Two Mules for Sister Sara Oct 15, 2011 11:53:47 GMT -5
Post by Eddie Love on Oct 15, 2011 11:53:47 GMT -5
When was the last time Clint Eastwood starred in a movie and didn’t get top billing?
1970, to be exact, and the picture in question was TWO MULES FOR SISTER SARA a variation on THE AFRICAN QUEEN where co-star Shirley MacLaine garnered the top spot in the film’s credits. (Though, obviously, not in all of its international advertisements.) The picture re-team’s Eastwood for the second of what would be his five movies with director Don Siegel, and I have to believe this is the weakest of their collaborations. It’s a serviceable action western but, given the talent on board and it’s timeworn odd-couple premise (conceived by Budd Boetticher, no less), it’s sadly middling. It’s missing that something that would get this really on its feet and stand as a livelier title on a par with Eastwood’s other Italian and American westerns of the period.
As the film opens we watch Clint rescuing a half naked woman from a sexual assault in the Mexican dessert. To Clint’s surprise, the woman in question turns out to be a nun. She’s played by MacLaine, and eventually the pair set out to assist the Mexican nationals with their assault on a French garrison. Of course, along the way they spar with some sexually fraught badinage – given an ironic edge due to her vocation.
The picture has a couple of cool set pieces, principally a long scene where MacLaine removes an arrow from Clint’s shoulder. And I do mean long, that sequence goes on for a while. As does a bit where the two blow up a train trestle. These are involving passages, but they don’t tie into the film’s larger plot, which doesn’t really get going until well passed the halfway mark.
While most of the film revolves around the banter of the two stars, there’s a jarring shift in tone towards the end. Released the year after THE WILD BUNCH, this movie seems to set out to keep pace violence-wise and, if the impact isn’t nearly as strong as the earlier film, some of the images in the film's climax are definitely more graphic. Nothing earlier in this high concept, almost 50s style entertainment prepares you for the nasty force of these scenes and, as such, they’re off-putting.
There are other odd notes struck as well. There’s a big reveal about the Sister Sara character but, when it comes, it’s anti-climactic and very rushed for a film as leisurely paced as this one. If the filmmakers don’t care enough about the relationship between the two leads, I’m not certain we will either.
Supposedly these two stars didn’t hit it off that well, though I felt they did have some chemistry. Indeed, Clint seems to enjoy having a foil to play longs scenes off of, even if MacLaine isn't quite earthy enough for a part that was at one time intended for Elizabeth Taylor.
The Eastwood mystique is that of a loner and, though he’d appeared opposite stars like Lee Marvin and Richard Burton in the 60s, after TMFSS it would essentially be a quarter-century before he’d co-star with another big Hollywood name again. (His ill-begotten teaming with Burt Reynolds in CITY HEAT and, arguably, his cop picture with Charlie Sheen being the lone exceptions.) In the heyday of his stardom he struck out alone. It’s part of the power of his filmography. When you see an Eastwood picture – it really is an Eastwood picture. Indeed, only when he finally paired up with the likes of Hackman, Freeman and Streep in later years did Oscar start to take notice.