword thrusts of someone who only a short time ago had probably picked up a sword for the first time. But he was obviously a master of his craft, and made everything look so easy. I didn’t tell him that I had once studied Japanese sword - he might have proved to me how inept I really was.

Despite the fact that there was a crew at work, Tex-Mex was still open to tourists, and like Anthony said, “so long as you stay behind the camera, nobody really minds.”
Over in the Western side of town, away from the bustle of the film crew, there was a tinny loudspeaker playing famous Western themes from an open window above the Saloon, and inside its dark and cool interior, there were refreshing beers to be had. The walls were covered in posters and autographed photographs in impressive frames, all signed by the stars who had worked here, and almost all dedicated to the man who ran the bar and, if asked, would open up the little souvenir shop in the back to sell you straw hats, scarves, painted mugs and postcards. There were obviously too many of the framed pictures to hang up all at once, and Don was open-mouthed when he spotted a whole bunch of them stacked on the floor in one of the little store rooms, particularly as the most prominent one was of Giuliano Gemma from TEX, AND THE LORDS OF THE DEEP.
“I’ll go round the back, Mike, and you pass 'em through the window,” Don says.
I think he was half serious.
“You can’t get a genuine Giuliano Gemma autograph, " he explained, " That would be worth a fortune. Do you think he’d sell it - you know, like for real money?”
But the barman just wasn’t interested: These pictures were his life’s memories, and even if he had to leave some of them to gather dust in a back room, he’d always know where to find them when he needed.
Across from the Saloon is a Hotel, where actor/director Robert Hossein filmed a famous and now controversial scene for his movie CEMETERY WITHOUT CROSSES. The scene features a Hotel Clerk, and the controversy surrounds the oft-repeated claim that the role is played by Sergio Leone.
It’s a story that I first saw mentioned in Thomas Weisser’s definitive, but often erroneous, encyclopaedia of Spaghetti Westerns which, predictably enough, is called SPAGHETTI WESTERNS. And it’s a story now repeated in Professor Frayling’s biography of Leone, complete with a full page description on the quality of Leone’s performance.
Over a year before Frayling published his biography, I was alerted to the fact that he was going along with the Leone-playing-Hotel-Clerk story by some correspondence on the Sergio Leone web page (, principally with Cenk Kiral, a serious Spaghetti Western writer from Turkey, whose sobriquet is “Embassador of Sergio Leone universe in Turkey”, and he is president of theTurkish Sergio Leone Society.

I pointed out to Cenk that I actually possessed two video copies of this film, one English, one German, and in both of them, the Hotel Clerk is clearly seen to be played by famous Spanish actor Chris Huerta.
Cenk must’ve got in touch with Frayling after our exchange, because a few days later, I got an e-mail in which he says “Frayling thinks that maybe it’s some other part that Leone is playing. He could be the barman in the saloon.”
And then the sentence that really shook me: “Frayling believes it to be true, because Leone himself told him so…”
Well, as you can imagine, I got the film out again, and watched it carefully all the way through. Both copies. And Leone isn’t the barman, either. That’s played by a familiar face from countless other Westerns, a gentleman by the name of Angel Alvarez.
So I took some frame grabs of Hotel Clerk Chris Huerta from CEMETERY, and compared them to frame grabs of Chris Huerta from THE INVINCIBLE SEVEN:
Like, if that’s Leone, he’s also been in several other movies as well.
And I did the same with Angel Alvarez, both as the barman in CEMETERY, and the barman in DJANGO.
Then I sent these off to Cenk, and told him: “Frayling is wrong. Is he sure that Leone said he played a part in this film?”
And that’s the last I heard of it, until a year later when I got a copy of Frayling’s biography of Leone and on page 268, read with mounting incredulity the detailed description of Leone’s performance as the Hotel Clerk in CEMETERY WITHOUT CROSSES.
In the notes at the back, he goes on to say “Some internet buffs have claimed that the heavily disguised Leone never in fact appeared in this film. But his participation is confirmed by everyone I have spoken to about it.”
“Some internet buffs” indeed!!!
The name is Mike Eustace, Prof, and I really did try to head you off at the pass and save you the embarassment of putting such an appalling gaffe in print.
However, in print it was, and when I pointed out Frayling’s idiocy in perpetuating the myth on the Leone web page, the Prof himself turned up and a heated exchange followed.
Subsequently Frayling appeared before an audience at the National Film Theatre in London to discuss his biography, and one of the net regulars posed the CEMETERY question.
Frayling apparently took it in good part. He admitted that he had made an understandable error in mistaking Chris Huerta for Leone, due to a viewing of a very bad several-generation copy of the film. But he maintained, and this is the bit I have no problem with at all, that Leone himself told him that he had played the part for his “old friend” Robert Hossein.
So, although Leone did not appear in the final cut of CEMETERY, his footage being dropped in favour of a re-shoot with Chris Huerta for reasons which we may never know, we do have an interesting find here at Tex-Mex that adds to the puzzle: The interior of the Hotel set in Almeria is most recognisably - apart from a change of wallpaper, and a very obvious bit of walling-up of a previously existing doorway - exactly as it appeared in CEMETERY. So if Leone played the part, then it was most likely performed here at Tex-Mex in 1967, at a time when he was possibly scouting locations for ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST.
It’s ironic that this town, in which Leone had invested such a considerable amount of his own money, was never used by him as a director, and that the little bit of acting he did here for someone else’s film never made the final cut.

