Eastwood: Two Mules For Sister Sara

Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970) is written by Bud Boetticher (The Tall T, Comanche Station and Buchanan Rides Alone).

When Boetticher wrote the script, he originally had Robert Mitchum and Deborah Kerr in mind to play the lead roles with the notion that he’d also be the director of the film. However, the film was taken out of his control and then rewritten for Clint Eastwood, who had at that time had risen to stardom in the Sergio Leone Italian westerns A FistFull Of Dollars, For A Few Dollars More and The Good, the bad and the Ugly.

The script was first shown to Eastwood by Elizabeth Taylor while he was working on his latest film Where Eagles Dare. Taylor wanted Eastwood to play in the lead role alongside her. Unfortunately, the studio refused Taylor’s demands and refused to film the movie in Spain, which would have enabled Taylor to spend time with her husband, Richard Burton. She was eventually replaced by Shirley MacLaine.

The reason the studio wanted Taylor was down to the fact that it was believed that Taylor could pass as a Mexican nun. The feeling was that MacLaine could not do so and as a result more rewriting had to be done; her pale skin was attributed to her being an American expatriate.

To stop MacLaine from spending all day under the scorching sun of Mexico, a local had been hired to hold a huge umbrella over her between scenes.

Two Mules for Sister Sara, directed by Don Siegel (Telefon, The Beguiled and Dirty Harry), is a western/romantic comedy set in the parched, cactus filled and sun soaked plains of Mexico during the French Intervention (1862–1867) when Napoleon III wanted to make Mexico a French colony but this idea was met with stiff resistance.

Two Mules for Sister Sara stars Clint Eastwood (Hang Em High, The Unforgiven and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly) and Shirley MacLaine (Terms of Endearment, Sweet charity and Steel Magnolias). As the opening credits fill the screen the film score by Ennio Morricone makes you feel as though you’re about to watch a Sergio Leone spectacle. The film’s main protagonist Hogan (Eastwood) is riding through a barren and sun-drenched Mexican desert (great start).

The silence is broken when he hears the screaming of MacLaine. He dismounts to take a look and in the distance he sees the figure of a naked woman clutching a blanket as a shield in her desperate attempt to stop herself being gang raped by three men. The men soon stop when Hogan fires a warning shot. The men stop, laugh and continues to guzzle down the bottle of whisky and even have the audacity to invite Hogan down to join in but he is having none of this. A gun fight ensues but is soon over.

Hogan then heads down the hill to see if the MacLaine is all right then tells her to get dressed. He then gets busy rummaging through the pockets of the dead men collecting the spoils. Though initially attracted to her himself, Hogan is surprised when he discovers that MacLaine is really a nun called Sara.

Sara begs Hogan to take her with him. Hogan tells Sara he has been offered lots of gold to help some revolutionaries destroy a French garrison and it will be dangerous so she would be better off heading in a different direction. But when Sara tells Hogan she knows where the garrison is and how to get in undetected, he agrees to take her with him to the revolutionaries’ camp.

Throughout the journey Hogan gets more than his fair share of surprises from Sara.

Hogan starts to wonder about her odd behaviour when she scampers off to smoke the remains of his cigar. Another time he watches Sara taking a swig of whiskey when she comes back from a reconnaissance mission.

As they get closer to their destination their journey is hampered when an Indian hits Hogan in the shoulder with an arrow. To stop the Indians from killing them Sara shows her cross in the hope that some of the Indians may have been thought the word of God and recognised the holy symbol and of course the Indians did have some knowledge of the bible so they let the two past peacefully.

Once they get to safety Sara gets Hogan drunk so the arrow can be removed. While Sara is bandaging his wounded shoulder Hogan confesses his feelings for her in his gruff drunken cowboy stupor.

Then off they set as Hogan needs to ‘dynamite’ a bridge in order to bring down a French train loaded with ammunition.

Hogan cannot shoot due to the injury he has sustained so Sara assists by helping him steady his aim so he can fire a bullet into the explosives.

Eventually the two reach the revolutionaries camp where Sara reveals that she is actually a prostitute. Hogan is gobsmacked but secretly releaved as he has strong feelings for her.

A plan is then devised by the group, and Hogan takes Sara to the enemy garrison. He pretends that she is his prisoner in order to gain the confidence of the French garrison Commander. Once this is done the gate is then opened and the rest of the Mexican revolutionaries rush in. A violent battle takes place. Hogan gets the gold and then collects Sara and they both take the gold and ride off into the sunset.

Eastwood successfully creates his usual spaghetti western character made famous in the Dollars trilogy right down to the expressionless man with no name (except he had a name in this film). His chemistry with MacLaine is good and works really well; the witty one liners from the duo will have you chuckling as their odd ball relationship blossom. Just from watching this film will give you a glimpse of why westerns films were so popular back then. It was good vs evil; the good guy gets the girl and the feel-good factor you experience as the end credits roll.

Two Mules for Sister Sara had very mixed reviews when it was released, but watching this film makes me realise just how good a film this is. I had an enjoyable romp through the Mexican desert with Eastwood and MacLaine and although at times Two Mules for Sister Sara can be a little drawn out and bloated, I would have no hesitation in slotting this in my top fifty western films of all time.

Donnie Tulloch

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