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.

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 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?  

Film Spotlight: The Searchers


When I read Martin Scorsese’s review of John Ford’s The Searchers(1956) starring John Wayne, I admit it helped me understand the film in a way only a filmmaker could explain.  I’m a movie buff that has a hard time appreciating the genre of the western. I expect clichés, cardboard characters, and predictable plots. That’s not what I got from watching The Searchers. The cinematography was  easy to love. The storyline was unique and the characters complicated.  After reading Scorsese’s review, I have a thirst to read the book from which the film derives, The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend by Glenn Frankel.  Here is  Martin Scorsese’s article from March 2013, The Hollywood Reporter:

The captivity story is a fascinating subject in American history and literature. Native Americans raiding homesteaders, killing families on the prairie and abducting females as slaves are true stories. However, many tribes like the Hopi, were peaceful tribes and not interested in warring.  In the Western film, all too often the Indian is attributed with the degrading stereotype of an imbecile savage.  It rarely occurred to the government or its citizens who traveled west to settle that they invaded a territory already inhabited and worth defending.

This is where The Searchers becomes interesting for me.


The film is based upon the 1954 novel by Alan Le May. The screenplay written by Frank Nugent, incorporated the historical account of Texan, Cynthia Ann Parker, a nine-year old girl abducted and  assimilated into the Comanche culture, married a Comanche chief, had  3 children, and was ”found” 24 years later by Texas Rangers who returned to her white relatives. That Cynthia Ann Parker grieved after her return to white culture is ironic and a truth ignored—sometimes, the abducted preferred the culture of the Native American. However, this part her story is not told in the screenplay. Honestly, I find the historical story more interesting than the film.

Comanche chief, Quanah Parker, son of Cynthia Anne Parker or Naduah.

In the film, John Wayne plays a Civil War veteran who has a hatred for Indians. During the Texas-Indian Wars, Ethan Edwards and his adoptive nephew Marty, played by Jeffrey Hunter, go on a search for years to find his abducted niece played by teenager Natalie Wood. John Wayne tried his best to act and there were moments when you see his pain or feel his anger. There’s a strong scene when an Indian buried under a rock was found dead and Ethan Edwards shoots out the eyes so the Indian will walk the after world blind.  Martin Scorsese said, “No one in his posse understands the meaning of the gesture: He hates the Comanche so much that he actually has bothered to learn their beliefs to violate them.”


The Searchers is a mystery story of a loner who spends years of his life searching for someone. Abruptly, his job done, the famous ending shot of Ethan standing in doorway alone is arresting.

While the story is supposed to be set in the panhandle of Texas, John Ford filmed The Searchers in Monument Valley, AZ/Utah (other parts in Colorado). The endless landscape and the western sky and his ability to capture the light makes the setting breathtaking. The subplots and ending shot of Ethan Edwards holding his niece in his arms all the way home is tender.


The Searchers is a masterpiece and treasured as well as ranked 12th on AFI’s top 100 films. Even if you don’t care much for Westerns, this one you should see. If you love Westerns, you already knew that The Searchers is great. What do you like best about the film?

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