Now, in case you’ve forgotten why we are here at Tex-Mex, it’s because we’re looking for the location of the opening shot of THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY. And Don felt that some photographs he’d taken here at Tex-Mex in 1999 showed some distant mountains that were a pretty good match. However, standing here in year 2000, it didn’t look so promising anymore; the mountains were the right mountains, but the foreground was wrong; we were too far on the wrong side of the main road. So, no Toscano here then.
And then it struck me: The likeliest place to look was up on the plateau, somewhere near the town built for the Burt Lancaster movie VALDEZ IS COMING. If only I could find my way up there again…

Back in 1972, Almeria was so full of prominent Western sets littering the hills around Tabernas, that it was easy to get lazy and not venture too far afield. When I returned in 1974, I intended to do a more thorough search, and brought a telescope with me to scan the distant terrain for places that might have been built further away from the main highway.
It was whilst I was around Tex-Mex that I spotted some gleaming white buildings on a plateau to the south of Tabernas castle. It could just have been an ordinary village, but it was promising enough to get me to cross the bridge and search the ramblas on the other side of the road for a passable track leading up onto the plateau.
I remembered taking the left fork beyond the bridge, and then turning to the right, up a dirt track that passed to the left side of a white house perched on a rise. By taking this route, I travelled some way up into the hills and presently arrived on a plateau; but with no town to be seen. Where had I gone wrong?
I turned the car around to return to the rambla, and suddenly saw the town shimmering in the heat-haze atop another plateau which was some way behind me, and separated from the vantage point I occupied by a deep ravine. However, this was very promising, because from this distance, I could clearly tell that it was a film-set.
Quickly retracing my route, I decided to take the much steeper track which passed to the right-hand side of the aforementioned white house, and after a very winding and bumpy journey eventually arrived at the town. It was an adobe-style Mexican village, with a large central square, surrounded by buildings on three sides and a large arched gateway on the fourth. There was a hacienda, a church with walled-graveyard and gnarled trees, rows of stables and various smaller houses, and a large circular fountain in the centre, all of it made from plaster caked onto wooden frames.
I hadn’t seen the place used in any films, but within a week of getting home, the very next film I saw was BLINDMAN, and there was the town.

When I first met with Don and Marla to help them plan their 1999 trip, Don confirmed that the village also appeared in VALDEZ IS COMING, and we decided that it had probably been built for that film. Don was keen to find it, so I explained how I’d got there, sketched them out a map and left them to it.
Astonishingly, they never found it.

I couldn’t understand why. You leave by the right side of the bridge, take the left fork in the riverbed, and then turn right, up the steep track that goes on the right side of the white house. So easy!
And I’m standing there in year 2000, pointing out the white house, and wondering why the only track to the right of it is a rocky dead-ended river bed covered in brushwood. I must’ve walked up and down on the cliffs around that now-derelict house for half-an-hour, trying to piece together what I’d done in 1974. And Don’s muttering something about “faulty memory”.
Okay, so let’s drive further down the rambla and see if there’s another house.
“We already tried that last year,” says Don.
“Well, let’s look anyway, it might jog my memory.”
Of course, it didn’t jog my memory, and there were no other houses.
On the way back, we encountered a large herd of goats foraging along this very wide rambla which surprisingly, in this normally dusty-dry sun-baked terrain, was covered in green shrubs and evidencing a certain amount of water gathering in little pools or seeping just below the surface of the soil. It was early morning, and quite refreshingly cool in the shaded parts of the ravine, hemmed in as it now was by towering rock walls. I spotted a goat-herder, and suggested that Don stop the car so that I could ask him for directions.
It was funny how unconcerned these locals were about loony foreigners tramping all over their ancient landscape, and I had to shout to get the guy’s attention. When I explained to him that I was looking for a route into the hills, he pointed back the way we had come, and curved his arm to indicate the second ravine along. He then raised his arm to signify heading up onto the plateau, all the while gabbling far too quickly in a language that I could only half understand. i.e: Spanish.
So we went back past the white house, and took the ravine that was to it’s right-hand side, just like I thought the goat-herder had said. And after a while, there appeared a track that climbed steeply up the right wall of the canyon, and after much twisting and turning and various tracks turning off in every direction, all of which we studiously ignored, we curved up onto the plateau and found the ruins of the VALDEZ IS COMING town. At least this proved that I generally knew what I was doing, but it wasn’t anything like the way I’d remembered it, and I’ll just have to add it to that strange rift in the space-time continuum I had once discovered on the waters of the lagoon just outside Venice, as being another mysterious occasion where reality slips you a Mickey Finn.

Anyway, whilst we were poking around the ruins of the VALDEZ town, I glanced across towards the famous mountain; the most prominent one in Almeria that rises up beyond El Paso, and I knew that we were not far away from the opening of THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY.
Then following the terrain with my eyes across to the right and down, I spotted a likely-looking piece of flat ground on a promontory and said: “That’s the place!”
“I love it when Mike’s so certain,” says Marla. “It’s like when he ran out of the car at the FISTFUL town, and just knew it was there!”
Well, I guess this made up for my alternative-Universe memories of how to get to the VALDEZ town that we’d so fruitlessly explored a little earlier that morning.

The GBU plateau is only a little further on towards El Paso than the VALDEZ town, and since there was no Ghost town there in 1974, one has to assume that Leone had it demolished soon after he’d finished filming. We found the usual debris of rusting nails, brittle sun-dried wood, and white plaster littered everywhere, along with some more modern broken beer bottles and flattened ring-pull cans. Every so often, you’d see holes cemented into the ground that would have carried the structural uprights to the buildings.

