Review: Sad Hill Unearthed

A still from “Sad Hill Unearthed.”

Dir. Guillermo de Oliveira. 86 minutes.

In 1966, the Spanish Army built a cemetery in the middle of nowhere, with 5,000 graves sprawling out from a central courtyard. There were no bodies buried at Sad Hill Cemetery: the location served as a set for Sergio Leone’s “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” a film whose masculine brutality has enthralled generations of viewers, even those who usually have little appetite for Spaghetti Westerns.

In the decades following the filming of “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” Sad Hill was swallowed up almost entirely by the environment. Then, in 2014, a handful of enthusiasts set out to restore it. This was no mere touch-up: thousands of paving stones had to be hoed up from underneath 7 inches of dirt and 5,000 gravestones had to be reconstructed and painted. Why would anyone volunteer to spend hours, weeks and months rebuilding a fake cemetery? If you have to ask, you’ll never know.

Featuring interviews with Clint Eastwood, composer Ennio Morricone and numerous editors, production designers and other vital but non-celebritized professionals, this briskly paced documentary is a loving tribute to Leone’s original. The restoration of Sad Hill Cemetery is interspersed with unbelievable tales about the production of “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” including one in which a bridge was accidentally blown up before the cameras had started rolling. Anyone who loves Leone’s film will enjoy “Sad Hill Unearthed.” It’s a meditation on what made “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” great, and there’s something quite pleasurable about being convinced of what you already believe.