Why The Good, The Bad And The Ugly's Bridge Explosion Had To Be Shot Twice

Among Westerns, Sergio Leone's "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" maintains its reputation as an iconic masterpiece. Released in the U.S. in 1967, the sprawling three-hour epic became a landmark of the spaghetti western sub-genre and solidified director Sergio Leone, composer Ennio Morricone, and star Clint Eastwood's legacies in Hollywood. It also notably features one of the most memorable scenes in all Westerns: the bridge explosion. At a pivotal juncture in the film, Blondie (Eastwood) and Tuco (Eli Wallach) scheme to blow up a strategic bridge point between the Union and Confederate army outposts and gain access to a cemetery where they believe buried treasure lies.

What many may not know about this scene is that a costly mistake was made while filming it. For as many memorable sequences, lines of dialogue, and musical themes "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" has, it also had its fair share of behind-the-scenes mishaps. Leone's ambition and scope for the film were huge, there were bound to be set-backs in its gargantuan undertaking.

A Small Mistake With Big Consequences

If it wasn't enough that Eastwood demanded a $250,000 salary and 10% of the U.S. profits for the film — close to a quarter of the movie's entire budget of $1.2 million (and that's in 1966 dollars) — costs were piled on when the bridge explosion didn't go as planned on the first try and they had to reshoot it. The plan was for one of the Spanish army crew members manning the explosive device to detonate after hearing the word "Vaya," a Spanish expression meaning "go" or "to go."

Leone watched the clouds to make sure he had the right lighting for the shot before yelling the word. However, another crew member yelled it first. Conflicting reports of the account say it was either a crew member signaling actors to get in their proper places or a signaling a cameraman to be ready. Either way, the person tasked with detonating the bomb interpreted the wrong signal and the bridge exploded before any of the filming had started.

Use of practical effects meant that the team had to rebuild the bridge from scratch and shoot the entire scene over again, nearly doubling the cost of production. The bridge ended up being rebuilt by Spanish army sappers (combat engineers) in between shooting other scenes. The mishap unnecessarily added time, labor, and cost that could have been avoided, but it nevertheless resulted in a spectacular and memorable sequence in one of cinema's most iconic westerns.