It’s a short drive down from there towards El Paso, but the dirt track is now very treacherous, and at one point disappears into a river-bed overgrown with stumpy trees and littered with prominent boulders that would wreck the exhaust on the underside of your car, or even worse. We got part way down, figuring that this would be the way Sergio was driven to the location, directly from El Paso, but it must have been a lot more passable in 1966 than it was now, and we eventually had to abandon this attempt and return to the main road by the route we came.

To get to the remains of the GBU Ghost Town, you take the road from Almeria, turn right off the Tabernas bridge from either end, and then follow the rambla that is the second on your left, almost straight ahead of you. (Ignore the vestigial rambla blocked by Palm Trees).The route curves to the left and follows the bottom of the river bed for almost a kilometer from the bridge, before lurching up the side of the ravine to pass a house on your right. Keep on climbing the winding route, ignoring all side tracks until you get to a major fork in the road. To the left it says “Camino Gongoras Cortido”, but you ignore this and follow the right fork. Shortly before the second kilometre is up, you reach a second major fork, and again go to the right, heading back in the direction of Almeria. Then, just as your odometer reaches the second kilometre from the bridge, you will be passing the VALDEZ town on your right. Continue for another kilometre along the winding road, and you will arrive at the flat area atop the peninsula where the GBU Ghost Town used to be, and enjoy the magnificent views all around you.
Course, if you’ve slipped into that alternative Universe that I occupied in 1974, just take the right fork past the white house.

These are the remains of the VALDEZ town clearly showing the circular fountain in the centre.

It’s actually more of a walled hacienda, and the funny thing is that the main house is of identical design to a house in the adobe part of Tex-Mex. Identical. If you watch VALDEZ, you’ll see how they switch between the two. The plateau version is for wide shots, and the Tex-Mex version for closer work, because clearly it was a lot easier to get to Tex-Mex than schlep up to the plateau. Which you will find out if you ever go there. I hope you will.


I find this very hard to believe, that two powerful Italian filmmakers were going to be bullied by a Spanish producer/ distributor … Not likely, as the Italians were often very disparaging about their Spanish collaborators, and treated their actors and crew poorly - Check out Eli Wallach’s comments about this.

The story I heard regarding the ‘Tex Mex’ town was that it was being built for GBU, but that Leone had a fallout with the owner over the price to use the set. The first film to utilize it was ‘Death Rides a Horse’ … and many productions after that used both this and the El Paso set for their movies, so it seems really unlikely that it was taking business away … During the shooting of GBU, no one knew for sure that the SW would become a huge production phenomenon !

When Leone tells Frayling that he played a part, couldn’t that be a reference to his part of director for the ‘Jack in the box’ scene ? Frayling would have been relying on an interpreter and this point may have got confused.

I’m glad you challenged ‘The Prof’, as he’s made quite a few gaffes that infuriate fans ! LOL :wink:

PS: What’s Sir Chris doing with a 3rd generation bootleg copy of ‘Cemetery Without Crosses’ !!!

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First time I’ve heard that theory and it’s brilliant.
“Yes, Sergio worked in a scene for Robert Hossein’s movie Une Corde Un Colt”. Everybody tells Frayling this, because it’s true. Frayling gets a bootleg copy. “But I’m using it for research, so it’s okay”. And Frayling has read Weisser’s book, so he knows where to look, and he thinks he is looking at Leone as the hotel clerk, and writes about his brilliant performance. Best review Chris Huerta ever had. Unfortunately, when everybody told Frayling that Leone did a scene in Une Corde, Un Colt, he didn’t imagine that Leone directed a scene in Une Code, Un Colt, he imagined he appeared in a scene and took Weisser’s lead.
It was the same way with the Leone board claiming that Leone played the ticket collector in Once Upon a Time in America. Leone fans didn’t even know what he looked like.
That jack-in-the-box scene in Une Corde, Un Colt is directed in a Sergio Leone style. It has the Leone hallmark. And it has been reported many times that Leone did direct that scene. So, I believe you are right, it was confusion… a bit like revolution.

As to Jose Enrique Martinez Moya’s book, I respect your opinion. But it is an interesting story.

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The origins of the ‘Fort Bravo’/ Tex Mex story came from Spanish film writer, Carlos Aguilar - I was in touch for a while via FB, and Aguilar attended and hosted some interviews at the first few ‘Almeria Western Film Festivals’

When I visited the location for the first time in 2007, I noticed a lot of posters for films that most definitely were not shot there, including GBU and the Magnificent Seven - their advertising fliers had even more outrageous and inaccurate claims - So I asked Carlos what he knew of this, as he’d written a book on Leone and was friendly with the owner of ‘Fort Bravo’ … this was his response. So not my theory.

Thanks again, Mike … love hearing all these stories.

Mike, many thanks for your posts and your detailed, thorough and extensive research.

I really enjoyed your exchanges with Jason ‘Jay Boy’ Slater on the spaghetti western web board 15 years ago!

Golly gosh, I didn’t know I was infamous.

