Don Siegel directs and Shirley MacLaine muscles top billing over her costar (apparently not on the posters) and burgeoning cinema icon, Clint Eastwood. American western? Perhaps, but it sure has the flavor of an Italian oater with Clint playing a variation of his Man With No Name character. Even Ennio Morricone was enlisted to produce the film’s musical score.
“I ride from sun up to sun down. You either keep up or you don’t.”
This after Clint saves a desperate Shirley from three bandits who have her stripped and trembling in the desert countryside deep in Mexico. After dropping the three baddies, Clint is shocked to see that Shirley has regained her clothing only to discover she’s in a Nun’s gear. Nun she may be but Clint is to soon see that our Rat Pack graduate is rather loose with her tongue and ideals.
Clint is a south of the border guns runner and all around soldier of fortune. He’s south of the border to assist the revolutionaries in overthrowing the French rule currently in place. He soon finds he has an unlikely ally in Sister MacLaine. Not only can she cuss while freely referring to her own “ass” but she can quite possibly out drink our gun toting hero.
Her favorite line to explain these transgressions? “In times like these the Church grants dispensations.” It’s rather plain for us viewers to see that all is not as it seems.
O.K. It’s time to cue the references to two classics from the 1950’s. There’s a wee bit of The African Queen involved here and a whole lot of Heaven Knows Mr. Allison. Eastwood like his two male counterparts from those early films, is starting to like the woman in front of him and just as Mitchum did, openly wishes she wasn’t wearing the cloth of a religious woman.
MacLaine proves to be one of the boys here in a very physical role for the leading lady when Clint finds himself badly wounded leaving Shirley to assist greatly in the taking down of a train as it passes over a trestle. The whole scene does try to inject a lighthearted feeling into the proceedings including Shirley laying Clint out with a solid punch to the jawline.
There is plenty of dynamite explosions and gunfire ahead as the duo join the underground forces over the final half hour of this western adventure that is credited as a story by Budd Boetticher. Could we assume this might have been another Randolph Scott western had Budd been behind the camera a decade earlier? How about Virginia Mayo or Rhonda Fleming as the fighting Sister Sara? Even better might have been Julie Adams.
Clint’s own Malpaso Company is a credited producer on this film by way of Universal. It was the fourth film released under Clint’s house banner. It was also the second of five films that Siegel would direct Clint in. Just the fact alone that they did Dirty Harry, Escape From Alcatraz and Coogan’s Bluff makes me recall this film with a fond memory. In reality I hadn’t seen it in over twenty years and it’s not nearly as good as I recall. It’s a bit choppy and to convenient at times with plot points. That’s not to say it isn’t worthy of a rewatch, just not the way I remember it. But then, that can be said of countless films we see in our younger years.
Like most of Clint’s westerns after leaving Leone in the dust, they still play upon his groundbreaking character. They all retain an air of the Man With No Name. Pale Rider, Josie, Joe Kidd, Drifter and Bill Munny.
It’s also interesting to note that Clint never really appeared opposite leading ladies of MacLaine’s stature for basically the remainder of his career other than Meryl Streep with full apologies to Bernadette Peters. Perhaps if he wasn’t so fixated on Sondra Locke we may have seen him opposite the likes of Jane Fonda or Sally Field during their heyday.
Sister Sara is easy to find in the home video market and proves a nice window to the evolving Eastwood mystique.