I was watching a episode of Dr Who that’s just aired in the UK recently, “A Town Called Mercy”. It’s a sort of “High Noon in space” episode complete with a cyborg gunslinger not unlike Yul Brynner in WestWorld, a marshall in the form of the good doctor in a stetson and the pouting Amy Pond as the doctor’s deputy.
The location looked familiar – I was certain that the BBC had shelled out for a trip to Arizona to film it. And it was obviously filmed either in a ghost town, or on a ready-made Western film set.
It didn’t take too much digging to find out that the episode was actually filmed in the only desert in Europe – theTabernas Desert, Almeria, Spain. And not too much more digging uncovered the fact that films such as Lawrence of Arabia, Once Upon a Time in the West , The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Magnificent Seven, For a Few Dollars More and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Even a David Beckham Pepsi ad …
Turns out there’s more than one Western towns in the desert, all built by Sergio Leone’s people in the 1960s as the backdrop for his spaghetti westerns:
Mini Hollywood: The custom-built Western town (erected for For a Few Dollars More) known as and formerly known as Yucca City, forms a perfect backdrop to Western-style films. The town is these days owned by a hotel group and it’s now known as Oasys and there’s a swimming pool and zoo on site (!?)
Fort Bravo/Texas Hollywood, a few miles away, was another of these Western towns built by Leone and was used by the Dr Who team also. There’s a Mexican and a Mexican set still in good nick on the site. According to this Once upon a time in Almeria article Ennio Morricone’s greatest hits are piped out all over town. (Read about the Spanish illegitimate son of Henry Fonda in that article for ideas on how to boost your film career).
There’s a great Japanese site that compares shots from the movies with more recent photos of where they were filmed. Have a look at these pages For a Few Dollars More and http://y-yasuda.net/mh2.htm use Google Translate.
If visiting a resort isn’t your thing, go for walk in the desert with Spanish Highs and imagine you’re Clint Eastwood instead. Don’t try that in summer though – you’ll fry!