  1. Setenza’s Farm - Caserio del Campillo de Dona Francisca, Almeria

We had a lot of trouble finding the farm where Setenza carries out his first contract killing. Don had realised that it was the same place which features in the title-sequence for John Guillermin’s EL CONDOR, and his screen-grabs of this particular footage gave us the advantage of a slightly wider shot than Leone had used, and a more useful panorama of the landscape, which we all felt was recognisably indicative of the Cabo De Gata area.
We had originally shown our frame-grabs to an old man we’d met in the streets of Los Albaricoques, and he thought it was over towards San Jose. In San Jose, the barman from Marisol’s farm looked at the pictures very long and very carefully, and finally said “Los Albaricoques!”
So we spent several hours travelling the road between San Jose and Los Albaricoques looking in every direction; a job made much more difficult these days by a proliferation of enormous greenhouses covered in plastic-sheeting that effectively mask much of the terrain. If we had difficulty finding something, Don would often say “I’ll bet it’s hidden under one of them goddam greenhouses.”
And at every little dirt track that sprouted off from the main road, we’d pull over and end up driving for miles around these modern monstrosities, hoping that behind them we might be lucky enough to find some old farmhouse or cluster of ruins that we could recognise as being something like the building in our pictures. In fact, we found some very interesting and picturesque places, and I remember standing in one of those big stone circles surrounded by a plain of red earth; my shadow stretching long under the rays of the blazing sun, the heat tempered only by the fierce wind that was endlessly beating against the desolation; and I was holding those frame grabs, and willing this to be the place.
Don and Marla eventually found it after I’d gone back to England. It had beeen right under our noses; a stone’s throw from the Cortijo De Los Frailes, the place that Leone had already used twice in FAFDM, and was to use again in GBU. We had forgotten rule number five: “If you’ve found a Leone location, look behind you - you’ll probably see another one.”

To get to Setenza’s farm, you travel out of Los Albaricoques for a couple of kilometres on the road to the east. At the fork in the road, take the left and more direct route to the Cortijo De Fraile, and at the very next turn to the left, you will see a small group of ruined buildings. This is Setenza’s farm, known locally as Caserio del Campillo de Dona Francisca. Caserio means a hamlet, or a small group of buildings belonging to a Country House.

On current google maps you will see Cortijo El Campillo highlighted. This is the name of a a small hotel, but its address is El Campillo do Dona Francisca 04116 Albaricoques


At one point, John Nudge had set up a new board, which he renamed the ‘Jay Slater v Mike Eustace Bitch Board’. I posted, pretending to be Edmund Purdom, asking for a copy of Chrysanthemums for a Bunch of Swine :joy:. The days of unregistered boards!

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Well you’ve piqued my interest now, so I’m going to put GBU on hold (everybody knows where all the locations are anyway), and we can chat about past message boards. So I’m declaring sidebar time.
The name John Nudge sounds familiar to me. Who is he, and what was the original board you are talking about?

It was the Spaghetti Western Web Board. John Nudge was the moderator. Tom Betts was a major contributor and Don Bruce was also a contributor. From what I remember, you took people to task for posting rubbish. There were a lot of nut jobs on that board. One of them emailed to threaten me because I criticised a film that he liked.

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Eventually I was kicked off the John Nudge Spaghetti Western site because my opinions didn’t fit the narrative. I believed in freedom of speech and welcomed opposing points of view, so I was cancelled. For some time I had been buying European DVDs and either editing English soundtracks onto them from VHS editions, or translating the subtitles and making an English subtitle track. But I argued that to then hand copies of these new DVDs to friends, or to sell them on to others was manifestly illegal. It said so on the front of the DVD. But a lot of people on the website wanted free Spaghetti Western DVDs and said that it was perfectly legal to copy DVDs and to pass them on to friends, and the warnings on the DVDs wouldn’t stand up in court. I continued to argue the moral standpoint, was insulted for it, returned the insults and was cancelled. I had been particularly harangued by people who felt that it was their God-given right to obtain Spaghetti Westerns with English Language audio and not subtitled. Presumably because they had reading difficulties.
Leaving the board gave me more time to edit and subtitle European DVDs for my own pleasure. I must have done nearly a hundred Westerns and over a hundred Peplum. Now those films are coming out in BluRay with English tracks, so my work has become redundant. But it was a great hobby. Now I fly military aircraft on my kick-ass simulator. It’s my fifteenth tour of duty in Vietnam :wink:

Don Bruce had joined the John Nudge website and wrote that he was planning to go to Almeria in the near future, and asked if there was anyone on the website who had actually been to these locations, and would they like to tell him where he should visit. I ignored the request for a while, and then found Don posting the same request on another website. At which point I thought, “If nobody else is going to offer, maybe I should.” So I owned up and said that I had actually been, but that I lived in England. And he said “That’s okay, we’ll call by on our way to Spain.”
We met up and I drew him loads of maps and showed him where I’d been in 1972 and 1974, and his wife Marla carefully folded them up and placed them in a document file. And then she said, “You really should come with us, Mike.” And next time I did.
After all the location hunting, Don created his own private Leone message board for the high profile figures of the Spaghetti Western world, and was courting people like Tom Betts who he took with him to Almeria to show off all the locations he’d discovered. He threw parties for the Spaghetti Western alumni, for he was quite wealthy, and made himself popular, looming large in the Spaghetti Western Community. Sort of a Tony Montana story… And there was a woman involved.
I left that board after a while because I was horrified by the way they were slagging off Oliver Tocanne. This fine French location hunter had supplied a lot of useful information that helped me and Don to find some of the locations that I have been documenting in this series, and on this Don Bruce board, they were slagging him off. I naturally rose to his defense. I said that without his efforts, much of what we discovered would have remained undiscovered. There clearly were many known unknowns amongst the unknown knowns that he had made known. Then this slip of a girl, English even, who had been sucking up to Don during his parties, presumably seduced by the smell of money, described Olivier Tocanne in a rude racist way with the sort of language that a docker would shy away from using. I replied in kind against her, and all the men on the board naturally rose to her defense. And having become the bad guy again, I left the board.
And nobody, none of the people on the board that I thought were my friends, stuck up for me. Not even Don.
Some time later, Don and Marla were getting a divorce. And some time a bit later Don went into hospital for an operation and never came out again.
I don’t know what happened to the English slut. I don’t care.


