I used to hate Westerns. I live in the wide and rugged expanse of Colorado, grew up in the shadow of the Rockies, and see cowboy boots on a daily basis. Heck, I even did a volunteer stint at a western museum. I couldn’t stand watching films that were basically set in my own backyard, even if the days of gunslingers and posses were long gone.
Later, I finally came around. I can’t say when this shift happened — probably upon my first adult viewing of Lonesome Dove, or maybe even as recent as James Mangold’s remake of 3:10 to Yuma. But I suddenly found Westerns to be a lot of fun, and I’ve enjoyed going back and watching all John Wayne and John Ford offerings that I’ve missed due to my snobbery.
Because I’m the type of girl who overshares everything, I thought it would be fun to chronicle this obsession, and encourage others to ride along with me. Thus, Wednesday Westerns was born. Every Wednesday, I’m going to explore this dusty and acrid genre, finding the good, the bad, and the ugly examples along the way. I hope you’ll watch and discuss along with me — and I’m going to try and make as many selections from online streaming options to prevent you from putting off the ride.
I was hoping to launch this with a film that was daring and unusual, and one that I hadn’t seen before. But while browsing Instant Netflix, I discovered that one of my all-time favorites was available: Two Mules For Sister Sara. As much as I hate being obvious (and if you know my Clint Eastwood fandom, it’s terribly cheap of me to do it), I can’t resist the opportunity to write about this one, and encourage more people to watch it.
Two Mules for Sister Sara occupies a weird, misty period of Eastwood’s career. Released in 1970, it was post Sergio Leone, but right before he became Dirty Harry, and gunned himself into grim and humorless typecasting. The late 1960s were a period he was still willing to smile onscreen, and the film reportedly bombed because of that. People wanted him to be the cool and unrepentant character in the serape, and he acquiesced for decades. Eastwood wouldn’t play a character this funny and lovestruck until he teamed up with an orangutan, and it’s a real shame. He has a dry wit and a good comedic timing.
But Two Mules is more than a comedy — it’s an action comedy. The crackling dialogue, explosions, and gunfights would make it feel right at home in the 1980s. The sexual tension is also quite heady, a far cry from the insipid stuff you usually find between a gunslinger and his lady … but then he doesn’t usually have his eye on an ordained nun. The foreplay between them almost pushes this into romantic comedy, but thankfully there’s enough grit and blood to keep it on the side of cool.
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t praise Shirley MacLaine’s performance. Her Sister Sara isn’t the stodgy, humorless character you might expect. She’s funny and fearless, and while the first scenes cast her as a damsel-in-distress, she’s anything but. She’s a match for Hogan, and half the fun of this film is watching him try to keep up with her. Women who are frustrated with the current crop of screen heroines will find a retro respite here. Likewise, if you’re a woman who loathes Westerns or Eastwood’s hyper-masculinity, MacLaine’s Sara makes this the one Western you will really, really love.
By now you’re thinking “But what of the plot, Elisabeth?” Well, I’m not going to discuss that. This is a film that’s easily spoiled, and needs to be seen as fresh as possible. Just go watch it, enjoy, and come back to tell me all about it.