GBU - The Extras
The different versions
The film was released at different lengths in various countries. Giusti notes that the longest version ever shown in Italy ran 182 minutes. In Great Britain it was first shown at 148 minutes, then cut further down to a little under two hours to fit a double-bill program. This means that there’s a gap of more than an hour between the longest and the shortest version of this movie! In France it was released at 166 minutes, in many other countries (among them the US) at 161 minutes. It was this version that originally was released on DVD (running 155 minutes in PAL) in most countries. Most recent releases have some 16 minutes of restored scenes, that were cut from the original theatrical release. On previous editions most of these scenes were added as extras, with Italian dialogue. The “Grotto scene” (also called “Chicken scene” by some) is a completely new scene, the “Sorocco sequence” a photo and text reconstruction of an apparently lost scene. The longer ‘Tuco torture scene’ is presented as an extra because of the inferior image quality of the uncut material.
Not everybody was happy with the insertion of these scenes. The major advantage, is that the Lee van Cleef part is better defined now. The scene with him making inquiries about Bill Carson in an improvised army hospital, is particularly strong, and without it, the film goes on too long without him. Other scenes seem to add little to the movie, and many have expressed the opinion that MGM should have created a menu option, so we could watch the film with or without them. Eli Wallach and Clint Eastwood dubbed their new lines, while Simon Prescott replaced the late Lee van Cleef.
Sources of Inspiration
# La Granda Guerra (1959, Mario Monicelli)
This was one of Sergio Leone’s favourite movies. It was co-written by Age & Scarpelli (Agenore Incrocci and Furio Scarpelli) and Luciano Vicenzoni, who would all three be involved in the writing of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. The film is set during WWI (The Great War) and tells the story of two army buddies, one from the North (played by Vittorio Gassman), one from the South (Alberto Sordi). Although quite different, they’re united in their lack of idealism and desire to avoid all dangers of the war. They’re mainly concerned with their own safety, and not dedicated to any ‘cause’. Their efforts to prove their insufficiency as soldiers are counter-productive: they are made message-runners for the staff, a position more dangerous than that of the average soldier in the trenches.
The movie combines typical features of Italian comedy, but also shows much attention to historical detail. Often very funny, it never tries to conceal the horrors of war and the gruesome aspects of trench warfare. Intimate scenes are alternated with impressive crowd scenes, creating an overall image of wartime life.
# Monsieur Verdoux (1947, Charles Chaplin)
Chaplin got the idea for this movie from Orson Welles. It’s about a loyal employee who loses his job because of the worldwide financial crisis and is therefore no longer able to support his child and (handicapped) wife. He then decides to marry rich widows and subsequently murder them. The film is set on the eve of WWII, and opposes the killing of a few (by one desperate man) to the mass-slaughter of the war (ordered by the leaders of countries). It was exactly this opposition which fascinated Leone. In an interview he said:
“What do good, bad and ugly mean? What does it mean when these characters are three killers thrown into the midst of a Civil war? In the film, I was pursuing the theme Chaplin so masterfully exposed in Monsieur Verdoux.”
Leone was in particular impressed by Chaplin’s speech at the end of the movie, full of wry humor and razor sharp observations, when his character, Verdoux, is sent to the guillotine, and is asked, by the judge, if he has anything to say before sentence is passed upon him:
“Oui, monsieur, I have. However remiss the prosecutor has been in complimenting me, he at least admits that I have brains. Thank you, Monsieur, I have. And for thirty-five years I used them honestly. After that, nobody wanted them. So I was forced to go into business for myself. As for being a mass killer, does not the world encourage it? Is it not building weapons of destruction for the sole purpose of mass killing? Has it not blown unsuspecting women and little children to pieces? And done it very scientifically? As a mass killer, I am an amateur by comparison. However, I do not wish to lose my temper, because very shortly, I shall lose my head. Nevertheless, upon leaving this spark of earthly existence, I have this to say: I shall see you all... very soon... very soon.”
# Deux Amis (Guy de Maupassant)
This short story about two fishermen who accidentally get lost between the lines during the Franco-Prussian War, was already a source of inspiration for La Grande Guerra. At the waterside, the two men discuss the war, and agree that it’s a tragedy for both France and Prussia. When they want to go home, they are stopped by Prussian soldiers, who point their guns at them. The Prussians think they’re spies and are only willing to let them go if they give them the password to break through the French lines. Like La Granda Guerra, the story ends with the execution of the two protagonists. Maupassant’s style is relaxed, almost funny, but the undertone is bitter and his view on life is deeply pessimistic. Maupassant is best known for his short stories. One of them, Boule de Suif, was a major source of inspiration for John Ford’s Stagecoach. In the story, the Ringo character, the person with a shady past who redeems himself by saving the passengers, is a prostitute (Buile the Suif is her name). She saves the passengers by sleeping with a Prussian officer who wants to arrest them. Instead of being grateful, the passengers despise her. There is no redemption in the story.
# Other sources
When making The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Leone thought it would be his last western and I often have the feeling that he was already thinking of other things. He liked westerns, but his aspirations reached beyond them and at this point in his career David Lean served more as an example to him than John Ford. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly shares some visuals with Lawrence of Arabia and offers the same fusion of an adventure and a war movie. Some scenes in the POW camp of marching prisoners reminded me of The Bridge on the River Kwai. Still there are a few references to Ford. The driverless coach with the dead men on board, may refer to a scene with a pay master’s wagon in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and the new scene with Angel Eyes visiting the improvised army hospital, has a clear visual reference to the famous opening and closing scenes of The Searchers.
Another French novel that is often mentioned, is Louis-Ferdinand Céline’s Voyage au bout de la Nuit (Journey to the End of Night), but it’s not sure that Leone had read it. Alex Cox thinks it was Vincenzoni who primarily was interested in it. It is known that Leone studied the work of Civil War photographer Mathew Brody before filming the Langstone Bridge sequence. Leone was also an admirer of Spanish painter Francisco Goya, and some of the scenes of the horrors of the war may have been inspired by some of Goya’s works, such as the painting El Tres de Mayo and a series of prints called Los Desastres de la Guerra.
Thanks to the higher budget of $ 1,3 million (half of it from United Artists) the location work and production design were more impressive than in the previous two parts of the Dollar trilogy. The film was shot between May and July 1966 on various locations in Spain while the interiors were shot in the Roman Elios Studios. Several familiar locations in the South of Spain were used, such as Tabernas, La Calahorra and Cortijo de los Frailes. Additional scenes were shot in Colmenar Viejo and Manzaneres El Real, near Madrid. The Langstone Bridge sequence was shot in the North of Spain, near the River Arlanza, outside the city of Burgos. The Sad Hill cemetery was built in the same region, near Contreras. 250 Spanish soldiers were hired to build it, and the construction took two full days.
For all possible info (comparison pictures, location pictures, maps etc.) on the locations on which the movie was shot, I recommend the special GBU page of Ray Watts’ beautiful website Fistful of Locations: http://www.fistfuloflocations.com/gbu.html
The breathtaking video document on the left was also created by Ray Watts.
For some additional info on Sad Hill Cemetery see: http://sadhillnews.com/2010/08/01/sad-hill-cemetery
Header by: dicfish. Special thanks to Ray Watts