Cue up “Two Mules for Sister Sara” and watch the stars come out

Updated: Nov 17


BLU-RAY REVIEW / FRAME SHOTS

Shirley MacLaine is Sister Sara, a nun – maybe – who is helping the Mexicans in their fight against the occupying French – and Clint Eastwood is the gruff, shoot-first loner Hogan.



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TWO MULES FOR SISTER SARA”


Blu-ray, 1970, rated PG, gunplay, a flash of skin


Best extra: “At Home With Clint,” a vintage “interview” with Clint Eastwood










YOU MIGHT be surprised to see Shirley MacLaine’s name listed first in the credits of a Clint Eastwood Western directed by Don Siegel. In his commentary, filmmaker Alex Cox (“Repo Man,” “Sid and Nancy”) says there were two reasons. It was the “gentlemanly” thing to do and it reflected MacLaine’s considerable star power.


No question about that.

She’d already received Best Actress Oscar nominations for “Some Came Running” and Billy Wilder’s “The Apartment” and “Irma la Douce.” After bit parts in “Revenge of the Creature” and “Tarantula” and starring on TV’s “Rawhide,” he cemented his bona fides in Sergio Leone’s iconic Man With No Name trilogy – “A Fistful of Dollars,” “For a Few Dollars More,” “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”

That they were polar opposites on the political spectrum didn’t matter: Their chemistry is undeniable.


(1) The production was mostly filmed on location in Mexico. (2&3) Hogan “intervenes” when four desperadoes try to assault Sara.




Good thing, too. In an interview from his Carmel, CA, home, Eastwood says that he and MacLaine share the screen for 75 percent of the running time, which played to Siegel’s mastery of pacing and timing. “Two Mules for Sister Sara” doesn’t hurt for all-out action – a railroad bridge is dynamited and a French garrison attacked, for starters – but it’s all driven by Eastwood and MacLaine.

Well, them and a crew of other stars.

Siegel, who would partner with Eastwood the next year on “The Beguiled” and “Dirty Harry” (their first project was 1968’s “Coogan’s Bluff”) had the original “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and “The Killers” under his belt.” Albert Waltz (an Oscar nominee for “Pride of the Marines” and “Broken Arrow”) wrote the script from a story by Budd Boetticher (ditto, “Bullfighter and the Lady”). The cinematographer was Gabriel Figueroa (ditto-ditto, “The Night of the Iguana”) and the composer was the inimitable Ennio Morricone.

Cox, also the author of “10,000 Ways to Die: A Director’s Take on the Italian Western,” points out that “Two Mules” was Siegel’s first foray into Mexico. It had become a go-to shooting location thanks to Sam Peckinpah (“The Wild Bunch”), John Wayne (“The War Wagon”) and other filmmakers, but Siegel steered clear of familiar locales, which also set this Western apart.

Hogan, a gruff, shoot-first loner, isn’t exactly lifted from Eastwood’s 1970 playbook, either.


(1&2) French soldiers search for Sara during France’s intervention in Mexico. (3) Sara holds a rattlesnake that was beheaded by Hogan. He tells her that they can eat it. (4) MacLaine already had three Oscar nominations for Best Actress to her credit when she starred opposite Eastwood.




He’s bringing dynamite to the Mexicans for their attack on the occupying French – his cause is the outpost strongbox, not independence – when he comes across some bandits about to assault the good sister (MacLaine). After he, naturally, guns them down there’s, naturally, no way they’ll split up. Sara’s wanted by the French for aiding the Mexicans, and as Hogan begins to suspect that she isn’t who she says she is, their relationship – he’s confounded and frustrated, she’s enigmatic and single-minded – develops along unexpected, often laugh-out-loud lines. It’s great fun watching them work it.

Still not convinced? Hogan has to lean on Sara big-time following a run-in with a band of Yaquis, and still isn’t 100 percent when they go down to the wire to bring down a train. The results are spectacular, but he could never have pulled it off alone.

Cox’s laidback commentary serves up some choice observations, among them how Hollywood’s cowboy code had changed by the time “Sister Sara” arrived. Where shooting someone in the back was once verboten, a “villainous protagonist” was OK, he says, as long as he was less villainous than the bad guys. Other extras include a poster/image gallery, TV and radio spots and a trailer, but the highlight is “At Home With Clint,” an interview with Eastwood just before he started filming “The Beguiled.”

“Interview,” though, is probably misleading. Barely seven minutes long and done in B&W, it’s a canned promo where an unidentified interviewer’s softball questions and Eastwood’s answers were spliced in the studio. Still, it’s interesting to hear him talk about the mystique of the taciturn hero and that violence in movies can be as cathartic as attending a boxing match – interesting because in the latter part of his career he’s dismantled those notions.


(1) Sara and Hogan make their way to a rendezvous with the Mexican army. (2&3) A French firing squad executes a villager.




The interview is also worth it just for the original footage from “Sister Sara” at the beginning. OK, it’s a cliche, but the difference between it and Universal Pictures’ 4K restoration is like night and day. The bet here is the international and shorter domestic cuts (2.35:1 aspect ratio), both of which are included in this Kino Lorber release, were scanned from the 35 mm original camera negative.

Colors are so true and deep and rich that you can get lost in them. Detail and contrasts are sharp and the grain is just right. Really, it’s hard to imagine a more rewarding cinematic experience.

No word if the audio was goosed, but it’s not as dynamic, particularly when the dynamite goes off – usually with Hogan’s cheroot providing the spark. On the other hand, the dialogue is clear and, even better, Morricone’s score, highlighted by the unforgettable “The Braying Mule,” isn’t bottled up.

If you’re a Clint Eastwood fan, this one’s an easy call.

– Craig Shapiro


(1-3) Sara uses her cross to reflect light into the eyes of the Yaquis after Hogan is run through with an arrow.







(1-3) Hogan and Sister Sara plan to dynamite a French ammunition train.





(1&2) Hogan and Sara join forces with the Mexicans when they attack a French garrison in Chihuahua. (3) The cat’s out of the bag: Sara isn’t a nun, after all.




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