This is getting even better by the day!

I was not part of the websites you’ve mentioned, but I was vaguely in contact with some of those you mentioned via Facebook, which I left about 5 years ago.

Those type of xenophobic attitudes were very apparent from the Americans, not all, but quite a few, which not only appalled me, but made me wonder why these right wing racists were into European cinema when they seemed to detest all things non American.

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Olivier opposed pirating on principle. He would refer to one of the original fandubbers Franco Cleef as ‘brother bootleg’ :joy:. The Nudge board was full of nut jobs, none more than Khalid Khan, who once wrote that he would never allow Iran to get the bomb. I got that post deleted I think.

As I mentioned previously, many of the members there could not tolerate any criticism of films that they liked or any interpretation they could not understand. I used to post under different nicknames to wind people up, but my IP address would give me away (this was before VPNs).

As for Slater, he tried that old journalist trick of trick of trying to get other people to write his articles for him, which he would publish and claim the credit for. It did not work, he made a lot of enemies and took a lot of abuse. At one point, one of his enemies uploaded an audio clip of him (Slater) threatening to report him to the Police CID for some unknown reason!

I won’t get into right and left wing arguments here, because over the years the distinction between political standpoints has become blurred. Today’s socialists certainly deny having anything to do with the socialists of 1939 Germany. Nor will I get into discussions of racism, the meaning of which has mushroomed to include just about anything anyone could ever say. But I wholeheartedly agree that many Americans that I have met on the web boards have been very tribal and extremely xenophobic.


There was an excellent journalist on the board called Robert ‘The Mule’ Monell, who tracked down the actor Charles Southwood and did an interview with him. Strangely, Monell seemed to think Fidani’s films were on a par to those of Leone!

Yes, Slater got me to write a review of some Peplum that had zombie themes for a book he was writing. I realised he was a rather unpleasant manipulative joker. I wrote it, but after an argument, I refused to let him have it. He got Prof Christopher Frayling to write the review instead.

Anyway, if this goes on, We should move it to another thread entitled “Total Shits we have met in the Spaghetti Western World”.

However, I will say this about Don Bruce, because I believe he is now a forgotten light even to the alumni that he courted. He was a man with a mission who achieved very much in the short period that I knew him. He kept returning to Spain with the latest hi-tech cameras that he could buy in order to get the best shots possible for the definitive book on Leone locations that he wanted to publish. He made contact with Aldo Sanbrell and tried to get him more visible on the net. In fact, Don took me to meet him in Madrid, and when Aldo knew I was a film editor, he said; “Oh, I’ve got a script you might like to read”. He was a charming man with a great sense of humour. He mentioned his disappointment at not getting bigger roles after playing the lead villain in Navajo Joe. He told us, “We have a saying in Spain: today you’re a prince, tomorrow they want to hang you”. Don met with Leone’s family in Rome, met with set designers of Leone’s films.He contacted the Hollywood Film Studios that were distributing the remastered Leone films, and persuaded them to include location sections on the DVD’s showing then and now. He did so much in such a short time, because he was an enthusiast with boundless energy and a great love of the Leone Westerns.

Can I return to the GBU location subject now?


By all means … though sometimes it’s good to get things off your chest and set the record straight.

I agree too that we don’t want to get into politics here, but I felt that the the issues you referred to were worth a brief response, if only to state that you’re not alone in having problems with some online enthusiasts.

