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1001 Overlooked Movies - Two Mules For Sister Sara (1970)

A mercenary teams up with a young nun after saving her from being raped by bandits.

Directed by: Don Siegel
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Shirley Maclaine, Manuel Fabregas, Alberto Morin


Eastwood is an American mercenary on his way to meet with Mexican rebels when he stumbles across Maclaine, a nun, being attacked by three bandits. Upon rescuing her he discovers she has valuable information about the French garrison he is due to attack and so reluctantly allows her to tag along.
Siegel's film is probably the most European western not made by or starring any Europeans. Its Mexican locations and supporting cast lend it a sweaty Spaghetti vibe, as does Ennio Morricone's wonderful score along with the casting of 'Dollars Trilogy' star Eastwood. He plays another variation on "The Man With No Name" except here we do learn his name, Hogan. 
The Euro westerns often dabbled in left-wing politics, something their American counterparts rarely did, certainly not at surface level, thanks mainly to the paranoid atmosphere left in the wake of the McCarthy trials. Here the cause is the Mexican Juaristas' struggle against the would-be colonizing French army. Eastwood's anti-hero is only interested in one cause, "the Hogan cause", so with a capitalist mercenary aiding the Juaristas, audiences of either political persuasion can get on board with this particular campaign. 
Eastwood has often acknowledged Siegel's influence on his own directing career and there aren't many better tutors. He's one of those directors who doesn't get enough credit (Only 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers' and 'Dirty Harry' appear on the 1001 Movies list), probably because his career evolved at the wrong time, too late to be considered a "classic" film-maker like Hawks or Ford and too early to be placed alongside "mavericks" like Peckinpah and Hellman, but for me he's a perfect combination of both schools. Siegel has that Old Hollywood knack of being able to produce incredibly subtle camera moves that draw attention to the story, not the camera. One such brilliant example is when Eastwood and Maclaine arrive at a small village, the camera sweeping under a bridge to gradually reveal a busy market, its vibrant paper-mache colors a stunning contrast to the rugged land we've traveled thus far. At the same time he can portray grit and realism as well as any young seventies rebel, 'Dirty Harry' a prime example of this. His movies also span a range of genres almost as varied as Billy Wilder. It's hard to believe this movie is from the man who gave us the original 'Invasion Of The Body Snatchers'.
Liz Taylor was originally due to play Maclaine's role which would have made it a very different and much less involving movie. MacLaine is excellent here and her casting creates a steamy sexual tension which I can't imagine would have been convincing between Eastwood and Taylor. Like many movies, particularly westerns, released in the early seventies, 'Two Mules For Sister Sara' was somewhat lost in the transition between Old Hollywood and New, but it's a movie well worth rediscovering.


The official '1001 Movies' list includes the following movies from 1970 - El Topo, Woodstock, Deep End, The Spider's Stratagem, Little Big Man, The Ear, Patton, M*A*S*H, Performance, Gimme Shelter, Zabriskie Point, The Bird with The Crystal Plumage, The Garden of the Finzi-Continis


Eric Hillis

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