Tag Archives: Don Siegel

Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970, Don Siegel)

Two Mules for Sister Sara opens playfully. Then it gets serious. Then it gets playful. Then it gets serious. Then it gets playful. Director Siegel never lets it keep one tone for too long, not until the end, when he shows what happens when you take it all too seriously. After a hundred minutes of occasionally violent, occasionally indiscreet situation comedy, Sister Sara all of a sudden turns into this very real battle scene during the second French invasion of Mexico.

And it gets there beautifully. The first two-thirds of the film is a road movie. Mercenary Clint Eastwood runs across nun-in-danger Shirley MacLaine and saves her. She takes advantage of his pious nature, softly conning him into being her escort as she works to help the revolutionaries fight the French. Eastwood complains, but not too much and it’s only set over a couple days. Things move very fast in Sister Sara, it’s one misadventure to the next.

And it’s just MacLaine and Eastwood. There are pretty much no other main speaking roles in that first two-thirds. You can probably count the close-ups on one hand. Maybe not at all if it weren’t for action sequences–which feature Siegel using some kind of terrible zoom-ins, which are about the only thing wrong with Siegel’s direction. His two or three uses of a contemporarily popular visual device. When it counts, during that crazy battle scene finish, Siegel isn’t messing around.

Anyway. It’s just MacLaine and Eastwood. They bicker, they sort of seem to flirt, which creeps everyone out–particularly Eastwood, there’s the adorable Ennio Morricone music. It sort of cradles MacLaine through the idea of a nun in a Spaghetti Western. Because Two Mules for Sister Sara is an American production shot in Mexico starring Clint Eastwood. Siegel doesn’t go for that directing style, but when he does have a similar shot? It’s eerie. So MacLaine doesn’t belong, especially not as a nun. And there’s this playful Morricone music to keep everyone at ease.

It’s a road movie.

Then it turns into a movie about revolutionaries mounting an attack and it gets real serious. That shift in tone works so well because Sister Sara has been setting MacLaine and Eastwood up to do more than banter. Their relationship escalates perfectly for comedy and perfectly for action drama. It’s perfectly plotted up until that transition and then there’s sort of second movie. The first two-thirds is just prologue. Siegel, editor Robert F. Shugrue, and composer Morricone pull off something spectacular with that second-to-third act transition.

Great photography from Gabriel Figueroa. He does really well with the comedy Western, has a few problems with the revolution drama–but it’s hard lighting, cavern lighting, and he’s trying–and then he nails it on the battle scene.

And excellent supporting turn from Manolo Fábregas. He’s the Juarista colonel. He really helps out in the final act hand-off as well. The present action jumps a number of days and the last scene could be stagy–it’s in a cavern, it’s Eastwood, MacLaine, and Fábregas having a heated conversation–but it doesn’t. Siegel’s directing of the actors is good throughout; sometimes it’s amazing. Sister Sara has a handful of difficult expository scenes and Siegel moves them along thanks to his direction of his actors.

It’s even more interesting as MacLaine and Siegel apparently hated working together.

Siegel, Shugrue, and Morricone do such exceptional work–and MacLaine and Eastwood are so game in their performances–Two Mules for Sister Sara is almost too good for what it wants to do. It’s an unintentional overachiever.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Don Siegel; screenplay by Albert Maltz, based on a story by Budd Boetticher; director of photography, Gabriel Figueroa; edited by Robert F. Shugrue; music by Ennio Morricone; produced by Martin Rackin and Carroll Case; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Shirley MacLaine (Sara), Clint Eastwood (Hogan), Manolo Fábregas (Colonel Beltran), and Alberto Morin (General LeClaire).


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The Self-Improvement of Salvadore Ross (1964, Don Siegel)

Don Siegel can compose no matter what ratio, so his shots in The Self-Improvement of Salvadore Ross are all fine. There’s a lack of coverage and the edits are occasionally off, but it’s a TV show (an episode of “The Twilight Zone”); it’s expected.

And Siegel does get in the occasional fantastic shot. He’s got a great lead actress with Gail Kobe and Vaughn Taylor’s all right as her father. The problem’s the lead, Don Gordon. Gordon has some great monologues but when he’s acting or reacting to someone else, he falls apart. It’s probably the script, which concerns a listless thug who discovers he can magically trade physical and psychological conditions with people.

He figures to “improve” himself with the power. But the character has no motivation other than filling twenty-some minutes of a television program.

Still, a single great Siegel shot makes up for the rest.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Don Siegel; teleplay by Jerry McNeely, based on a story by Harry Slesar; “The Twilight Zone” created by Rod Serling; director of photography, George T. Clemens; edited by Richard V. Heermance; produced by Bert Granet; aired by CBS Television Network.

