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Two Mules for Sister Sara

Two Mules for Sister Sara
Universal Home Entertainment
1969 / color / 2:35 anamorphic 16:9 / 116 min. / Street Date May 6, 2003 / 14.98
Starring Shirley MacLaine, Clint Eastwood, Manolo Fábregas, Alberto Morin
Cinematography Gabriel Figueroa
Art Direction José Rodríguez Granada
Film Editors Juan José Marino, Robert F. Shugrue
Original Music Ennio Morricone
Written by Budd Boetticher and Albert Maltz
Produced by Carroll Case, Martin Rackin
Directed by Don Siegel

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 conception, 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 cheap.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Two Mules for Sister Sara rates:
Movie: Good -
Video: Excellent
Sound: Very Good
Supplements: Trailer
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: May 11, 2003

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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