Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
An overlong and unoriginal vehicle for Clint Eastwood to exploit his new Superstardom as a Western
actor, Two Mules for Sister Sara is a reasonable action film but an only partially successful
teaming with Shirley MacLaine. Gabriel Figueroa's photography is wonderful, but Don Siegel's direction
is on the slack side. It made a bundle for Clint, and helped him to decide to become a director, but
it's not one of his better efforts.
Mercenary Hogan (Clint Eastwood), en route to help Juarista Colonel Beltran
(Manolo Fábregas) fight the French in Mexico, rescues a nun named Sara (Shirley MacLaine)
from rape at the hands of three cowboys. Together they avoid the French (Sara has a death sentence
as a Juarista as well) and blow up an arms train before helping to storm a French stronghold. Hogan
restrains his amorous interest because of Sara's calling, but eventually gets a surprise as to
Sara's real identity.
The real problems begin with the story, which takes on the somewhat tasteless task of spending two
hours putting a nun into compromising situations. (Spoiler) Okay, so Shirley MacLaine's vaguely vulgar
Sara character turns out not to be a nun after all, but her unmasking as the top talent in a Mexican
brothel isn't exactly a charming or rewarding surprise. MacLaine handles the role as well as can be
expected, occasionally getting a nice joke or two into the role, but it's an uphill struggle. Since the
cynical attitude half-inherited from Clint's Leone pictures requires Hogan to be a selfish
opportunist, Sara's dedication to the Juaristas rings false. Worse, the action audience that rallies
to see Clint gun down people with a snarl, hasn't much tolerance for MacLaine's (substantial) bag
of cute schtick. Play an Eastwood gundown epic at a theater, with Sweet Charity on
the other side or the street, and one suspects the two audiences would be mutually exclusive.
For Clint Eastwood, it's more of the same; like his earlier Hang 'em High, this is a
fatten-the-bank-account role, a way of cashing in on his poorly-paid Italian films before
moving on with the ol' career. Hogan is even less complicated than Joe/Blondie/The Man with No
Name, and is particularly weakened by having to conjure up coy reactions to MacLaine's constant
trouble-making. When the chemistry between them does work, which isn't often, it still is not the
Eastwood the fans want to see. The disc cover photo has Clint in a typical rugged pose, but
incongruously embracing a fashion-coiffed MacLaine. They look like they
belong in entirely different pictures - every guy knows that Eastwood's loner isn't the
affectionate-hug type. If this were Two Fish for Porpoise Flipper, the photo
could have Clint with his arm around a smiling dolphin, and look no less appropriate.
Don Siegel keeps the pace up, but despite a nice use of the Mexican locales familiar from pictures
like The Magnificent Seven, the film's details are crude. Squashing a tarantula on-camera,
and rigging a gore closeup of a man's head cleaved with a machete, don't add up to progressive
filmmaking. Visually, there are a lot of ugly zooms as well. It's the fault of the story and
but it's fair to say that Siegel's input didn't turn the picture around. After Leone's
perfectionist pace in Italy, the no-nonsense directing style of Siegel had a strong impact on
Eastwood. Two Mules for Sister Sara did better than reasonable business anyway; the
veteran director became the model and mentor for Eastwood's directing career.
One single element creates a link with the Italian models, and keeps the tone of the film on an even
keel: Ennio Morricone's music. His score is even quirkier than ususal, this time using a jokey
Hee-haw for a musicalized sound effect. A Diabolik-like sitar is also prominent. The
stylized church choir themes serve an essential role, reminding us that
MacLaine's character is a nun and not just a woman in a black dress.
Sam Peckinpah aficionados will notice Aurora Clavell, from Major Dundee and
The Wild Bunch, as one of the Mexican good time girls.
Universal's DVD of Two Mules for Sister Sara looks great; I've never bothered to watch this film
on television because of the indifferent pan-scanning it receives, and the widescreen images are
often handsome, even when the story flow is slack. The sound is also good. The only extra is an
overlong trailer that is even more tasteless than the movie. Interestingly, one of its taglines says
that Eastwood 'has a fistful of dynamite', a phrase that reminds us of his big import hits, and
also was used as a variant title for Sergio Leone's last-directed Western. Savant is not a huge
admirer of Eastwood's later directing career, but if these derivative shows were all Hollywood could
come up for him, it was a wise decision for him to diversify his efforts.
Each entry in the new batch of Universal Westerns uses an uninspired canned music cue behind the
menu page. This one has an ersatz Morricone sting that makes the movie sound unnecessarily
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Two Mules for Sister Sara rates:
Movie: Good -
Sound: Very Good
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: May 11, 2003
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson