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Remind Me

Two Mules for Sister Sarah

Two Mules for Sister Sarah (1970) is directed by Don Siegel, an often underrated director who has collaborated with Clint Eastwood on some of his most interesting films - Coogan's Bluff (1968), The Beguiled (1971), Dirty Harry (1972), and Escape From Alcatraz (1979). In Two Mules for Sister Sarah, Eastwood finds himself playing protector to a nun (Shirley MacLaine) he rescues from a gang rape in the wilds of Mexico.

Although you'd never know it from watching the film, there was considerable tension on the set of Two Mules for Sister Sarah, not only between Don Siegel and the producer, Marty Rackin, but also between the director and Shirley MacLaine. In his biography, A Siegel Film, Don Siegel recalls filming the famous rattlesnake sequence:

"I decided to shoot a reverse on Shirley reacting to the coiling of the snake; Clint sticking the bottom of his boot towards the striking snake; Clint's foot stamping down just behind its head and his knife cutting off its head. The last thing I wanted to shoot was the actual snake, as we only had one. When I rehearsed with Shirley, her reactions were unbelievably unconcerned. I explained that she must show fear, revulsion, actually recoiling from what she is presumably seeing.

MacLaine: I've killed rattlesnakes in my backyard. It's no big deal. Certainly it's nothing to be frightened of.

Me: But Shirley, in the part you're playing in the picture, you are frightened. Clint is the hero. In your eyes, what he is doing is extremely dangerous.

MacLaine: Well, it isn't.

Me: Whether it is, or not, your character must think it is. So please, let's get on with it. I must have strong reactions to the killing of the rattlesnake.

"I presume she tried; but I was not pleased with her performance. However, when I showed Clint's encounter with the rattlesnake, I heard her gasp, 'Must we kill it?' Unfortunately, her magnificent reaction was off scene. When Clint cut the head of the rattlesnake off, he stood up and handed it to her. Her face was green. She was shaking with fear and revulsion. I uttered a crisp command, 'Don't drop it!" Trembling, she held on to the snake, which was still squirming. I yelled, 'Cut!' before she had a chance to faint....Clint exited, fast. Although Shirley turned greener, she had the guts to hang on to the headless, squirming rattlesnake."

Although Siegel managed to get what he wanted from the rattlesnake sequence, he tangled with MacLaine on another scene. This time it was over burro etiquette. MacLaine maintained it was incorrect to dismount from the left side of a burro. Her decision to dismount from the right removed her from the master shot. After a huge blow-up in front of the entire crew, both MacLaine and Siegel walked off the set and production was temporarily halted. Shortly afterward, Siegel & MacLaine resolved their differences in a private meeting and the rest of the shoot was a breeze with MacLaine being the consummate professional.

Regardless of the behind-the-scenes troubles on Two Mules for Sister Sarah , the film is full of great action sequences, spectacular cinematography by the great Gabriel Figueroa, a haunting music score by Ennio Morricone, the man who scored all those classic spaghetti Westerns, and the dynamic interplay of Eastwood and MacLaine who are at their best in the famous arrow-through-the-shoulder cauterizing scene.

Director: Don Siegel
Producer: Carrol Case, Martin Rackin
Screenplay: Budd Boetticher, Albert Maltz
Cinematography: Gabriel Figueroa
Editor: Juan Jose Marino, Robert F. Shugrue
Art Direction: Jose Rodriguez Granada
Music: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Clint Eastwood (Hogan), Shirley MacClaine (Sara), Manuel Fabregas (Col. Beltran), Alberto Morin (Gen. LeClaire), Armando Silvestre (1st American), John Kelly (2nd American).
C-105m. Letterboxed.

by Jeff Stafford