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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Cinematography from a True Master., 10 Dec. 2009
This review is from: Two Mules For Sister Sara [DVD] (DVD)
You could easily be forgiven for assuming that "Two Mules for Sister Sara" is a typical "Spaghetti western", but you would be wrong in that assumption. Unlike the vast majority of those westerns which were filmed in Europe this one was filmed entirely on location in Mexico, and boy does it show! It is also directed by and financed by Americans. The distinctive musical score by the Italian master Ennio Morricone adds to the spaghetti feel, as does Clint Eastwood's appearance, still looking and acting in the guise of his "Man with no Name" character from his series of "dollar westerns" with the spaghetti great Sergio Leone. The film reminds me of one of those animals that have learnt to mimic another species to perfection! But to call it a mere mimic would be an injustice because it has a number of good features that lift it above the average western.

The film is set during the French intervention in Mexico in the 1800's. A mercenary played by Eastwood rescues a nun played by Shirley MacLaine from rape and murder. Together they travel to fight with the Juarista's against the despotic French. Eastwood for money, and MacLaine for the cause. As the journey progresses it becomes apparent that our nun is not all she seems. No great surprises there! We head to a bloody confrontation between the Juarista's and a heavily manned French garrison. The odds are against our band of heroes. But when have the odds got in the way of a good story?

What lifts this film above the average is the striking cinematography of the great Mexican genius Gabriel Figueroa, a man who resisted the lure of Hollywood and worked mostly in his country of birth. He was responsible for the striking black and white shadows in John Ford's excellent "The Fugitive"(47), and also worked on a number of films with the legendary Luis Bunuel. The opening title sequence with the native Mexican wildlife and the rider in the background is a joy, as is the ride up the hill to the Juarista stronghold. Figueroa manages to imbue the Mexican landscape with the harsh beauty that it has in abundance. The touches of the master are clear. The film is based on an original screenplay by Budd Boetticher who was responsible for directing a magnificent series of westerns with Randolph Scott in the late fifties and early sixties. He was also a long term resident of Mexico, so was well qualified to write about that country. Boetticher's screenplay was rewritten by Albert Maltz who changed the MacLaine character out of all recognition, not best pleasing Boetticher. The film itself is directed competently by Don Siegel who made some other interesting westerns like "The Duel at Silver Creek"(52), The Beguiled(71) and John Wayne's last film "The Shootist(76).

The pairing of Eastwood and MacLaine is an odd one. I cannot recall Maclaine making too many westerns, if any! But this seems to work and there is some witty banter between the two. I particularly liked the scene where MacLaine is trying to extract an arrow from Eastwood's shoulder by cutting the wooden shaft with a knife. Eastwood comments that she should be good at that as she is married to a carpenter. A rather witty reference to what he took to be her nun's calling at that time. Quite where the two mules of the title come in, I am not too sure! At one stage our nun is riding a mule then she swaps it for a burro (donkey), but never are there two mules! Overall it is an interesting film. No it is not a classic but it does just about enough to warrant four stars and is an improvement on many of Eastwood's better known westerns. Recommended.
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Review Details

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Reviewer

Bob Salter
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)   

Location: Wiltshire, England

Top Reviewer Ranking: 160