Sunday, December 18, 2011

Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970)


          Picking apart the logic of the offbeat Western action-comedy Two Mules for Sister Sara would take little effort, but since the picture never aspires to be anything except Hollywood hogwash, quibbling seems pointless. Clint Eastwood plays Hogan, a gunslinger wandering through Mexico. He stumbles across a nun named Sara (Shirley MacLaine), who’s being assaulted by a gang of thugs. After rescuing her, Hogan is conflicted by his attraction to the woman and his respect for her vows, so he reluctantly agrees to escort her to safety. He soon discovers, however, that she’s part of a guerilla force rebelling against French occupation of the region, so Hogan is inadvertently drawn into dangerous political intrigue. Thus begins a contrived but enjoyable odyssey involving an impregnable fortress, superstitious Indians, violent rebels, and various other action-flick tropes.
          The joke of the movie is that Sara uses her wiles to manipulate Hogan even though she’s betrothed to Jesus, so there’s a bickering It Happened One Night quality to Eastwood’s interactions with MacLaine. Is their dynamic believable? Not even for a minute, but who cares? Eastwood is churlish and rugged, while MacLaine is bawdy and sexy, so they mesh well. In fact, watching Two Mules for Sister Sara reveals what a shame it was that Eastwood mostly avoided going head-to-head with strong women in later movies; it wasn’t until he costarred with Meryl Streep in The Bridges of Madison County a quarter-century later that Eastwood tackled another role this purely romantic in nature.
          As written by the manly-man duo of Budd Boetticher and Albert Maltz, and as directed by Eastwood’s mentor in no-nonsense cinema, Don Siegel, Two Mules for Sister Sara delivers the popcorn-movie goods from start to finish, even though it’s bit fleshier than Siegel’s usual efforts, sprawling over 116 minutes. (The extra screen time comes, in part, from an overly long and overly violent climax.) Nonetheless, the picture’s problems related to logic and tone don’t change the fact that Two Mules for Sister Sara is solid escapist entertainment. For instance, why question the way MacLaine complements her nun’s habit with thick mascara when she looks so great that it’s easy to see how she wraps Eastwood around her rosary-clenching fingers?

Two Mules for Sister Sara: FUNKY

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