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Two Mules for Sister Sara, a “Juarista” Mexican western

El jueves 5 de septiembre de 1968, el periódico Cine Mundial anunciaba: "En dos meses llega Liz Taylor, viene a filmar Dos mulas para la hermana Sara, aún no hay candidato para el estelar masculino". En efecto, el protagónico femenino fue pensado para Elizabeth Taylor; al rechazar el papel se especuló el nombre de Natalie Wood, incluso el de Silvia Pinal. Sin embargo, Shirley MacLaine se adueñaría del estelar al lado del joven Clint Eastwood, quien tomaría el personaje rechazado por Frank Sinatra y cuyo argumento era obra del escritor y director estadunidense Budd Boetticher, quien radicaba en México desde hacía varios meses, y autor de cintas como: El torero y la dama, La ciudad bajo el agua y el documental Arruza.

Dos mulas para la hermana Sara, filmada a partir de febrero de 1969, sería dirigida por el eficaz y brillante artesano Don Siegel, responsable de títulos clásicos hasta ese momento, como: El gran robo —filmada también en México en 1949—, Crimen en las calles y la original Usurpadores de cuerpos —ambas de 1956—, o Mi nombre es violencia (1968), esta última protagonizada, a su vez, por Clint Eastwood, con quien haría mancuerna en varios de sus éxitos posteriores como: El seductor, Harry el sucio y La fuga de Alcatraz.

Dos mulas para la hermana Sara (1970, dir. Don Siegel) Dos mulas para la hermana Sara (1970, dir. Don Siegel)

In Mexico, war has broken out between Benito Juárez followers and the French troops of Emperor Maximiliano of Austria. Hogan (Eastwood), a tough mercenary, saves a nun (Shirley MacLaine) from three men who want to rape her (Enrique Lucero, John Kelly, and Armando Silvestre). He agrees to accompany her to a Juarista camp since she has information on a garrison that Hogan made a deal with Colonel Beltrán (Manolo Fábregas) to attack. They manage to evade some Yaqui Indians (commanded by Regino Herrera), however, Hogan is hit by an arrow that Sara extracts with difficulty – and not before getting him drunk enough to endure.

The two blow up a bridge to stop a train carrying explosives for the French and embark on an eventful journey in which, despite their differences, it is clear they have much in common. Her strange behavior intrigues Hogan, as she's a nun who smokes cigars, drinks whiskey, and has increasingly obscene language. Almost at the end, it is revealed that she is not a nun but a prostitute. They attack the French fort with the help of Beltrán and his patriots and the Juaristas win the battle while the couple flees with the gold stolen from the fort. René Cardona and Gabriel Torres served as co-director and second unit photographer in this story filmed in Texas, Sonora, Chihuahua, Sierra Madre Occidental, and the municipalities of Tlayacapan, Tepoztlán, Jantetelco and Cuautla, in Morelos.

Boetticher intended to direct the film with Silvia Pinal as its star, although Jeanne Moreau was also discussed. Siegel, who was betting on Taylor, had to settle for MacLaine with whom he had many arguments during filming. In fact, the actress of tapes like The Apartment and Irma la Douce, did not get along with Eastwood himself, who held the film's second credit in a role that was very close to the characters he played for Sergio Leone and James Coburn. In Leone's Duck, You Sucker (1971), he uses dynamite repeatedly.

In a way, Two Mules for Sister Sara reminds us of that complicated and sour relationship between Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn in The African Queen (dir. John Huston, 1951). Here, the French are fascinated by Mexican folklore. Piñatas, for example, are set off by patriots with dynamite and kerosene. With women singing “Las mañanitas” and carrying a banner that reads “Long live France!" Fábregas does a good job, especially when facing Eastwood.

The film opens with a curious and effective sequence of credits in which several of the Gurza brothers' animals can be seen: a cougar, a snake, or a tarantula, crushed the antihero's horse. The spectacular images are the work of maestro Gabriel Figueroa, with additional photography by the great Bruce Surtees. Spiked with an incredible soundtrack by Ennio Morricone and, of course, the beautiful landscapes of Morelos, including the view of the Iztaccíhuatl volcano. The dialogues are very funny, and the leading couple shows charm and charisma despite their supposed rivalry on set.With scenes like the one on the bridge, the arrow, one where Hogan cuts a snake in two and hands half to the nun, or the meeting in the brothel where he realizes Sara's true profession, and where Mexican actresses Rosa Furman and Aurora Clavel can be seen.

The action sequences are remarkably efficient, especially that of the train and some moments of the capture of the French garrison, or the meeting with the French Colonel. Explosions, stuntmen work, and some very violent scenes abound; a man is burned, another man's arm is ripped off, and another gets a machete to the face. The beautiful ex-convent of San Juan Bautista in Tlayacapan can also be appreciated, including its interior, roof, and staircase. As well as the Chumil, or Cerro Gordo, a beautiful mountain in Jantetelco where the ex-convent of San Pedro Apóstol, built by the order of the Dominicans, can be seen. Among other Mexican actors who accompany the Hollywood stars are: Pancho Córdova, Ada Carrasco, Hortensia Santoveña, Xavier Marc, José Ángel Espinosa Ferrusquilla, José Torvay, José Chávez Trowe, Margarito Luna and Pascual García Peña and a José María “Chema” Hernández coordinating the horses.

As a piece of trivia, the production team of Two Mules for Sister Sara stayed at the brand-new Hotel Hacienda Cocoyoc by Paulino Rivera Torres, which opened its doors a year earlier, in January 1968. The film was released in the cinemas on Friday, August 13, 1970. Clint Eastwood's father passed away that same year at the age 65.