  1. Tuco ambushed by Bounty Hunters - Manzanares, Madrid

The boulder-ringed crossroads where Tuco is shot from his horse by Bounty Hunters, and subsequently rescued by Blondie, is a most familiar location because of it’s frequent use in so many other Spaghetti Westerns (And Peplum… in fact, Leone first used the location in Colossus of Rhodes). But it was not so easy to find.
It was a late afternoon on our last day in Madrid, and we had just spent a miserable day in the drizzling rain travelling up to Burgos to seek out another location altogether, which ended up being one of those time-wasting, fruitless searches that we were beginning to refer to as a “Frayling Goose Chase”.
I had some possible place names for the Tuco location, gleaned from old magazines, pressbooks and film credits that might just point us in the right direction, so I got Don to pull off the main Burgos-Madrid motorway at a truckstop in a little village called La Cabrera.
The bar was lined from one end of the room to the other with fresh, clean coffee cups and spoons, like they were waiting for a sudden influx of coach parties to burst in and demand fifty coffees all at once. But apart from ourselves and a few truck drivers, the place was fairly quiet.
I laid the photographs of the Tuco ambush on the bar top and ordered our beers. But the barman was studiously ignoring them, so I eventually had to call him over:
“Por favor, Senor. Conosce? Este aqui - La Cabrera? Clint Eastwood - El Bueno El Feo El Malo!”
Within a matter of seconds, it had got the whole bar moving. It was like bees swarming on honey. Everyone was passing round the pictures, excitedly talking to each other and then to us, passing suggestions back and forth as to where the place might be.
Eventually, it calmed down, and the barman summed it all up.
Evidently it could either be to the east or to the west.
To the east was Torrelaguna, and they were pretty convinced that EL CID had been filmed there. To the West was a little dot on the map bearing the legend “Convento De San Antonio”, and it was suggested that we should take the car up towards there, and then hike around. They were pretty sure that EL CID had been filmed there too.
I felt that the western route was more hopeful, because the hills were higher and rockier, and it would be taking us on towards Manzanares which was another place frequently mentioned on film credits, and where I had high hopes of finding something of interest.
So we set off towards the Convento De San Antonio, and we had a guide: One of the regulars, a young guy in his thirties, had offered to drive ahead of us and show us the way around what turned out to be a veritable maze of new housing estates seemingly designed to confuse the traveller who was used to finding his way by means of a thirty-year old map.
Presently he took us up a muddy track to a barred gate, pointed across a wet field of tall grass that made me feel completely at home in the Yorkshire dales, and suggested we take a long hike.
At the end of the field was a barbed wire fence, and a gate with the usual warning signs that led out onto a rocky escarpment. We passed through and looked around, to see large groups of cattle gathered amongst the rocks. However, the location wasn’t matching anything like our photographs. It was too rocky, without any flat areas, and we seemed to be far too low down. The sensible idea seemed to be to look for a road that might take us nearer to the Convent, so we could start our hike from there.
Since our guide had already left, we had a little difficulty in finding the main route up there, but once we’d left the housing estate, a single winding road simply led all the way up the mountains and into the grounds of the convent, which judging by the other cars up there was quite a tourist attraction, and not the remote inaccessible hermitage that the people at the La Cabrera bar had described.
The sun had returned, and we began a pleasant walk around the narrow paths to the west of the Convent. Don and Marla were in shorts, so they had more trouble with the spiky bushes jutting out into the pathway than I did - being British I was sensible wearing sturdy trousers.
Eventually the path opened out onto a rocky promontory, with magnificent views of the boulder strewn hillsides below, and then the great plain stretching towards Madrid.
It had been a long day for Don, driving all the way to Burgos, around all the Civil War sites again, and then hiking all over the mountains of Madrid:
“What sort of a f***ing lunatic would come all the way up here to shoot a movie?”
“You talking about Leone, Don? Yesterday you were telling me what a genius you thought he was - today he’s a lunatic!”
But of course, Don was right. Leone wouldn’t have come up here unless there was an easy motorway leading right up the back. If it was difficult for us to get up here, then how much more difficult would it have been for an entire film crew with cameras, lights and horses?
I’d forgotten rule number ten: “Leone don’t hike.”

When we got back to the convent, there was a group of well-dressed, middle-aged women looking around the grounds, so I decided to see if they knew anything about our locations.
“Lo siento, Senoras, buscaremo por este…”
They were delighted to help, and started sharing the photographs amongst themselves.
“El Bueno, El Feo…” I always got stuck on the “Feo”, but they finsished it for me “Y El Malo,si si!” Everybody knew this movie.
Then one of the women got excited; she’d seen something and she was trying to put it into words. It was like that moment in DUCK YOU SUCKER where Rod Steiger is trying to think of the word “Destiny”, and he sucks his breath, his fingers grasp the air, his eyes widen, he gasps, and then… “Destiny!”
And the woman was doing this. She was sucking her breath, her fingers were jabbing at the pictures, her eyes were wide open, she was gasping, and then… “Clint Eastwood.”
The other women fell about laughing. No No, they explained, he want’s to know where the mountains are. Ah! The woman realised her little mistake and smiled coyly.
Then another woman helpfully suggested that maybe we should try Almeria, because she’d heard that a lot of Westerns were filmed there!
They were all very sweet, and really wanted to help, but no useful information was forthcoming: “We’re from Madrid,” one of the women explained, “We’re only visiting.”

“What now?” says Don.
Well, whilst we were here, I though it might be worthwhile to take the dirt road up the other side of the Convent and see if there was anything remotely resembling our location on that side of the high hill. But we didn’t travel very far on this bumpy road which was winding its way across the rocky moorland, before it petered out next to a small forest of pines surrounding a grand country house, complete with gates and “coto privado de casa” warning signs everywhere. And as we pulled to a stop, a surreal sight greeted us. There was a silver-haired gentleman in a Pringle pullover trimming a hedge. For a moment I thought we’d warped to England, but when I got out to speak to him, he was definitely quite Spanish.
He was obviously old enough to remember the Leone films, and there seemed to be a flicker of recognition there when I showed him the photographs. A moment later, the gentleman’s son came rushing out of the driveway, having been alerted by our conversation, and obviously curious to see who would want to come all the way up here to their remotely secluded home.
He was in his early thirties, and fortunately spoke English very well, so he was able to clearly translate what his father was trying to explain to me.
Apparently he remembered the huge amount of filming that used to go on around here in the sixties, particularly the Samuel Bronston Productions, like EL CID and 55 DAYS AT PEKING, and in fact he said that one of their friends who visits occasionally was a director who worked with Bronston back then. He was strongly convinced that the area we were looking for was an area of Las Pedrizas above Manzanares El Real, further to the West, where he knew that lots of films had been shot. He definitely remembered that Bronston’s FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE had been filmed there, and that was certainly good enough for me, because I was strongly convinced that the location used for the Persian Battle in ROMAN EMPIRE was virtually the same place where Tuco gets ambushed by the Bounty Hunters.

I had been to Manzanares El Real in 1973, because there’s a famously photogenic Castle there that has featured in several movies, particularly THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD.

