Thursday, November 26, 2009

Max Mex Movies Post II: Two Mules for Sister Sara

“Two Mules for Sister Sara” was released in 1970, directed by Don Siegel and starred Shirley MacLaine and Clint Eastwood. The movie was filmed in Mexico and was one of those cases of an original story changed almost beyond recognition from the final film that appeared on screen. Budd Boetticher wrote the original screenplay and was extremely displeased with the result after Albert Maltz got done with it. I would say why, but would spoil it for those who have not seen the movie and might like to. It is the story of an American gun for hire who falls in with a nun during the French intervention in Mexico.

Clint Eastwood is Hogan, a Civil War veteran with an agreement with a Juarista colonel to help destroy a French fort at Chihuahua in return for a share of the gold in the strongbox there. Along the way he meets Sister Sara (Shirley MacLaine) who he saves from being gang raped by four drunken outlaws (Americans oddly enough). Once that escapade was dealt with Sister Sara appeals for Hogan’s help again when the French cavalry show up, telling him that she is wanted by the French for raising money for the Juarista army. Even after that threat is avoided, Hogan cannot seem to shake the persistent sister who insists on going along with him, for reasons which will become clear in the end.

As it turns out Sister Sara used to live in Chihuahua and has detailed knowledge of the French garrison, which she predicts will be uselessly drunk celebrating Bastille Day which is coming up. The two make an unlikely pair and there are numerous humorous moments between them. It is a good, simple action western with plenty of scrapes as the two repeatedly save each other from encounters with the French. As usual, the Juaristas are the good guys and the French are the bad guys and there is the obligatory scene of a French firing squad executing someone. In fact, of all the movies I’ve seen about the 2nd Empire period all of them have scenes of firing squad executions, only one of which was a republican firing squad executing a batch of Frenchmen (don’t worry, we are assured in that film that they deserved it whereas the Juaristas never do of course). Given the portrayal of the two sides it is probably fortunate that Emperor Maximilian, best as I recall, is never even mentioned. The war is portrayed simply as one of Mexicans fighting the French who want to "make Mexico one of their colonies".

Some might be put off by certain things, and as usual I will choose to ignore the historical inaccuracies and, as usual, giving the French troops a Gatling gun. One of the things I liked best about it was the musical score, much of which consists of Mexican guitars and Catholic chant. The acting is good, Eastwood, as usual is in his element as the rough, western loner and the scenic shots are great. There is a surprise ending you might not see coming and then of course is the final climactic battle between the Juaristas and the French garrison. On the whole it is, in my view, a good little western, not spectacular but as I’ve said I’m drawn to the time and place of the setting so I take the good and the bad as they come. I will not give away the ending but, naturally, what chance does the French Foreign Legion have against Clint Eastwood? One of the taglines of the movie (obviously drawing on Eastwood’s earlier fame in westerns) was: The “Man with no name” returns to take on an entire army with two guns and a fistful of dynamite.

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