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Buster Keaton in Sherlock Jr., 1924

A Holiday to Matheran

As we left our holiday cottage, to return home in the city, my wife said, "Look over your shoulder before you leave so that we come back again." Read about our recent trip to Matheran, the forest on the head, and the smallest hill station in India, at B+ve.

February 12, 2013

FILM REVIEW

Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970)

The indefatigable Todd Mason has all the links to yet another edition of Overlooked Films, Audio and Video at his blog Sweet Freedom.

Hogan (Clint Eastwood): “See, I spent two years in a war in the States. Right now, all I'm interested in is money.”

Sara (Shirley MacLaine): “If money is all you care about then why did you fight in that war?”

Hogan: “Everybody's got a right to be a sucker once.”

In Two Mules for Sister Sara, Hogan (Clint Eastwood) becomes a sucker twice when he discovers that the “nun” he rescues from being raped by three Mexican bandits is actually a prostitute.

He suspects the whiskey-drinker, cigar-smoking, badmouthing Sara (Shirley MacLaine) to be more than a devout member of the order of the nuns, but he doesn't find out she is a whore until the end.

Sara flashes her shining cross and invokes the lord’s name so often that it leaves “Mr. Hogan” nonplussed throughout their comic adventure across the border.

Hogan: “I'll say one thing, Sister. I sure woulda liked to have met up with you before you took to them clothes and them vows.”

By then, Hogan and Sara, as unlikely a pair as you’ll see on a horse and a donkey, succeed in their mission of joining hands with Mexican rebels led by Col. Beltrán (Manuel Fábregas) and overrunning a fort occupied by the French, with plenty of gunfire and dynamite.

Hogan, an opportunistic drifter, agrees to help the rebels for half the share of gold hidden in the fort. En route to the rebel camp, he comes across Sara and the bandits. He rescues the nun stripped off her habit and shoots her molesters dead. It doesn’t take long for Hogan and Sara to hit it off: they take an instant liking to each other and become good friends, with Hogan’s suspicions of her true identity lurking not far behind.


I enjoyed Two Mules for Sister Sara for several reasons.

1. It confirmed my belief that Clint Eastwood, the unshaven, rugged and unassuming western hero, looks good as a cowboy on a horse; better than most of his contemporaries did. He was born to play the part with cowboy hat, neck scarf, poncho, six-gun, cigar, drawl, grimace, and all.

2. The film is a light comedy laced with tongue-in-cheek humour throughout its hour-plus length. By the time I was through watching the film, I was wondering if I had seen a western or a romantic comedy. Sample this:

Hogan: “Did I or did I not hear you call me a bastard?”

Sara: “Well! I suppose whiskey can make a man hear anything. Oh, Dear Lord, forgive him for the impurity of his thoughts!”

3. The original score by Italian composer Ennio Morricone who also gave us the memorable music for spaghetti westerns like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Love the beat.

4. In one scene, Hogan drinks himself to death, nearly, to numb the excruciating pain he is about to feel as Sara pulls out the arrow shot into his left shoulder by the Yaquis, I think the Mexican variant of the Indians. Check out the ingenious way in which Hogan tells Sara to remove the arrow.

I could go on some more but that would spoil the fun. In Two Mules for Sister Sara Eastwood is as Eastwood does in all his westerns, larger than the film and yet inconspicuous in the saddle. MacLaine is not new to a tart’s role: she is as natural as Sara as she is as Irma la Douce. What I liked about this film, in addition to their performances, was the novelty of dialogue between Hogan and Sara.

Don Siegel shot the film entirely in Mexico, most of it on location, capturing the country and the village life in all its naked reality, common to all the spaghetti westerns.

Clint Eastwood owes his success as a western hero in large part to Don Siegel and Sergio Leone. In a fascinating interview with James Lipton on Inside the Actors Studio, Eastwood recounts how he accepted the challenge of working in the first non-American western A Fistful of Dollars co-produced by the Italians, the Spanish, and the Germans that gave the world the unforgettable Man With No Name.

17 comments:

  1. Watched half of this movie at the weekend actually and would agree with you in most respects though some of the violence at the end (especially the machete in the face - ouchie!) doesn't seem to fit with the comedic tone really and I felt it jarred, even if we accept this picaresque tale as being a very tall one. When I went to see the second Sherlock Holmes movie starring Robert Downey Jr, I was amazed when the main title theme from this film got used for a long horseback sequence - and in fact it is credited on the movie so it wasn't just a case of copying from a master (somethign Hans Zimmer is pat to do).

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    1. Sergio, I remember the machete scene well and didn't think much of it at the time. I can imagine how gory and graphic that scene would have looked in one of the more tech-savvy movies of today. I felt there was plenty of humour, at least in the first part of the film, thanks in main to the dialogue between Hogan and Sara. I haven't seen the second RDJ-starrer Sherlock Holmes film and it would be interesting to see how the main theme title from TWO MULES FOR SISTER SARA shapes up there, given the different nature of the two films.

