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Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Two Mules for Sister Sara

I'm not sure exactly how many times I've seen this picture, but it's one of the movies in the Universal Clint Eastwood box set and so I thought I'd give the disc a spin. Two Mules is one of those Eastwood westerns which has for some reason been neglected and is not often shown on the small screen.

Made in 1969 and directed by Don Siegal, Eastwood looks as if he has just stepped off Sergio Leone's backlot with the costume, stubble and cigar intact.

Sister I don't mind shooting them for you, but I'll be dammed if I'm going to sweat over them.

The film opens in typical Leone style with a soundtrack reminiscent of The Good, The Bad and the Ugly playing out over a harsh  landscape. The drifter rides into view and we follow him as the credits play over the scene. Eventually the drifter comes across a woman who is about to be gang raped by a vicious bunch of men. Needless to say our man with no name, now called Hogan, kills the men, saving the woman. Hogan tells the woman to get dressed and then the twist comes when he discovers she is a nun, the  Sara of the title.

The film had a long history and had been written by Budd Boetticher, and had been slated for Robert Mitchum and Deborah Kerr to star. However the project never got off the ground and eventually ended up with Clint Eastwood. And after tweaking the script the project was off the ground but Shirley Maclaine was not the first choice for the role of Sara. Eastwood had been shown the script by Elizabeth Taylor during the filming of Where Eagles Dare with the view of Taylor playing the female role. The role of Sister Sara was initially offered to Taylor (Taylor then being the wife of Richard Burton) but had to turn down the role because she wanted to shoot in Spain where Burton was filming his latest movie.

The role of Sister Sara was supposed to be Mexican, but Shirley MacLaine was cast instead, although they were initially unconvinced with her pale complexion. Eastwood believed that the studio was keen on MacLaine as they had high hopes for her film Sweet Charity where she played a taxi dancer. Both Siegel and Eastwood felt intimidated by her on set, and Siegel described Clint's co-star as, "It's hard to feel any great warmth to her. She's too unfeminine and has too much balls. She's very, very hard." Two Mules for Sister Sara marked the last time that Eastwood would receive second billing for a film and it would be 25 years until he risked being overshadowed by a leading lady again in The Bridges of Madison County.

Hogan soon discovers that the French army is after Sara and he helps her escape, but then he discovers that it is hard to get rid of the nun and the movie follows their often comic escapades as they attempt to rob a garrison of its gold.

The movie is basically The African Queen out west and fails somewhat because there is little chemistry between the two stars. McLaine clashed several times with director, Don Seigel and Eastwood himself was said to have been intimidated by her. When the movie was released it was a huge hit but then cinema goers have always flocked to see Eastwood in a western. At the end of the day the movie is a thinly veiled Leone copy but it is a good one. A very good one.

1 comment:

Ron Scheer said...

Thanks for the review, with all the back story. I'm not a big fan of early Eastwood films. Shirley MacLaine was never someone I cared to see in a western. Add to that my indifference to comedy westerns. So I've never seen it.

But a Budd Boetticher script is a potential plus. One of these days, I'll get around to it. (Hard to believe Eastwood was intimidated by anyone, given that that's his major appeal on screen today.)