I’d never ventured into the mountains, because I’d had other places to find, and not much time in which to do it. However, the mountain range above Manzanares, known as Las Pedrizas, has in recent years been mentioned quite frequently with regard to Spaghetti Westerns. In fact it was once erroneously given as the location for the FISTFUL OF DOLLARS town, and even now, some people insist on describing the true location at Hoyo De Manzanares as being “close to Las Pedrizas”, which it really isn’t.

The Manzanares that I now saw in year 2000 was nothing like the Manzanares of 1973.
The only clue that I was in the same place was the castle. But instead of it being a lonely but impressive monument amongst green rolling hills, surrounded by the high rocky tops of Las Pedrizas and the snowy heights of the Sierra Guadarrama beyond, it was now surrounded by a brand new housing estate. And the entire hillside above it was covered in these modern white houses accessed by a maze of one-way streets, and dead-ends cluttered with parked cars, and overhung with tall construction cranes taking an idle Sabbatical in the midst of towering, half-built edifices.
It was with great difficulty that we made our way through this confusing maze, through the housing estate, up to the left past the vast caravan sites that occupy the tourist area and into the courtyard of the little tourist information office.
Here we had some more good fortune, because the gentleman in charge of the office, recognised our pictures immediately, and supplied us with a guide and map to the Manzanares development. We were to take a road called Cuatro Penas which travelled northeast through the estate and then branched off into the Rincon de Aragon. Above here, he drew a large oblong and wrote “El Rodaje” - the film location.
"Everybody films here, " he said. “Todo El Mundo!”

It was about six o’clock in the evening when we reached the heights of Manzanares and walked out onto the grassy plateau ringed with those giant granite boulders. The sun was getting low and casting long shadows, dramatically bringing into sharp relief the rugged shapes of that conglomeration of rock towering still higher above us.
I knew that I was standing where FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE and EL CID had been filmed, and I recognised various features that I had seen in other films. There was no mistaking that this was one of the most frequently used locations in the whole of Spain, and if I needed furher proof, the entire area was currently being used as a family park, where parents wandered around with their children to show them the sights and tell them about all the movies that had been made here. The word “pelicula”, meaning “film”, was the word that was regularly dropping from everyone’s lips.
But was this where Tuco was ambushed by the Bounty Hunters? Don wasn’t so sure.
He and Marla had wandered all over the lower hillside looking for something that would exactly match the frame grabs, and because I was so desperately sure we were here, I’d gone rock-climbing up to the next level, and bumped into a whole herd of cows that were all over the rocks and hunkered down in the shrubs that grew between them.
We got a match with the far hills to the west, that almost lined up to perfection, but couldn’t get anything in the foreground that would work, and as we disconsolately strolled back to the car, Don pointed at the new housing estate on the next plateau just below us.
“You see how all these houses are built on the rocks? Maybe it’s under there.”
And at the time, I thought that it probably was the answer. A prime example of rule number two comes into play here: “a lot can happen in thirty years.”

A year later, Don went back and hiked a little further to the East and found the exact spot.

To get to “El Rodaje” at Manzanares, you take the M607 out of Madrid to Colmenar Viejo. Keep going until you see the large reservoir on your left, and follow the signs in the same direction to Manzanares. Just past the castle, which is on your right, you’ll see a main road turning into the town, also on the right. You now have the fun of negotiating the one-way streets and dead ends, heading northeast up to the plateau. The sensible advice is to get a local map, and you 'll find the tourist office at the end of Avenida de la Pedriza which travels along the edge of town to the northwest.
You need to find Calle Rincon de Galicia which is closest to the location, or Calle del Puente which points you to the iconic rock on the skyline.

In the map below, the left circle is where we first arrived, El Rodaje… That’s where the Persian battle was filmed for Fall of the Roman Empire. The right circle is, I believe, the GBU location, where Don went a year later.

If anyone wishes to clarify this, be my guest.

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  1. First Tuco Hanging - Elios Western Village, Rome

Blondie turns Tuco over to the sheriff for his first public hanging and rope-splitting rescue at a town often seen in other Spaghetti Westerns like DJANGO and ADIOS GRINGO.
I think we can comfortably accept Professor Frayling’s note that this is at the Elios Western Village in Rome.

  1. Valverde, second Hanging - Mini Hollywood, Almeria

The second hanging takes place in Mini Hollywood, which a sign outside the saloon suggests is now called “Valverde”. However, it’s not completely the Mini Hollywood/El Paso that we normally recognise, since the adobe bank, famously robbed in FAFDM has been completely covered by a huge flat to resemble a Western-style clapboard building.

  1. The Plain, Blondie abandons Tuco - Tabernas/Gergal road, Almeria

When Blondie drags Tuco behind his horse across a large desolate plain and then dissolves their partnership by abandoning him and riding off, most Spaghetti Western buffs would instantly recognise that the scene is being played out in exactly the same place that Leone used for the opening shot of FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE.

7.Maria dumped from wagon - Mini Hollywood, Almeria

This night sequence is filmed in Mini Hollywood, with the adobe bank just out of frame to the left of the camera.

  1. Rope bridge & Town - Mini Hollywood, Almeria

The rope bridge that crosses the ravine separating the town of Mini Hollywood from the dirt track that circles it was replaced for many years by a solid wooden bridge.
Now, the dirt track has been tarmacked, and the bridge is just a decaying ruin, hidden behind the newer buildings that house the zoo.
The tourist entrance to the town is from much nearer the main road.

