The Burgalian cemetery of Sad Hill celebrater 50 years of “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” in 2016 several Biscayan extras related their experiences and memories.
A report by Emilio Zunzunegi
July 22, 2016
Enrique Arévalo and José Urrutia were barely 22 years old when, in August 1966, filming of some of the most outstanding scenes of the film “El bueno, el feo y el malo” (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly), directed by the Italian Sergio Leone, began in the Burgos mountains of La Demanda and he gave stardom actor to a young Clint Eastwood to whom this anthological work of the spaghetti western catapulted him in his film career. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the filming in which they took part as extras, a score of Biscayans brought a nostalgic journey that took them from Bilbao to the reconstructed Sad Hill Cemetery. "We arrived at eleven o'clock for the official inauguration of the cemetery and the figure of Clint Eastwood that Ortuella's vocational students have constructed. We are sure to get excited when we are there because the truth of it is that we spent almost a very special month, there in 1966" recalls Enrique Arévalo,
Arévalo and Urrutia, together with 23 other Basque-Navarrese soldiers from Artillery Barracks 63, based in Salas de los Infantes, were part of the contingent of almost 2,000 soldiers donated by the Army to the film's production company to act as extras in the scenes of the Mission in the monastery of San Pedro de Arlanza and, especially, in the taking of the Langston bridge, constructed expressly for the film on the river Arlanza.
We were hired by the production company to play extras in the film that was going to be shot in Burgos, specifically in the valleys of Arlanza and Mirandilla, in the town of Hortigüela. And there we were 25 soldiers, comrades, during the month to approximately to film in the exteriors. It was hellish heat, but the truth is that we had a great time, "recalls José Urrutia, one of the extras who was rewarded for throwing himself into the Arlanza River at the Langston bridge. "They asked for volunteers to throw themselves into the river as wounded or dead soldiers and I showed up because at that time I was fond of scuba diving," says Arévalo, a retired electrician who collected 500 pesetas that day for a stunt that took only seconds. "In the scene of the battle for the taking of the bridge, the soldiers left in droves from the trenches towards the bridge and the Confederates did the same from the other shore. As we approached we scream pelao and started firing the blank carbines and some of us had to fall dead into the river. I, thought I was very good, instead of floating on my back for the sweeping camera shot that showed the dead in the river, I did it face down. I put up with everything I could but in the end I had to turn around because I could not take it anymore. We had to repeat the scene and then I floated on my back, "says this graceful man from Bilbao.
It was not, however, the only jocular anecdote of the shooting of this scene of the Langston bridge that, by the way, was dynamited on three different occasions. "The scenes were repeated a lot of times despite the fact that in many of them you heard Leone scream “molto bene”, but, hala, to repeat. In one of them, a Navarrese from Fustiñana bet his day's pay that in the next shot he would be thrown from the middle of the bridge into the river. People did not believe it and a few crossed his bets. When action was shouted, the Navarrese came out and when he reached the middle he threw himself with a dip that should have made him feel great because it was so hot. The curious thing is that Leone himself congratulated him for his initiative and he won the bet, "says José Navarro, who remembers with Enrique that after deciding to award the jump to the river to a few extras," the Army captain we had began to scream that anyone who was thrown into the river without permission was going to cut his hair and c ... ".
The majority of the Basques and Navarre who participated in the shooting had made camp in the Gaztecitra barracks of Araca where they were stationed in 1965 and then to be assigned to the Infantry and Artillery in Burgos in whose land part of this third part of the trilogy of dollars started by Leone with “A Fistful of Dollars”, followed by “For a Few Dollars More”. "For us, the shooting was a relief because, even though we were following strict military discipline during filming, during filming we were reduced to all services, we had a lot of time to loiter and they paid us a great deal. As soldiers we had a pay of 35 pesetas per month and the producer paid us 250 pesetas per shooting day". This was allowed although the soldiers had to eat from the ranch provided by the Army, "Some nights we had a feast eating lamb, it was what we could handle with so much money," says Urrutia, who states that "when we returned to the barracks We slept in the same clothes as we used for the shooting. Northers and Southerns together ". Arévalo, for his part, remembers that nocturnal escapades were not uncommon even though there was military surveillance in the camp. "One night he escaped and went to a bar in the area where he got into a fight and had to run back to the camp with the Guardia Civil following on his heels. When they arrived at the barracks they were told that they had gone over the list and there was no one missing, they had no choice but to leave."
Anecdotes that will surely re-emerge on this trip to the memory of an era in which these soldiers were involved in the American Civil War, facing the soldiers of the Union and the Confederation, whose bodies were piled up in the trenches They built on the slopes bordering the rod that goes from Hortigüela to Covarrubias and in the famous cemetery of Sad Hill, which was inaugurated during the events that were scheduled to mark the 50th anniversary of the filming of the moive in which several Basques and Navarre took part . "Three years ago we met a small group of fifths to celebrate our passage through the military," says Urrutia, who notes that they did not get to know the main actors of the film up close although they did enjoy the omnipresent Sergio Leone. "And also his secretary Serena," adds Arevalo.