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HOT Desert Showdown - Riding into the Sun Set

The Tabernas Desert in the Andalucían province of Almería is home to some of the most famous Spaghetti Western movies. In this land of cinematic heritage the desert was used as a backdrop during filming, and small western village sets were built, attracting big budget Hollywood directors...

Report: Alan Carson

Beneath the blistering midday sun, the vista is surprising yet strangely familiar. But despite appearances, this isn’t the Wild West – it’s the Tabernas Desert… in the Andalusian province of Almería.

A dusty main street, the saloon with its double swing-doors, the two-storey clapboard hotel, the jail and the bank… Perhaps, a brawl will erupt in the bar, or mounted gunmen will thunder into town to stage a holdup and deadly shootout with a brave marshall. In a setting as totally unexpected as this, it seems a distinct possibility.

Nestling between the Sierra de Alhamilla and Sierra de Filabres, among crumpled canyons and rocky wasteland, famed Italian film director Sergio Leone found the perfect spot for the genre that came to be known as Spaghetti Westerns.

Seeking a bleached landscape reminiscent of shabby Mexican desert, he erected sets in this solitary corner - and created cinematic history.

In 1964 Leone hired Clint Eastwood, the star of the TV Western series Rawhide, to appear in a remake of Japanese samurai movie, Yojimbo.

Filmed in this harsh cacti-strewn region it was called A Fistful of Dollars.

Eastwood received only $25,000 for his role as the cheroot-smoking, poncho-wearing, unshaven man-with-no-name who could kill at least four cowboys in a blink of his squinty eyes. The landmark film propelled him to an international stardom.

Yet more importantly, it gave the Spanish film industry a massive shot in the arm and made the Tabernas wilderness a familiar sight to filmgoers. Intense, unrelenting light coupled with more than 3,100 hours of annual sunshine made the region a magnet for directors. Soon the parched tracts were thriving as a stand-in for the celluloid deserts of Arizona and Mexico.

Over the next 10 years, nearly 600 Westerns, mostly Italian-German co-productions, would be filmed among the jagged scrub hills.

Eastwood returned with co-stars Lee Van Cleef in For a Few Dollars More and Eli Wallach in the most famous Spaghetti Western of them all - The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

After his success with this trilogy, Leone brought Hollywood legend Henry Fonda to Spain to star as the dastardly villain in Once Upon a Time in the West, opposite Charles Bronson. Other big names including James Garner, Yul Brynner, Rory Calhoun, Henry Silva, Jack Elam, Woody Strode, Ernest Borgnine and Robert Mitchum followed. Even sex bomb Raquel Welch strapped on a six-shooter and curvy poncho as a lady gunslinger called Hannie Caulder.

John Sturges chose the badlands backdrop to film Steve McQueen charging through dusty hills in The Magnificent Seven in 1960 and Tony Valeri shot For The Taste Of Killing in 1966. Peter O'Toole rode across the impressive sand dunes that stretch to the northeast in his quest to unite the tribes in Lawrence of Arabia; the epic world of Conan launched the career of Arnold Schwarzenegger; and Harrison Ford careered through the lunar landscape during Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

Sadly as martial arts flicks grabbed the minds of movie-goers during the mid-70s the production of Westerns waned. But before winds blew down the ramshackle ghost-towns, local entrepreneurs seized the opportunity to carefully preserve and re-build. The spruced-up sets were converted into tourist attractions such as Mini-Hollywood, part of the Oasys Desert Theme Park operated by well-known Spanish hotel chain Playa Senator.

Now, in spectacular daily shows, professional stunt men hurtle through bar room windows in staged showdowns as Ennio Morricone's clanging classic score plays in the background. Among the wooden façades mean desperadoes lay siege to the bank, sheriffs tackle outlaw gangs and marauding Indians are driven off by cavalry.

A museum of memorabilia honours the Spaghetti movies and boasts ponchos and guns from the greatest slingers to grace the silver screen. But just when you remember you're in Spain and not Texas, a chance to go on safari is yet another surprise. Next door is the Reserva Zoologica - home to an abundance of wildlife including white rhino, hippo and other exotic animals; while a heated swimming pool complete with jacuzzi and waterslides is a welcome oasis.

A film set still operates and there is a waiting list of producers eager to utilise this faux western town. Soccer star David Beckham strode shot a Pepsi commercial here, and several motor promos, including one for BMW's Mini, have followed.

Recently Blueberry, a Franco-US western starring Vincent Cassell and Juliette Lewis was shot here and there are rumours of future cowboy projects. Maybe a man will once again whistle a foreboding tune as a mysterious stranger emerges from a dust-cloud and rides into town.


MINI HOLLYWOOD

Oasys Parque Temático del Desierto de Tabernas-Almería
N340, Km. 464, Tabernas, Almería

Tel: (+34) 950 365 236
Fax: (+34) 950 362 884

www.playasenator.com
poblado@playasenator.com

Open 10am to 9pm (various shows) daily from 8 April to 1 November

From Málaga: approx. 3 hours drive
From Murcia: approx. 2 hours

Please note: Every effort was made to check the accuracy of the information contained within our archived HOT Properties Magazine articles at the time of originally going to press, but may well have been superseded over the ensuing years. They are now made available as historical archival information only. The said information has not been reviewed subsequently for present day accuracy nor has it been updated and we expressly disclaim any duty or obligation to do so. VIVA cannot accept responsibility for any errors or omissions, nor for the authenticity of any claims or statements made by third parties. We therefore strongly recommend that readers of these archived articles make their own thorough checks before entering into any kind of transaction. Prices were correct at the time of publication but may now vary due to circumstances beyond our control. The views and opinions of editorial contributors do not necessarily reflect those of VIVA .

HOT Properties Magazine Issue 60 - 2006


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