Two Mules for Sister Sara

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Two Mules for Sister Sara
Two Mules for sister Sara Poster.jpg
Directed byDon Siegel
Produced byMartin Rackin
Carroll Case
Screenplay byAlbert Maltz
Story byBudd Boetticher
StarringClint Eastwood
Shirley MacLaine
Music byEnnio Morricone
CinematographyGabriel Figueroa
Edited byRobert F. Shugrue
Juan José Marino Mexico
The Malpaso Company
Sanen Productions
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • June 16, 1970 (1970-06-16) (United States)
  • August 13, 1970 (1970-08-13) (Mexico)
Running time
114 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$2.5 million[1][2]
Box office$4.7 million (rentals)[3]

Two Mules for Sister Sara is a 1970 American-Mexican Technicolor western film in Panavision directed by Don Siegel and starring Shirley MacLaine (billed above Clint Eastwood in the film's credits, but not on the poster) set during the French intervention in Mexico (1861–1867). The film was to have been the first in a five-year exclusive association between Universal Pictures and Sanen Productions of Mexico.[4] It was the second of five collaborations between Siegel and Eastwood, following Coogan's Bluff (1968). The collaboration continued with The Beguiled and Dirty Harry (both 1971) and finally Escape from Alcatraz (1979).

The plot follows an American mercenary who gets mixed up with a nun and aids a group of Juarista rebels during the puppet reign of Emperor Maximilian in Mexico.[5][6] The film featured both American and Mexican actors and actresses, including being filmed in the picturesque countryside near Tlayacapan, Morelos. Ennio Morricone composed the film's music.


Just after the American Civil War, a former soldier, Hogan, comes up on a naked woman about to be raped by bandits. He kills the bandits, but is taken aback when he discovers that the woman he has saved is a nun by the name of Sister Sara, who is raising money to assist a group of Mexican revolutionaries who are fighting the French. When Sara requests that Hogan take her to their camp, he agrees because he had previously arranged to help the selfsame Mexican revolutionaries attack the French garrison in exchange for half the garrison's treasury, if they are successful.

As the duo heads towards the camp, evading French troops all the while, Hogan is surprised that the nun drinks his whiskey. Before he attempts to detonate a charge to destroy a French ammunition train, he is attacked by Indians and wounded with an arrow. Sara is able to bandage him, but as Hogan is now unable to set up the detonation charge, she assists him in destroying the train. Eventually the two reach Juarista commander Col. Beltran's camp, where Sara reveals to Hogan that she is not a nun but a prostitute posing as a nun, because the French are looking for her due to her assistance of the revolutionaries. Although Hogan is shocked, the two team up and provide the Mexicans with the money needed to purchase dynamite for the assault.

Because the detonation of the train has put the French garrison on high alert, Hogan and Sara infiltrate the fortress with Hogan posing as a bounty hunter, take out the commanding staff, and open the gates for the Mexican revolutionary forces to swarm through. A battle ensues; the French are defeated, and the Mexicans capture the fort. As promised, Hogan receives half the riches. Now wealthy and his job completed, Hogan sets off with Sara, with whom he has fallen in love, to open a gambling house in San Francisco.




Budd Boetticher, a long term-resident of Mexico renowned for his series of Randolph Scott westerns, wrote the original 1967 screenplay that was bought with the provision that he would direct. Boetticher had planned the film for Robert Mitchum and Deborah Kerr, who had played a man of action and a nun in Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison. Kerr's character was a member of the Mexican aristocracy escaping the vengeance of the Mexican Revolution, with Mitchum's cowboy protecting her as he led her to safety to the United States.

Carrol Case sold the screenplay to Martin Rackin, who had Albert Maltz, also living in Mexico, rewrite the story.[7] Maltz's version had Clint Eastwood playing a soldier of fortune for the Juaristas and Shirley MacLaine playing a revolutionary prostitute[8] now set during the French intervention in Mexico. The film saw Eastwood embody the tall mysterious stranger once more, unshaven, wearing a serape-like vest and smoking a cigar and the film score was composed by Ennio Morricone.[9] Although the film had Leonesque dirty Hispanic villains, the film was considerably less crude and more sardonic than those of Leone.[10]

Boetticher expressed disgust that MacLaine's bawdy character obviously did not resemble a nun, as opposed to his idea of a genteel lady whose final revelation would have been more of a surprise to the audience.[11] Though Boetticher was friends with both Eastwood and director Don Siegel, Siegel understood Boetticher's dislike of the final film. Boetticher asked Siegel how he could make an awful film like that; Siegel replied that it was a great feeling to wake up in the morning and know there was a check in the mail, and Boetticher riposted that it was a better feeling to wake up in the morning and be able to look at yourself in the mirror.[12]


