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Two Mules for Sister Sara

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Two Mules for Sister Sara
Directed byDon Siegel
Screenplay byAlbert Maltz
Story byBudd Boetticher
Produced byMartin Rackin
Carroll Case
StarringShirley MacLaine
Clint Eastwood
CinematographyGabriel Figueroa
Edited byRobert F. Shugrue
Juan José Marino
Music byEnnio Morricone
Color processTechnicolor
The Malpaso Company
Sanen Productions
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release dates
  • May 28, 1970 (1970-05-28) (Dallas)
  • August 13, 1970 (1970-08-13) (Mexico)
Running time
114 minutes
CountriesUnited States
Budget$2.5 million[1][2]
Box office$4.7 million (rentals)[3]

Two Mules for Sister Sara is a 1970 American-Mexican 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.

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Just after the American Civil War, a former Northern soldier named Hogan rides up on a naked woman about to be raped by bandits. He kills the bandits, and the woman dons a habit, revealing herself as a nun. Sister Sara begs his continuing protection from French soldiers who are tracking her as a known Juarista, raising money to assist Mexican revolutionaries fighting French occupying forces. When Sara requests that Hogan take her to the Mexican camp, he is at first hesitant to deviate from his plans, declaring that if she were not a nun he would let her fend for herself. Learning that she has knowledge of the French garrison where she has ostensibly taught Spanish to the French soldiers, Hogan agrees to escort her there, as he had previously arranged to help the revolutionaries attack the French garrison in exchange for half the garrison's treasury.

As the duo heads towards the camp, evading French troops all the while, Hogan is surprised that the nun swears and drinks whiskey. While on their way to destroy a French ammunition train, Hogan is shot at by Yaquis and seriously wounded with an arrow. To anesthetize him while removing the arrow from his shoulder, Sara plies Hogan with whiskey, in the process making him too drunk to climb the railroad trestle to set the charges to destroy the train. When Sara declares she cannot climb the high trestle herself to set the charges, Hogan reminds her of her debt to him in saving her life, and she reluctantly complies, enabling them to successfully blow up the train. In his drunken stupor, Hogan bitterly reveals to Sara that he is attracted to her and resents her being a nun.

Eventually the two reach Juarista commander Col. Beltran's camp. In the lead-up to the attack, Sara begs the local villagers for money needed to purchase dynamite for the assault on the garrison, enlisting the help of prostitutes at a brothel. When Hogan is shocked that she would take them to a brothel, Sara reveals to Hogan that she is not a nun, but a prostitute and a Juarista wanted for shooting a French lieutenant. She posed as a nun initially for protection as a woman travelling alone and later because of Hogan’s initial stated reluctance to protect her had she not been a nun. Although Hogan is shocked, resenting all the chaste nights they spent together travelling, he kisses her and declares it is a bad time to indulge. The two team up to infiltrate the fort and let a squad of revolutionaries in through a trapdoor, while two other squads attack the gates and a fourth act as sharpshooters.

Expecting the French army to be drunk for Bastille Day, they instead find that the train's destruction has put the garrison on high alert. Hogan and Sara infiltrate the fortress by Hogan posing as a bounty hunter who has captured Sara and is turning her in for the reward. The ruse works, and Hogan and Sara engage the French commanding officers while the garrison's gates are breached for the Mexican revolutionaries 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 with his job completed, Hogan sets off with Sara, now wearing a garish red silk gown and feathers instead of the habit, the romantic couple now intending to open a gambling house in San Francisco.[7]




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.[8] Maltz's version had Clint Eastwood playing a soldier of fortune for the Juaristas and Shirley MacLaine playing a revolutionary prostitute[9] 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.[10] Although the film had Leonesque dirty Hispanic villains, the film was considerably less crude and more sardonic than those of Leone.[11]

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.[12] 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.[13]


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.[11] Sister Sara was supposed to be Mexican, but Shirley MacLaine was cast instead. Although they were initially unconvinced with her pale complexion,[14] 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.[15] Both Siegel and Eastwood felt she was unfriendly on set, and Siegel described MacLaine 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."[16] Two Mules for Sister Sara marked the last time that Eastwood would receive second billing for a film.[citation needed]


Don Siegel describes his struggle to exert control over the filming of Two Mules for Sister Sara: “Marty Rackin [the producer] and I didn’t get along. I’d make my points, but he would walk away saying ‘I lose the battles, but I win the war.’” According to Siegel the war Rackin won was that “he, not I, did the final editing. It’s a limited victory, because if you cut the picture in the camera, shoot the minimum [footage]...there isn’t much leeway in editing unless the producer orders more film shots.”[17]

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.[18]

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.[19] Figueroa used many photographic filters for effects in the film.[20]

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.[21]


The film opened May 28, 1970 in Dallas, Texas.[22] It also opened in Denver the same week.[23]


Critical response

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".[16][24] Stanley Kauffmann of The New Republic 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".[25] 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]

Biographer Judith M. Kass concurs: “In Eastwood’s manner Siegel found the filmic mirror of himself, and the mythic anti-hero of the soiled American dream...”[26]

The New York Times included Two Mules for Sister Sara in its book, The New York Times Guide to the Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made.[27] Author Howard Hughes joked that critics "couldn't argue that Eastwood's acting was second to nun."[24]

Box office

In its opening week in Denver, it grossed $35,000 from 2 theaters.[23][28] The film returned $4.7 million in theatrical rentals in the United States and Canada, rendering it a solid, modestly profitable hit (a movie's gross is often close to twice the domestic rentals figure).[3]


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


  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. ^ Kass, 1975 p. 141-143: Plot summary
  8. ^ Schickel (1996), p. 225
  9. ^ Senses of Cinema, Ride Lonesome: The Career of Budd Boetticher Archived October 3, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ Schickel (1996), p.226
  11. ^ a b McGilligan (1999), p. 179
  12. ^ Davis, Ronald L. Just Making Movies, University Press of Mississippi, p. 219
  13. ^ p. 56 Dixon, Wheeler K. Film Talk Rutgers University Press
  14. ^ McGilligan (1999), p. 181
  15. ^ p. 11 Eastwood, Clint, Kapsis, Robert E., Coblentz, Kathie Clint Eastwood: Interviews University of Mississippi Press
  16. ^ a b McGilligan (1999), p. 182
  17. ^ Kass, 1975 p. 72: See here for Kass comments on the limits of Siegel’s “auteurism” and comparisons to D. W. Griffith.
  18. ^ Munn, p. 93
  19. ^ p. 101 Clint Eastwood
  20. ^ p. 46 Maltin, Leonard The Art of the Cinematographer Dover Publications
  21. ^ Munn, p. 98
  22. ^ Two Mules for Sister Sara at the American Film Institute Catalog
  23. ^ a b "'Sara' Sock $35,000 In Denver; 'War' Big 17½G, 'Woodstock' Fat 27½G, 3". Variety. June 3, 1970. p. 11.
  24. ^ a b Hughes, p. 25
  25. ^ Kauffmann, Stanley (August 1, 1970). "Stanley Kauffmann on Films". The New Republic.
  26. ^ Kass, 1975 p. 143: Ellipsed material reads: “...his Technicolor vision of the world we know but don’t want to recognize.”
  27. ^ Canby, Maslin & Nichols (1999)
  28. ^ "50 Top-Grossing Films". Variety. June 10, 1970. p. 13.


External links

This page was last edited on 4 May 2024, at 06:25
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