Once Upon a Time in Almería
07 September 2020

Candice Bergen on Almería: “It was the most romantic location of my life.”

Candice Bergen was unfortunate enough to be kidnapped not once but twice along the southern coast of Spain in Almeria. It first happened in the 19th Century Old West (The Hunting Party, 1971). An outlaw (Oliver Reed) abducted her outside the schoolhouse, unaware she was the wife of a powerful cattle baron. Then, in 1904, while living in Morocco as an American expat, she was taken with her two children by the Mulai Ahmed er Raisuli (Sean Connery) and his band of Berber insurrectionists (The Wind and the Lion, 1975). She shows herself to be fearless, outsmarting and provoking her captors. But they are not after a simple ransom. The outlaw, seeking something better in life, wants her to teach him to read. The Mulai seeks to use her kidnapping to provoke a revolution. She ultimately comes to understand her captors (and even fall in love with the outlaw).

In her memoir Knock Wood, Bergen wrote about the unique experience of filming in Almeria:

Almería was the “Western capital” of Europe—a vast backlot. Its dun-colored, dry, rocky landscape and unexpected patches of sand dunes served as a convenient and economical substitute for the legendary geography it so handily resembled: the Arabian desert and the great American West. So many films had taken advantage of this similarity that Almería had the character of an eerie archeological site. The area was littered with primitive facsimiles, layered with conflicting civilizations. Western towns bordered Moorish villages; Mexican pueblos dotted the plain. You could crest a sand dune and find cartridges spent on Lawrence of Arabia, arrows from One Hundred Rifles, tombstones from A Fistful of Dollars, water gourds from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Fossils for film buffs. Explorers from the future who stumble onto this barren land will be baffled by these ruins, overwhelmed by this cultural windfall.

It was the most romantic location of my life.

All locations are illusions, overnight universes where ordinary laws are suspended so that people can do whatever it takes to get the job done and go home. No one is held accountable for his actions; the citizens of this world have a slim chance. But if all locations are mirages, Westerns are the most bizarre.

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