Rooster Cogburn vs. Two Mules for Sister Sara

What’s interesting about Rooster Cogburn (1975) and Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970)? Not the plot or even the acting. These are four legends playing their iconic selves transcending any conceived character on a script. Through the lens of hindsight, we can see similarities beyond the obvious–these films are more than two westerns depending upon the chemistry between a man and a woman. The female in each role is as smart and strong as the male. I suspect your decision whether which film is better has more to do with the star’s ability to claim your emotions than the films themselves. Let’s see.

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The Duke and queenly Katharine Hepburn

Rooster Cogburn and the Lady

John Wayne plays U.S. Marshal Reuben J. “Rooster” Cogburn in a reprisal role of the character that garnered him an Oscar from the film True Grit (1969).  In Rooster Cogburn, he attempts to bring down a band of outlaws who have stolen a pallet of nitroglycerin and murdered the father of Eula Goodnight, a determined Christian spinster who becomes his accomplice for justice.The bad guys, Hawk (Richard Jordan) and Breed (Anthony Zerbe), didn’t stand a chance against these two old grizzly bears.  Filmed in Oregon, the gorgeous scenery and light-hearted banter between the two is why most find it a charming western. Born in 1907, both Hepburn and Wayne spent their lives surviving the wilds of Hollywood, and they both put a large stamp on it. By 1975, they arrived on-screen for the first time together as symbols of manhood and womanhood, each a strong model for their gender.

John Wayne had a sweet center inside that rock hard personality when he solved all of life’s problems. He took care of the bad guy, protected his women and property, and was loyal to those who deserved it. In a John Wayne world, there was order, and it appealed to many who suffered through a century filled with depression, world wars, riots, and mayhem. His conservative integrity combined with his giant-like stature made him an American hero.

Katharine Hepburn was as unwavering and explosive as a wagon of nitroglycerin. Her characters quibble with intelligence, sarcasm, or religious morality, and she was an equal to her male counterparts whether played by Cary Grant, Peter O’Toole, or Humphrey Bogart in The African Queen (1951). Although Katharine herself was an atheist, Hepburn’s Eula Goodnight and Rose Sayer were beacons of Christianity and paired with gruff sinners for the purpose of dramatic tension. Who wins the battle of wills? It’s a draw, but her softened heart concedes to Bogart’s Charlie and for Wayne’s Rooster. Only Katharine Hepburn could have played the dynamic character so effortlessly. Regardless, many critics panned Rooster Cogburn as a formulaic repeat of The African Queen. Hasn’t Hollywood been doing that since its inception? Several worried that John Wayne breathing at a high altitude with one lung would collapse and that Hepburn was too old. To her critics, I imagine Katharine would retort with a line from Eula Goodnight: I do not fear the skunk; I simply do not care for its odor.

You can read all about the facts and trivia of Rooster Cogburn and the Lady at TCM HERE  

two-mules

Two Mules for Sister Sara 

Interesting facts and trivia at the TCM site are found HERE.

Shirley MacLaine embodies with perfection all that signifies the Madonna/whore complex. With her melodious voice and porcelain skin she charms and loves devotedly. On the other hand, she has portrayed the complicated temptress with ease. Behind the scenes in Two Mules for Sister Sara, she intimidated director Don Siegel as well as Clint Eastwood with her bitchy personality like the older characters you’ve seen her play later in her career such as Steel Magnolias, Guarding Tess, or Rumor Has It. 

Could there be better way to open a film than with a score by Ennio Morricone?  I think not.

I love the opening scene in the deft hands of cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa as he suggests the wilderness of the Mexican frontier by focusing on the dangerous creatures such as the rattlesnake and the mountain lion. Clint Eastwood plays Hogan, a mercenary who rescues a nun under attack by three outlaws. She convinces him to take her to a French garrison as she is aiding Mexican revolutionaries against the French government. He is interested in a strong box of money he has been told is hidden there. It’s a dark comedy with plenty of charm. Hogan is sexually attracted to Sara who manages to keep him at bay. Their escapades such as the arrow shot through Hogan’s chest, the attempt to blow up the train bridge, and the garrison attack are some of the reasons for its popularity. Sara’s revelation toward the end of the story makes it a fun plot twist, although, only strengthens the stereotype that women are either saintly Mary or seducing Eve.

In the end, I presume their iconic selves became interchangeable with their real selves. Of course, I don’t know, but after decades playing certain roles, don’t you think their roles shaped the person? Four icons. Four imprints.

John Wayne, Herculean; Katharine Hepburn, self-important queen; Clint Eastwood, scowling rogue; Shirley MacLaine, sweet and sour crab.

If you threw a dinner party and could invite one of them, which one would it be?  