Starring Don Gordon (Salvadore Ross), Gail Kobe (Leah Maitland), Vaughn Taylor (Mr. Maitland), J. Pat O’Malley (Old Man), Douglass Dumbrille (Mr. Halpert) and Douglas Lambert (Albert).

Star in the Night (1945, Don Siegel)

Star in the Night opens with cowboys, but it’s not a cowboy story. It’s a nativity told at a roadside motel. The dialogue for the cowboys is so bad, one has to wonder if they’re just cowboy impersonators and that detail got cut.

The film proper begins when J. Carrol Naish meets up with angel-in-disguise Donald Woods. Naish is indifferent to Christmas because he thinks people are lousy. Woods disagrees, using Rosina Galli (as Naish’s wife) as an example. But once the pregnant girl goes into labor, everyone pitches in, proving Naish wrong.

Except, of course, it doesn’t. Because they’re only nice after finding out about the expectant mother. They’re perfectly terrible until they find out.

Besides the message failing, it’s generally all right. Naish and Woods are great. Virginia Sale is pretty bad, so are the cowboys.

Siegel does well except in close-ups, where he fumbles.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Don Siegel; screenplay by Saul Elkins, based on a story by Robert Finch; director of photography, Robert Burks; edited by Rex Steele; music by William Lava; produced by Gordon Hollingshead; released by Warner Bros.

Starring J. Carrol Naish (Nick Catapoli), Donald Woods (Hitchhiker), Rosina Galli (Rosa Catapoli), Anthony Caruso (José Santos), Lynn Baggett (Maria Santos), Irving Bacon (Mr. Dilson), Dick Elliott (Traveler), Claire Du Brey (Traveler’s Wife), Virginia Sale (Miss Roberts) and Richard Erdman, Johnny Miles and Cactus Mack as the three cowboys.

Count the Hours (1953, Don Siegel)

It took me a second to remember what the ominous theme in Count the Hours reminded me of—Plan 9 from Outer Space. Count the Hours seems like it was done on the cheap, something about the first half’s composition suggests Siegel had to be real careful with what he got in (or kept out of) the frame. But he still does a fantastic job (more on it later). The music, though… the music undoes important scenes every time Siegel uses it. Stock music would have done a far superior job. And the movie’s from 1953, so some of the familiar chords had been in use in science fiction movies for three years at least. It just sounds silly.

The other big problem–besides John Craven, who’s awful and in most of the scenes for the first twenty minutes–is the writing. Count the Hours is the small-town legal drama about the man defending the client only he knows is innocent against the town’s wraith. It’s like Boomerang!, only not good. The script has dumb locals who turn in to evil locals, who are then expected to be forgiven their maliciousness once the accused is proven innocent. The dialogue’s poor, but the plot twists are decent–with the exception of Teresa Wright, Count the Hours plays a bad lawyer television show. Macdonald Carey’s lawyer isn’t a very good one–I mean, he’s really terrible–not Carey… the lawyer. Carey gives a great performance (he’s undone a little by the resolution, but so’s a lot). Wright’s good, but it’s her standard performance. She’d be the special guest star if it were from the 1970s. Besides Carey–well, I guess Adele Mara is amusing… she’s not good, but her performance is a lot of fun–Jack Elam turns in the other really good performance.

But the movie’s real selling point is Siegel’s direction. He’s got some great moves–not just the fantastic courtroom montage sequence, which is awful expositional storytelling, but technically beautiful–and he keeps it going.

For a seventy-six minute movie, Count the Hours really does seem endless. I was trying to work in an “hours” joke, but I’m not interested enough. The culprit’s the script for the most part–while the mystery develops in an interesting way, nothing else does. I mean, if the real murderer had been the irradiated, mutated spaceman the music suggested… well, it’d be something. Instead, Count the Hours is a weird one. Not a lost gem, but still a technical success.

Except that terrible, terrible music. I kept looking around for paper plates on strings.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Don Siegel; screenplay by Doane R. Hoag and Karen DeWolf, based on a story by Hoag; director of photography, John Alton; edited by James Leicester; music by Louis Forbes; produced by Benedict Bogeaus; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Teresa Wright (Ellen Braden), Macdonald Carey (Doug Madison), Dolores Moran (Paula Mitchener), Adele Mara (Gracie Sager, Max Verne’s Girlfriend), Edgar Barrier (Dist. Atty. Jim Gillespie), John Craven (George Braden), Jack Elam (Max Verne) and Ralph Sanford (Alvin Taylor).


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