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Two Mules for Sister Sara

Two Mules for Sister Sara

Don Siegel

USA, 1970

Credits

Review by Jenny Jediny

Posted on 22 August 2009

Source Clint Eastwood: Western Icon Collection DVD

Categories Women of the West

Hogan: You praying for me?

Sara: Yes!

Hogan: Well then I must be drunk enough ‘cause, damn my eyes, I find that kinda touching.

Who would’ve guessed that the Man with No Name could be so charming? Or rather, his Hollywood incarnation: a man called Hogan, who retains the grizzled five-o’clock shadow, tipped hat, and — of course — quick-draw capability of the infamous anti-hero. The setting here isn’t a spaghetti western though; Two Mules for Sister Sara is a Western with screwball spark, as Eastwood’s typically lone gunslinger finds himself saddled with a female companion. Shirley MacLaine (who receives top billing, due to her then-recent success in Bob Fosse’s Sweet Charity) is Hogan’s questionable conscience as well as his partner-in-crime in this peculiar, almost whimsical Western.

Helmed by Budd Boetticher, the story — as interpreted by director Don Siegel; Boetticher wasn’t at all pleased with the final production — is fairly straightforward. After rescuing Sister Sara from near gang-rape, Hogan agrees to accompany the nun (Eastwood’s double-take at her habit is priceless) to a Mexican revolutionary camp, who have coincidentally hired him to attack the French, then holding governmental power in Mexico. Suffice it to say, we — and the movie — are far more interested in the verbal sparring between gunslinger and nun, and in their fast-rising chemistry. Hogan isn’t shy about his nun-lust (“Maybe a nun ain’t ought be so good lookin’”) while Sister Sara quickly lets on to us that she may not be all that pious. Boetticher, originally slated to head the project, was a former director of ’50s Westerns, and often used false identity as a plot device; he was extremely disappointed in Siegel for giving away the big reveal so early on.

However, letting the cat out of the bag may have been Siegel’s smartest directorial move here. While the casting of Eastwood is expected after the success of his 60s Sergio Leone run — including A Fistful of Dollars and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly — (virtuoso filmmaking homaged by Siegel not only through the hiring of Eastwood, but also Ennio Morricone to write Two Mules’s jaunty, gut-twanging, whistle-stop score) it’s the lady that’s a bit of a surprise. Shirley MacLaine perfectly balances cliché (Madonna vs. whore) by letting us in on the gag (as she coyly smokes a cigar out of Hogan’s site — or is it weed? — and throws back shots of whiskey while lecturing him on the grace of God). Sara uses Hogan, but with the good intention of aiding the revolutionaries (well, and saving her own neck from the French officials, already aware of her guise).

Against MacLaine’s sprightly features (as appealing as in The Apartment, but more savvy with age) and her sagacious, often-sexy tone, Eastwood drops one-liners with great amusement and exactly the right amount of exasperation (“Lady if you weren’t a nun, I’d let you save your own bacon”). We now all know Eastwood’s comedic capabilities, but in ‘72, this was the first exposure audiences had to the actor’s knack for acting against his own type. It holds up beautifully, with the sort of zest all too lacking in recent male/female action-film partnerships (the unlikely duo of Clooney and J. Lo in Soderbergh’s Out of Sight, released over ten years ago, is the most recent in my memory to compare).

Amid the flying arrows and ammunition, Hogan and Sara not only find lust in the dust, but work rather well together as a team — mutual respect earned through bombing a French train car, and amateur bullet removal, while the barbs they trade could easily be from an old married couple, rather than the scoundrel and sister on screen. When the nun is eventually disrobed — is more ways than one — it leaves one wondering where a sequel may have picked up (perhaps in a Mexican bordello co-owned by the couple, with Sara manning the bar). Whatever may have been, the ride into the sunset that concludes Two Mules for Sister Sara takes away some of the cache held by those long-solo gunslingers; pairing up with a gun-toting lady (nun or not) not only adds some punch to the myth — it also sounds much more fun.

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