Sad Hill cemetery, scene of the showdown in Sergio Leone’s most famous spaghetti western, restored by Spanish volunteers
By Ashifa Kassam
November 29, 2015
It figures prominently in one of the most famous movie scenes in the world, the sun reflecting off its rows of headstones as Clint Eastwood tersely stared down his companions in a final showdown.
But while The Good, The Bad and The Ugly went on to become one of the world’s best-known westerns and turned Eastwood into a major film star, the set of the fictitious Sad Hill cemetery, located in northern Spain, did not fare as well.
Measuring 300 metres in diameter and featuring more than 5,000 grave markers, the cemetery was specially built for the famous denouement of the film by several hundred Spanish soldiers.
Now overgrown with weeds and shrubs, the set of the cemetery in the province of Burgos, 140 miles north of Madrid, was abandoned after its stint as a backdrop in the film. “It’s been a bit forgotten over the past 50 years,” said David Alba. “Many people drive right by it without knowing that this is where parts of the film were shot.”
Alba is one of the volunteers behind the Sad Hill Cultural Association, dedicated to restoring the glory of the cemetery in preparation for next year’s 50th anniversary of the film. Since October, he and dozens of others from across northern Spain have been spending their weekends at Sad Hill, shovels and hoes in hand, pulling out weeds and uncovering stones in a bid to make the cemetery appear just as it did 50 years ago.
“It’s a long and hard clean-up project,” said Alba. “It’s a huge site.”
Its restoration has become a labor of love for the film’s fans. Alba, 34, was introduced to westerns by his grandfather, who had a particular fondness for what he called “the guys in blankets”, in reference to the ponchos worn in spaghetti westerns.
Alba later moved to the small town of Hontoria del Pinar, in the province of Burgos. To his delight, he said: “I found out that this film I loved so much was filmed just 30 km from my house.” His hope is that by restoring the cemetery, as well as another nearby site used as a prison camp in the film, both could one day become tourist attractions for the area.
The project is funded by donations, including through a crowd funding campaign that offers fans the chance to sponsor a grave marker in the cemetery.
The initiative is one of many being planned by local associations in Burgos to mark next year’s 50th anniversary of Sergio Leone’s film.
Along with the planned talks, short film competitions and conferences exploring the genre, those behind the Sad Hill Cultural Association have bigger plans for the cemetery once the restoration is complete – they want the 85-year-old Eastwood to visit the site of his famous shootout.
“We sent a letter to his agent,” said Alba. “It would be a nice homage to this land where he grew as an actor and filmed what has become an icon of the western film genre.”