Eastwood had been shown the script by Elizabeth Taylor (at the time, the wife of Richard Burton) during the filming of Where Eagles Dare; she hoped to play the role of Sister Sara. It was initially offered to her, but she had to turn down the role because she wanted to shoot in Spain where Burton was making his latest film.[10] Sister Sara was supposed to be Mexican, but Shirley MacLaine was cast instead. Although they were initially unconvinced with her pale complexion,[13] Eastwood believed that the studio was keen on MacLaine as they had high hopes for her film Sweet Charity, in which she played a taxi dancer.[14] Both Siegel and Eastwood felt intimidated by her on set, and Siegel described Clint's co-star thus: "It's hard to feel any great warmth to her. She's too unfeminine and has too much balls. She's very, very hard."[15] Two Mules for Sister Sara marked the last time that Eastwood would receive second billing for a film, and it would be 25 years until he risked being overshadowed by a leading lady again—in The Bridges of Madison County (1995).


The film was shot over 65 days in Mexico and cost around $4 million.[1][2] Many of the cast and crew, including MacLaine, were stricken by illness while filming, due to having to adjust to the food and water in Mexico.[16]

Bruce Surtees was a camera operator on the film, and acted as a go-between for Siegel and cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa; this led to his working on Siegel's next film The Beguiled.[17] Figueroa used many photographic filters for effects in the film.[18]

Eastwood revealed that he actually killed a rattlesnake for a scene in the film, as Mexican authorities did not want it released in the area after filming was over. Eastwood noted that he did not want to kill it, as he is opposed to killing animals.[19]


Box office[edit]

The film returned $4.7 million in North American domestic rentals, rendering it a solid, modestly profitable hit (a movie's gross is often close to twice the domestic rentals figure).[3]

Critical response[edit]

Two Mules for Sister Sara received moderately favorable reviews, and Roger Greenspun of the New York Times reported, "I'm not sure it is a great movie, but it is very good and it stays and grows on the mind the way only movies of exceptional narrative intelligence do".[15][20] Stanley Kauffmann described the film as "an attempt to keep old Hollywood alive—a place where nuns can turn out to be disguised whores, where heroes can always have a stick of dynamite under their vests, where every story has not one but two cute finishes. Its kind of The African Queen gone west".[21] In a review by the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, Two Mules for Sister Sara was called "a solidly entertaining film that provides Clint Eastwood with his best, most substantial role to date; in it he is far better than he has ever been. In director Don Siegel, Eastwood has found what John Wayne found in John Ford and what Gary Cooper found in Frank Capra."[3]

The New York Times in its book, The New York Times Guide to the Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made included Two Mules for Sister Sara in its top 1,000 films of all time.[22] Author Howard Hughes joked that critics "couldn't argue that Eastwood's acting was second to nun."[20]

Quentin Tarantino later called it "a half-hearted half-assed attempt to do a Corbucci like western, mixed in with a bit of “The African Queen” style battle of the sexes. When it’s just Eastwood & MacLaine out in the desert by themselves, the film is lightly amusing. But its lack of commitment, mediocre premise, script, action, and outcome, not to mention Eastwood’s silly looking leather hat ultimately do it in."[23]


Year Award Category Name Result Notes
1971 Laurel Award Clint Eastwood Best Action Performance Won 3rd place
1971 Laurel Award Shirley MacLaine Best Comedy Performance, Female Nominated 5th place

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b McGilligan (1999), p. 183
  2. ^ a b Hughes, p. 21
  3. ^ a b c Eliot (2009), p. 117-118
  4. ^ Issuu – You Publish
  5. ^ Frayling (1992), p. 7
  6. ^ Smith (1993), p. 76
  7. ^ Schickel (1996), p. 225
  8. ^ Senses of Cinema, Ride Lonesome: The Career of Budd Boetticher Archived October 3, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ Schickel (1996), p.226
  10. ^ a b McGilligan (1999), p. 179
  11. ^ Davis, Ronald L. Just Making Movies, University Press of Mississippi, p. 219
  12. ^ p. 56 Dixon, Wheeler K. Film Talk Rutgers University Press
  13. ^ McGilligan (1999), p. 181
  14. ^ p. 11 Eastwood, Clint, Kapsis, Robert E., Coblentz, Kathie Clint Eastwood: Interviews University of Mississippi Press
  15. ^ a b McGilligan (1999), p. 182
  16. ^ Munn, p. 93
  17. ^ p. 101 Clint Eastwood
  18. ^ p. 46 Maltin, Leonard The Art of the Cinematographer Dover Publications
  19. ^ Munn, p. 98
  20. ^ a b Hughes, p. 25
  21. ^ Kauffman, Stanley (August 1, 1970). "Stanley Kauffman on Films". The New Republic.
  22. ^ Canby, Maslin & Nichols (1999)
  23. ^ Tarantino, Quentin (December 24, 2019). "The Shootist". New Beverly Cinema.


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