Film Stuff

Day 2: Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970)

It’s only day 2 and I’m already falling behind. This doesn’t bode well. In my defence, I had a parental visit over the last couple of days, which included a very pleasant evening of cards, dice and leftover bubbly. It’s all finished now.

Today, it was a toss-up between Two Lovers, a Netflix-inspired romantic drama with Joaquin Phoenix and Gwyneth Paltrow, and a relatively obscure Clint Eastwood-starring western. No contest.

I have access to a pretty large collection of westerns, so they may feature once or twice in this catalogue when I run out of alternatives.

Two Mules for Sister Sara  stars Clint Eastwood and Shirley MacLaine as a mercenary and a nun whose paths cross in the midst of a Mexican backlash against French colonial rule in the 1860s. Eastwood rescues her from a gang of bandits, and  circumstances conspire to keep them together. As he pursues his mission to help overthrow a French Garrison (and pocket the proceeds), Sister Sara reveals an unexpected talent in keeping them both on track.

Two Mules…is beautifully shot, with arid landscapes framing the journey. Eastwood and MacLaine are the odd couple; two individuals forced together by chance and obliged to rub along. The sexual tension is nicely offset by her untouchable status as a nun, and it’s played with wry humour throughout.

There are some great scenes, including one which may have inspired similar in Ronin. Injured by a Yaqui arrow (someone even geekier than I am pointed out that, in that region, he was far more likely to have been nobbled by Chiricahua Apaches), Eastwood has to issue instructions on how to extract the bolt. Bolstered by copious amounts of whiskey, he grits his teeth and gets to work; the wound eventually sealed by the cauterising effect of gunpowder as the arrow is blasted through his shoulder. Ouch.

You can also see the influence of The Wild Bunchreleased exactly a year previously, yet set 50 years later. Two Mules touches on similar themes, but with little of the allegorical punch. One scene that does work is that of a French-ordered execution. At a time when the US was still neck-deep in Vietnam, a zoomed close-up of a conscripted soldier speaks of his ambivalence and horror towards the actions he is forced to take. It’s a brief shot, but one which reveals a deeper discourse than the film as a whole is prepared to tackle. The fact that it doesn’t is no criticism, but just an acknowledgement that there are wider issues at the periphery of this story.

The soundtrack of the film is classic Morricone, emphasising the visual absurdity of riding a mule on a long-distance journey. It has a great pay-off, too.

Oh, and part of the soundtrack features in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows as Robert Downey Jr crosses the border to Germany. On a mule.

Clever, that.

Also wanted to see (if Netflix had the range): The Taking of Pelham One, Two, Three (1974)

Anagram: (Two Mules for Sister Sara)
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