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Two Mules for Sister Sara (Special Edition)
If you were to remake The African Queen as a western then you might wind up with something like Don Siegel's 1970 picture, Two Mules For Sister Sara. The story, from legendary western director Budd Boetticher with a screenplay by Albert Maltz, takes place in the twilight of the American Civil War. Here we meet a former soldier named Hogan (Clint Eastwood) who comes upon a woman just as she's about to be raped by a gang of bandits. He puts the rapists out of their misery and then learns that their would-be victim is actually a nun named Sister Sara (Shirley MacLaine). It turns out that Sara is here in effort to help fund some Mexican revolutionaries currently waging war against the French. When she requests that Hogan escort her to the revolutionaries' camp, it turns out to be a good fit as he's heading there himself to help those same revolutionaries battle the French in exchange for a nice chunk of the gold that they're hoarding.
They make their way together through the harsh landscape, avoiding French attacks as best they can along the way and enjoying some whiskey during their downtime. When Hogan gets injured he's surprised again when, as he recovers, she goes ahead and sets up the dynamite charges he was going to place to take out a French train en route. When they make it to the camp, led by Colonel Beltran (Manolo Fábregas), Hogan learns the truth about Sara's background and mission alike, and the pair work together to overcome some unexpected complications in their efforts to take out that French garrison with all the gold in it.
Two Mules For Sister Sara may not offer up a whole lot of surprises but it does what it does very well, and remains a seriously enjoyable watch fifty-years since it first debuted. Siegel's direction is very strong, the pacing is controlled and sometimes very deliberate, but the movie never feels slow and he handles the films sometimes very impressive action set pieces very well. Gabriel Figueroa's excellent cinematography ensures that the movie always looks fantastic, capturing the Mexican locations really nicely, while the extremely recognizable score from none other than Ennio Morricone does an absolutely perfect job of doing what a good score should do by enhancing the drama, the action, the adventure, and yes, even the light romance that we all knew would bubble up out of the story from the first time our two lead characters meet.
If the film relies, sometimes too heavily, on clichés, the quality of the production values and the acting easily makes up for that. Eastwood isn't really stretching much as an actor in this film, playing the strong, silent type of grizzled cowboy that made him famous in the first place, but he does it better than pretty much anyone else before or since. He's perfect in the role, looking the part and bringing his naturally gritty persona to the movie in a big way. He and MacLaine make a great pair, as she's his opposite in pretty much every way, not just physically (obviously) but personality wise and acting style wise as well. Her spunky character fits her performance perfectly, and the chemistry that exists between the two leads is really what carries the movie and makes it as enjoyable as it is.
Note that Kino has provide both the extended 114-minute international cut of the film as well as the shorter 105-minute U.S. domestic cut of the picture on this release. The shorter version of the film isn't the superior cut but it's an interesting version and a nice addition to the disc. It's noticeably less violent than the international version but it does move at a faster pace, omitting some of the back and forth between Hogan and Sara and not really suffering for that decision much at all. The longer cut is the version that has been widely available on home video for some time now, so it'll likely be the more familiar version to most viewers.
Two Mules For Sister Sara arrives on Region A Blu-ray from Kino Lorber Studios in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed at 2.35.1 with the extended 114-minute international cut of the film taking up 37.7GBs of space on the 50GB disc. The shorter105-minute domestic cut gets 32.7GBs of space on a 50GB disc. While the international cut looks just a bit darker, both versions otherwise look quite similar and are taken from new 4k restorations. Contrast might be a tad warm on the domestic cut but colors look nice regardless of which option you go for, black levels too. Detail is very strong here, frequently very impressive, and there are no issues with any compression artifacts, edge enhancement or noise reduction. The transfers are also very clean, showing the natural grain you'd expect and want to see, but virtually no print damage at all. Kino has done a very strong job here!
Regardless of which cut of the movie you choose, you'll get a 16-bit English language DTS-HD 2.0 option with optional English Subtitles. Audio quality is virtually identical between the two cuts, which is fine as they sound quite good. Dialogue is always easy to understand and to follow and the audio is nicely balanced. Sound effects have some good weight behind them and there's a decent amount of depth to the score. There are no issues with any hiss or distortion to note. All in all, the audio quality on this release shapes up quite nicely.
Extras on the first disc start off with another commentary from filmmaker Alex Cox over the longer international cut of the movie. He talks about the film's release history, how Paint Your Wagon was made around the same time, the origins of the story that the feature was based on, how the film compares to pictures like Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia, Eastwood's tradition of playing nastier characters and how we often see him shoot his opponents in the back. There's talk here about the specifics of the performances form Eastwood and MacLaine, Cox's own experiences with whiskey drinking nuns, the shooting locations that were used for the movie, the impressive cinematography featured in the picture and the importance of what Gabriel Figueroa brought to the movie, the supporting performers that appear in the picture and more. There are a few stretches where he goes quite for a few minutes at a time, but when he's on, he's as interesting to listen to as ever.
Also included on the first disc is At Home With Clint, a vintage interview with the film's leading man that runs just under eight-minutes. It's a mix of color footage from some of his films and black and white footage shot at Eastwood's home where he talks about his love of living on the coast, how he's been fortunate enough to travel because of his career, some of the characters he's played, the physicality demanded by his roles, working with Don Siegel and Shirley Maclaine and a fair bit more. It's a nice addition to the disc.
The first disc also includes a poster and image gallery, menus and chapter selection.
Extras on disc two include four radio spots, two TV spots, a theatrical trailer for the feature and bonus trailers for A Fistful Of Dollars, For A Few Dollars More, The Good The Bad And The Ugly, Coogan's Bluff, The Beguiled, Play Misty For Me, Joe Kidd, High Plains Drifter, Thunderbolt And Lightfoot and The Eiger Sanction as well as menus and chapter selection.
As to how the release is packaged, the first pressing comes with a limited edition slipcover that features the iconic original poster art on the front, in addition to a reversible inner cover sleeve that has that same poster art on the front and an alternate poster image on the reverse.
Two Mules For Sister Sara is a seriously enjoyable film, a western with the right amount of romance and comedy thrown in but never so much that it takes away from the adventure story that Siegel and company so effectively tell. Kino's done an excellent job bringing this to a special edition two-disc release with a great presentation and a nice selection of extra features. Highly recommended!
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.