  1. The Gunsmiths - Italy

Although Tuco crosses a rope bridge and enters the town at Mini-Hollywood, the gunsmith’s shop is not filmed here. Don noted that the view through the doorway onto the street clearly shows buildings unlike any that are found at Mini-Hollywood, and the supposition is that these scenes were filmed at Elios Studios in Rome.

  1. Tuco’s Hotel ambush - Mini Hollywood, Almeria

The scene where Tuco appears at the window of the hotel room to get the drop on Blondie is quite clearly staged at the Mini Hollywood saloon/hotel. The building is a solid four-walled structure, with two storeys, and at one time you could get in there and see the actual room that Blondie was occupying.

Certainly, the outside stairs that Tuco must have climbed to appear so silently at the window are still there, and you can still peek in through that window. But the room itself is now changed beyond recognition, with most of the original broken-roof sagging down inside, whilst being covered on the outside by a substantial new roof constructed of modern materials. (When I visited in 2016, it had been renovated and turned into a working bar, but access to the upstairs rooms was no longer possible. Unless you went in through the window :wink:

There was a theory put forward by someone on the Leone Internet page that suggested the shots of Tuco at the window were not filmed at Mini Hollywood, but were filmed instead inside the studio against a painted backdrop.

Now there is certainly something very strange and unreal about those shots of Tuco at the window which could easily lead one to conclude that the scenery is a painting.
The two shots that have to be studied closely, are:

  1. The pull out from Tuco’s spur to the Wide shot.

  2. The low angle wide-shot of Tuco stepping down from the window.
    In shot #1, the visual cues of the lighting between exterior and interior are in conflict. The exterior light is coming from the right, as evidenced by the shadows on the balustrade. The interior light on Tuco is coming from the left.
    There is also a difference in strength between the exterior light: much softer, lower contrast, and the light on Tuco,which is very harsh.
    If you now compare shots #1 and #2, you find that in the second shot, Leone has lowered his camera viewpoint and moved to the right. As a consequence the scenery outside shows the balustrade much higher against the mountains than in shot #1. If the background is a painting, then Leone had two paintings done. One for the higher angle of shot #1, and one for the lower angle of shot #2. Alternatively, one could argue that the balustrade is a prop, and naturally moves up in perspective against a background painting. However, if you look at the later shot of Tuco, where he points his gun right into the camera, you realise that we are dealing with a fairly tall painting here, if it is to cover the whole of that window.
    What is particularly obvious from shot #2 is the sheet of reflective material positioned just outside the window. The windows of the room are open, yet we can clearly see the reflection of the lace curtains on the right of screen showing on the background scenery, lining up almost perfectly with the main support post of the balustrade.
    In shot #2 you also notice an increase in the strength of the key light on Tuco coming from the left, which makes the curtains at the left of screen glow very white. In shot #1, those same curtains are just a murky gray.
    So what can we conclude?
    Well, yes it could be a painting, but background paintings (as opposed to matte paintings) are not usually done on glass, or reflective material - it sort of defeats the object. So this seems unlikely.
    Instead, there is every possibility that the shots were taken in the exact location of the “El Paso” town in Almeria. So what are the curtains being reflected from? Probably a sheet of neutral density filter placed between the window and the balustrade to cut down the intensity of the exterior sunlight. However it has to be noted that this is a very large sheet, and judging by the position of the image of the reflected curtains, placed much nearer the balustrade than the window. To the left of the window will be a strong key light pointing diagonally into the interior, across Tuco, casting his shadow on the wall adjoining the window frame at the right.
    One has to question why all this is necessary, since in the previous scene, the balance of light between the exterior troop movements seen through the open doors of the saloon, and the interior action featuring Tuco pulling the Hotel Proprietor away from the door are perfectly balanced. Not only can I see no evidence of the use of neutral density filters in this shot, which in this case would have to have been excessively large; neither can I see any artificial light being used to recreate sunlight streaming into the interior as was obviously felt necessary with the Tuco-at-the-window shot.
    I think the point is that whenever Leone and his Director of Photography create something so obviously artificial as the shots of Tuco at the window, we are immediately alerted to the trickery, because for most of the time the style of the photography is so apparently realistic that shots like these just do not sit comfortably with everything that has gone before, or is yet to come.

  3. Tuco finds the cigars - Don’s Hill, Almeria

Tuco tracks down Blondie in a short montage which shows him finding the latter’s discarded, half-smoked cigars amongst the embers of three separate campfires that he has abandoned along his trail. Each time that Tuco finds a cigar, he tries drawing on it to see if it is still fresh, and whilst the first two are too cold, the final one glows into life, causing a happy smile to spread across Tuco’s face.
All three campfires appear to be located in the same area of the Sierra Alhamilla. The first one is at the gap between the two mounds that form “Don’s Hill”; the exact same location that Leone used for the sequence in FAFDM where Mortimer shoots Manco in the neck.
The second shot appears to be slightly higher up the same dirt track, again at a place that was used for a scene in FAFDM - the one where Manco guns down the members of Indio’s gang at their campfire prior to the El Paso bank robbery.
The third shot is played very close, starting on Tuco’s feet and ending on a close-up of his grinning face, so the exact location is very difficulty to pin down. But judging by what little we can see of the background, I believe that we can safely assume that it is somewhere between the two previous locations, just beside the dirt track.

So Don put together a little circle of stones to make it look like a campfire as a joke for future travellers. I wonder if it is still there.