41 thoughts on “Rooster Cogburn vs. Two Mules for Sister Sara

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  1. I have to vote for Hepburn!! She carries off her role as a strong, independent woman, a rock in some cases, holding to her principles, but can also let the audience see that there is emotion beneath the surface without giving up an ounce of her strength!! IMO – she has it all-over the other 3 actors.

          1. Frankly, I can’t imagine her expecting other people to live up to the standards she placed on herself. She’s her own worst critic.

          2. Boy, you are a fan! And most likely correct, too. At the end of her career and life, I loved her On Golden Pond. Her bubbly personality and love for Henry Fonda’s character was perfect and my favorite pairing of hers.

  2. Whereas there is a difference between charming bitchiness and haughty grandeur, there is a difference between MacLaine and Hepburn. Did the roles shape the person? I suspect so with regard to Wayne, Hepburn and MacLaine, but I don’t think that is the case with Eastwood.

    Who would I invite to a dinner party? Eastwood. Hands down. He has lead a most interesting life and appears to have exploited his talents to the fullest. He is the most interesting of the bunch.

    1. From what I read, he wasn’t much fun as a husband, but as a director, actor, and staple of Hollywood, I couldn’t agree with you more. He’s mellowed, too, the last twenty years or so. I like his films when he directs.

      1. I wasn’t thinking about marrying him. All I wanted to do was have dinner with him. He has put out some great music documentaries and movies. I would like to know what ideas he has had for projects that likely will never be completed.

        1. LOL. Maybe you weren’t, but from a feminine perspective he’s got that bad-boy cute thing going on that is appealing. Did you like Jersey Boys? And, yes, I wonder what he’s got next? He’s covered the war angle pretty thoroughly. He turned 85! What a character.

  3. I have to go with the critics unfortunately, as I always think of ‘Rooster Cogburn’ as the African Queen, re-made in the Wild West. Of the two films, I prefer ‘Two Mules’, but I would vote for the original ‘True Grit’ to win hands down, if that had been an option. I saw a different side of Wayne in that film, and in his last film ‘The Shootist’, and warmed to him in both roles.
    As for dinner, Hepburn every time. The stories! The wit!
    Best wishes from England, Pete.

    1. Oh, if we could all sit at the same table! My True Grit vs. True Grit post is in the pipeline. I agree, Wayne was different and special and wonderful in True Grit and The Shootist. I grew up with him over my shoulder– a father figure type, for sure.

      1. I will vote now. The original is better than the remake. Box ticked!
        I am not such a fan of Wayne’s politics, but then I am neither American, nor a Republican. However, there was nobody to match him in a ‘certain type’ of role. And did I mention ‘The Searchers’? Enough said.

  4. Shopie’s Choice: I enjoyed both movies! I’d add “Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison” to this nice double-feature for a perfect tripleta! Anyhow, in her biography MacLaine said that her sexy eyelashes ruined her performance (in her opinion, they give away the twist).

  5. It would have to be Clint Eastwood for me. Actor, director and ex-Mayor. Katharine Hepburn drives me nuts. With John Wayne I can never forget his WW2 combat record compared to Jimmy Stewart and Clark Gable. Shirley MacLaine, maybe, but not at the expense of Clint. An interesting post, thank you.

    1. I read somewhere a critic thought 2 Mules was a lot like African Queen. Funny how the mind groups films. Anyway, critics are a dime a dozen; I take their opinions with a grain of salt. I am sure all four stars had a healthy dose of disapproval regarding their performances but fans still adore them.

  6. Ummm, don’t hate me Cindy but for some reason I can’t stand John Wayne. I think I tried watching one of his films years ago and just couldn’t get into it. There’s a funny tidbit about him in Gregory Peck’s biography that I read, his real name is Marion? Mwahahaha! But I’m curious to check out Clint in one of his Westerns, so I might give Two Mules for Sister Sara a shot, esp w/ MacClaine in it and Morriconne’s score!

    1. I don’t hate you at all! My favorite John Wayne film is The Quiet Man with Maureen O’Hara. I’m convinced you would love that romantic comedy set in Ireland. He was wonderful in it and the chemistry between he and Maureen is legendary. You would also be charmed with Two Mules–especially if you aren’t a die hard western fan (like me) it’s well done and fun to watch. Give it a shot!

  7. I like both of these films (I like westerns in general). Can’t choose a favourite here, but I do enjoy your posts, Cindy. And thanks for reminding me of The Quiet Man. It’s a long time since I saw that and it’s an excellent film 🙂

    1. Hi Rob! So glad you popped by to comment. Your drawings make me smile. The western is not where my heart follows, but I do like them occasionally and some, like Rio Bravo and The Magnificent Seven are outstanding. 🙂

  8. Not a huge fan of the Duke and agree with critics about the Great Kate’s Rosey reprisal in this movie. My lack of fondness for Wayne might have something to do with my lack of enthusiasm for this movie.

    I love your movie reviews, Cindy! Keep ’em coming, please.

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