Movies My Dad Likes: Two Mules for Sister Sara [1970]

Two Mules for Sister Sara is a truly entertaining movie from the prolific director Don Siegel; with an engaging soundtrack, that seems to incorporate some heehaws from a mule. It’s by Ennio Morricone, the number one composer of western music. The backdrop to the story is Mexico during the French occupation when rebels were fighting for their independence. Sister Sara: a role made in heaven for the delectable Shirley MacLaine; is on the run from the French for helping the rebels. Her co-star is Clint Eastwood who plays Hogan a gambling hard-drinking womanising mercenary type whose primary interest is money.

Immediately after the early credits roll Hogan saves Sara from a fate worse than death, killing all her would be assailants in the process with his fast gun and a stick of dynamite. He’s made a secret deal with a Colonel in the rebel army to devise a foolproof plan to capture the French stronghold at Chihuahua in return for half of the gold kept there. On the other hand, Sara is no ordinary nun, as she seems partial to cheroots and whiskey with a tendency to cuss with the best of them. With her Effervescent performance, I was half expecting MacLaine to break into a rendition of “If My Friends Could See Me Now” at any moment! Together with their support for the rebels, although for entirely different reasons, provides them with a common purpose and a reason to tolerate each other.

The movie charts their adventure with a large dose of humour culminating in a dynamite assisted attack on the fort stronghold where Hogan gets his reward in more ways than one. There are however moments of tenderness on the way, particularly when Sara has to remove an arrow from Hogan’s shoulder with the aid of lashes of whiskey and gunpowder, a substance used by the mercenary it seems to overcome most obstacles. The scene conjures up images of the Bogart and Hepburn bonding in African Queen.

Before the fort can be dealt with, there’s a small matter of blowing up a bridge when a French ammunition train passes. Due to his injury, Sara has to climb up the trestle to set the charges and then help him fire the rifle to explode the dynamite. It’s probably the only time in the movie that she does the real donkeywork, for Hogan to take the credit. As with many of Eastwood’s characters, there are plenty of extras for Hogan to shoot. His body count becomes exponential once the stronghold is reached and the stuntmen really earn their pay as they tumble from the battlements. After helping the rebels to victory, they ride off together with Sara on her beast of burden but in the wrong colour dress for a nun.

Some viewers may wonder why there are two mules in the title when Sister Sara rides on just one for much of the film. Although she changes her mule for a smaller cuter version part way through I think the other one is meant to be Hogan as he takes on numerous tasks that lighten her load. Did Eastwood know when he read the script that he would be playing the role of a mule? Well, he sure gave MacLaine an easy ride when it came to the top billing stakes. Rightly so as she outshone everyone else in the movie with her usual aplomb.



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