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Two Mules for Sister Sara
  • Composed by Ennio Morricone
  • La-La Land / 94m

A 1970 western directed by Don Siegel, Two Mules for Sister Sara stars Clint Eastwood and Shirley MacLaine as a drifter and a nun with a common goal of helping Mexican revolutionaries and stealing gold. It turns out, to nobody’s surprise, that she isn’t a nun at all but instead practices an even older profession.

The Eastwood/Leone westerns were getting popular in America at the time and perhaps that played a part in Ennio Morricone being hired for the score, one of his earlier American-funded projects. Of course, he knew a thing or two about scoring westerns and he brought his typically quirky, creative style to his widest worldwide audience to date.

Ennio Morricone

The opening title theme combines the score’s two most prominent elements – an adventure theme which incorporates (naturally enough) an amusing orchestral approximation of a braying mule; and a heavenly choral theme for Sister Sara herself. As ever, it is dazzling in its creativity and indeed novelty (it’s amazing how often Morricone managed to conjure up music that just didn’t sound like anything that anyone had heard before).

The Sister Sara theme gets an extended treatment in “A Time for Miracles”, which includes a very beautiful central passage for electric guitar. Guitar also features prominently in “Two Mules for Sister Sara”, but the melodic material is fresh – a beautiful oboe solo accompanied by the strumming and eventually a snare drum – it’s dynamic and very entertaining.

The lengthy “Night on the Desert” features a lilting guitar solo accompanied by a percussive rattle, with other little effects slowly being added – a little flutter from a piccolo, a reprise (without the choir this time) of Sara’s theme, including the central guitar section from the second track, romantic rather than religious in this setting.

In “The Swinging Rope” Morricone introduces some urgency to proceedings as things get more serious – dramatic, tense strings rise up from an initial section for percussion and banjo, and from this a brilliant wind solo emerges – it’s another great piece.

In “The Braying Mule” Morricone reprises the main theme in a different, if anything even quirkier arrangement; “La Cueva” reprises the tense guitar music heard earlier in the score and the composer makes it sound deliciously unnerving before a surprise trip back to the choral theme. A brief but beautiful violin solo is the only accompaniment to the guitar in “La Cantina”, a lovely piece of Mexicana.

“The Cool Mule” offers another variant on the main theme, with some florid flute playing joining in the fun this time as the piece veers off in some new directions; and then “The Battle” is the score’s one big piece of action music, an explosion of brass and drums. The album closes with a shorter take on the main title.

La-La Land’s album features brilliant sound (this is undoubtedly one of the best-sounding releases of a Morricone western score) and even offers the full film score as well as the brilliantly-conceived original album, which as usual featured various different takes and unique arrangements not heard in the film. It’s clearly not one of his very best western scores, but the bar there is set so high – Two Mules is completely entertaining and this is a great release.

Rating: **** | |

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