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  2. Not my favorite of Clint's westerns but still pretty good. I thought Shirley macClaine was excellent in her role and I did like the dialogue. Like it more these days than when I first watched it.

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    1. Charles, silly as it may sound I like Eastwood in all his westerns. If they were to remake the film today, I'd give MacLaine's role to Renee Zellweger. The dialogue is why the film clicked for me. I don't recall watching this movie earlier.

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  3. TWO MULES FOR SISTER SARA is a very underrated film. Clint Eastwood underplays his role and improves his performance as a result. And Shirley MacLaine as a nun...'nuff said!

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    1. George, I agree TWO MULES FOR SISTER SARA is an "underrated" film. I don't think I have heard of this film being mentioned in context of Eastwood's repertoire of western movies. MacLaine is rather coquettish without really meaning to be.

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  4. Thanks for the review. I've never seen this film but kept thinking of it as I read and wrote about the novel ST. AGNES' STAND about actual nuns and a Clint Eastwood type character. My blog review of that novel is coming up later this week, with some comments about nuns in movies and popular fiction.

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    1. Ron, you are welcome. I look forward to reading your review of ST. AGNES' STAND in context of this film and otherwise. Now that you mention nuns in movies and popular fiction, there's a fair share of padres and priests too, such as Ugly's brother in the Sergio Leone classic.

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  5. Been a long time since I saw this one. Wow! In my mind it is mixed up with the one with Sidney Poitier-LILLIES OF THE FIELD.

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    1. Patti, I found the film entertaining. I can't say I have seen LILLIES OF THE FIELD. I like Poitier for the depth and intensity he brings to the big screen, both as actor and director.

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  6. Saw this a long time ago and remembered liking it. I can't believe Patti gets it confused with LILLIES OF THE FIELD. Two movies could not be more utterly different. They both just happen to have nuns.

    Wasn't Eastwood in a TV western as a young man? I think there's where he got his start. No wonder he grew into his western persona so well. I think it was RAWHIDE - a TV show with one of the most amazingly catchy theme songs ever written.

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    1. John, you are right in mentioning Eastwood's television show RAWHIDE which is confirmed by both Yvette and Jeff in comments. I'll add my two bits by saying that I have only heard of the show and never actually watched it. I'd like to listen to that theme song, though.

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    2. Your wish is my command: the original "Rawhide" theme. It was made even more famous when it was recycled in a very funny way in The Blues Brothers and sung by John Belushi, Dan Ackroyd and others.

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  7. I'll say this to begin with, I am not the world's biggest Clint Eastwood fan but I must agree with your assessment, Prashant. He was born to play the western anti-hero. He just looks the part. I remember him playing Rowdy Yates in a very early television show called, RAWHIDE. That was the show that brought him to the attention of American feminine hearts.

    But since I preferred his boss Gil Favor (can't remember the actor's name) I was never smitten by Rowdy.

    Still, I did see this movie eons ago and did like it very much. I am a big fan of Shirley MacLaine.

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    1. Yvette, I am a big fan of Clint Eastwood and I'll stick my neck out by stating that I liked him better in the saddle than I did John Wayne or anyone else. Perhaps, my view has been shaped by certain kinds of westerns that I have read, particularly British writer Oliver Strange's western hero James Green alias Sudden, the Texas outlaw, I keep harping about every time. I can well imagine what RAWHIDE did to his career and his fan following. It's a serial I must catch sometime. MacLaine never fails to entertain. I particularly liked her in IRMA LA DOUCE and TERMS OF ENDEARMENT.

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  8. Eric Fleming played Gil Favor, Rowdy Yates' (Eastwood) trail boss on TV's RAWHIDE, Yvette. I agree with John that that show was a perfect start for young Clint to become one of the most iconic cowboy figures in film history.

    I'm very fond of TWO MULES FOR SISTER SARA and this is a cracking review of the film, Prashant. For me, few people are as funny at the reaction shot as Eastwood. This is about the latest film of Shirley McLaine's that I can stomach her in (though I like a lot of her 60s work). She's very good here, though, and has good chemistry with Clint.

    Morricone's music is typically strange and wonderful (the main theme was borrowed by Tarantino for his latest, DJANGO UNCHAINED).

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    1. Jeff, thanks for your appreciation. "Iconic" is the word for Eastwood. For all the wonderful films he has acted in and made, I'll remember him most for his westerns. You make a good point about Eastwood's "reaction shot" in TWO MULES FOR SISTER SARA. I never thought of it seeing as how bewildered he looks over MacLaine's rather strange behaviour, be it the way she talks or drinks out of his bottle. They made a good on-screen couple. I haven't seen Tarantino's DJANGO UNCHAINED though I liked Franco Nero in the unrelated original. Morricone's music stays with you.

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