Friday Film Review: Two Mules for Sister Sara
It recently dawned on me that I haven’t reviewed all that many Westerns. They’re just not the first genre of films I think of when I’m looking for romance. So in an effort to remedy that I give you “Two Mules for Sister Sara” though where the second mule comes from, I don’t know. Guess it sounds better than “A Mule and a Burro for Sister Sara.” From what I understand this film received lackluster reviews when it was released. People wanted more of Eastwood in his “High Plains Drifter” mode but weren’t sure what to make of MacLaine in her role as the nun on the run in Mexico. It did okay at the box office but not much more. I think now though, people can appreciate it for the humorous pairing of these two stars doing something not seen before.
A lone, dusty rider (Clint Eastwood) comes upon three lowlifes about to rape a young woman. He’s nobody’s hero but takes exception to the men’s idea of fun. Gunning down two of them, he throws a stick of dynamite at the third then shoots him in the back when he runs. Pulling the too long fuse from the dynamite, he suggests the redheaded woman (Shirley MacLeane) dress before she sunburns then calmly goes through the pockets of the dead men. When he turns around, to his astonishment he discovers the woman he saved isn’t what he thought. “What the hell is a nun doing out here?”
Sister Sara demands that Hogan help her bury the three men to which Hogan replies “Sister, I don’t mind shootin’ em’ for ya, but I’ll be damned if I’m gonna sweat over ’em for ya.” True to his word, he sits and watches while Sara does the honors. That explains his character in a nutshell. Just as the two are setting out in different directions, they spot a French patrol headed their way. Desperate, Sister Sara pleads for Hogan to help her escape because the French are after her due to her Juarista activities. Hogan obliges though he tells her if she weren’t a nun, he’d leave her to save herself.
Later as they eat, Sara tells Hogan about her life and volunteers her knowledge of a French garrison where she tells him she taught French officers to speak Spanish. Sara despises the French for what they do to the Mexicans and Hogan makes a deal with her for them to travel together because he’s got a job to help the Juaristas in exchange for half of the money in the treasury of the garrison. Sara asks why Hogan isn’t helping these people out of convictions and Hogan replies – of his military service during the Civil War – he was allowed to be a sucker just once.
So the two of them head out and along the way to the Juarista hideout they remove a Yaqui arrow from Hogan’s shoulder, blow up a train, scandalize a bar full of peasants before finally reaching Colonel Beltran (Manuel Fabregas) and his men. Will their plan work to surprise and subdue the French garrison? Will Hogan have a change of heart? And what’s the secret Sara’s been hiding from him all along?
Filmed on location in Mexico, the movie starts with a great, almost comic score from Ennio Morricone that includes “braying” sounds. Listen to it throughout the movie and I almost guarantee it’ll stick in your head for hours. The title sequence also shows what kind of countryside and hazards these two will be facing – and animal lover that I am, I still laughed at what the horse stepped on. Some inaccuracies have been pointed out such as the type gun Hogan carries and the fact that dynamite had only recently been invented but they aren’t enough to douse my vibe for the movie.
Eastwood does a great job with Hogan’s frustrated facial expressions when confronted by a holy sister whom he happens to find damned attractive and who, in whiskey veritas fashion, he tells that he can’t stop thinking about her almost naked. He’s got his trademark scruffy beard, chomped cigar, serape and snarl. Added to those are some delicious deadpan lines that cracked me up.
Hogan: [Sara has stopped at a small shrine by the road, and begins to pray] Now what’re you doing?
Sara: I must say a prayer at this shrine.
Hogan: You said your prayers last night and this morning. You’re gonna’ wear ’em out.
Sara: It’s a sin to pass a shrine without praying.
Hogan: Not if you close your eyes, it isn’t.
Sara: Please, Mr. Hogan.
Hogan: All right. It’s a small shrine. Let’s make it a small prayer.
MacLeane is delightful as the beautiful nun who serenely puts Hogan in his place whenever he questions or snaps at her. Her replies are conveniently religious and thwart Hogan at every turn. But I have to agree with her that the false eyelashes she wore were a touch much. Plus she must have been baking under that black habit. From an early point in the film, clues are spread about that the holy sister isn’t quite what she seems to be and it’s fun to watch her hide this from Hogan. She also has some great lines especially when a drunk Hogan isn’t steady enough to aim properly to set off some dynamite.
Sara: [Helping Hogan practice shooting, before the train arrives at the trestle] Sober up! Sober up, you dirty bastard, or I’ll kill you!
Sara: Dear Mary, Mother of God, help this no-good atheist to shoot straight.
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!
This is basically a two person, road “romance” movie during which the Juarista cause doesn’t become reality until we’re into the last third of the film. The sparking and feuding that makes the movie so much fun are toned down and lost as Hogan and Sara are now working together almost harmoniously. Though I’m glad to see that Hogan never loses his “me first” cynical attitude and becomes a fervent adherent to the Cause. When the battle for the garrison starts, there are explosions, stabbings and shootings galore – almost too many which makes the sequence drag out to a conclusion. But director Don Siegel makes up for the overly extended fight with a bang up finish as Hogan wheels the treasury strongbox to where Sara awaits him in a bathtub. As he steps – fully clothed – in with her, he replies to her question of if he’s even going to take off his hat “I haven’t got time for that.”
MacLeane and Eastwood managed to generate crackling chemistry onscreen despite the reported problems on the set during filming. The Mexican scenery is beautiful and lovingly shot. If you’re looking for something a little different than the usual white hatted good guy shooting it out with the black hatted villains then look no further than the mercenary and the nun. B