Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Eli and the bridge explosion

From THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND ME In My Anecdotage
by Eli Wallach

As for me, I was not allowed to leave the new location because we had many Civil War scenes to film, the most important being the main battleground where the armies of the North and South were separated by a bridge. Leone's technical crew with labor supplied by the Spanish army had spent a month building that bridge, and a dam was constructed to deepen the little stream that ran underneath. Clint and I were to place dynamite at the base of the bridge, then blow it up so that the two armies would then cease fighting one another and move on, leaving us to wade across the river to where we were sure a large sum of money was buried beneath a soldier's grave bearing the name "Arch Stanton". The morning after Clint and I set the dynamite, we gathered around three or four cameras. Clint asked Leone, "Where do you want Eli and me to be when you blow up the bridge?"
Leone pointed to a small ditch about ten yards from the dam. "Over there," he said.
"And where will you be?" Clint asked.
"Well," Leone said, "I have one camera using long lenses up on top of the hill two hundred yards away. That's where I'll be."
After a long pause, Clint said, "I think Eli and I will be standing right at the top of the hill with you. We want to see the bridge blow up too."
"But, but," Leone stammered, "I want to pan down the hill past you and Eli lying in the ditch and then up to the bridge and then we blow it up."
Clint's reply was short and crisp. "No, Sergio," he said. "We will stand right up here by you. That's it."
The man who had planted the explosives for the scene was a captain in the Spanish army. The Italian special effects man was effusive with thanks for the captain's help - not only for the dynamite planning, but for building the bridge as well. "The honor for pressing the button to blow it up should be yours," the special effects man said.~"No, no," the captain said. "I don't want the honor. If we were at war, I would happily blow it up, but this is a movie."
"It's simple," said the Italian. "When I say vaya [go], you press the button. Please, please do it." The captain reluctantly agreed.
At the top of the hill, Leone stood, holding a blackened piece of glass, staring up at the cloudy sky. "Don't turn on the camera until that cloud moves away from the sun," he ordered. Clint was holding a golf putter and playing with it as I kept an eye on the bridge, waiting.
Down below, one of the crew members asked if he should turn the slow motion camera on. "Si, si," the special effects man said. "Vaya."
The captain heard the word vaya and pressed the button. Clint and I stared at the bridge. Leone stood still, his eyes glued to the blackened piece of glass as the sound of the explosive charge echoed down the valley. He let out a slow moan and then began screaming - "No cameras are shooting! No cameras! Half my bridge is gone! I'll kill that son of a bitch!" The special effects man jumped into his jeep and headed straight for the airport. Leone grabbed his megaphone and cursed in Italian - "May your seed dry up! May you drop dead! You're fired, you bastard! I'll kill you if I ever find you."
The Spanish captain walked over to Leone - his voice was low but firm. "It was my fault," he said. "I pressed the button at the wrong time. My soldiers and I will rebuild the broken part of the bridge in three days on one condition: You bring that man who drove away back here. You do not fire him, you understand?" Leone reluctantly agreed.
Three days later, as promised, the bridge was rebuilt and stood shining in the morning sun. Clint still fiddled with his golf putter. Leone was standing beside the camera. He stared at the special effects man and nodded. The Italian expert pressed the button and the bridge went up in flames.

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