dir. Don Siegel
[As is probably ridiculously obvious, given the name of this feature, this write-up will reveal a lot of spoilers about the movie.]
A long time back I wrote the first and only entry in what I thought would become a regular feature: "When Trailers Reveal Too Much". The spoiler-revealing trailer has long been a pet-peeve of mine. As Roger Ebert has said many times before, a comedy trailer usually spoils the best jokes in the movie and a thriller trailer generally reveals too many of the twists. It ain’t a coincidence that my favorite trailers are those that generally show little-to-no footage from the actual films. An ideal trailer is one that gives a taste as to the tone and feel of the film, and (as I just said and can’t emphasize enough) shows little-to-no actual footage from the movie.
Although most trailers fall into Ebert’s revealing-too-much category, many defy the awful-trailer rule and stand alone as pieces of art. Sure I’ve showcased some of them here, but rarely have I gone in-depth, dissecting these trailers. [Hey, dear reader, while you’re at my blog, why don’t you take some time away from my blog and check out some other stuff from my blog.] I find it just as difficult to write about quality trailers as I do to critique great movies. Instead of attempting and failing to write a great piece about a great trailer, I opt instead to simply post trailers I dig—the coward’s route.
Give me a sufficiently shitty trailer, however, and whoo boy, I’m in hog heaven. This, of course, makes it extra surprising that I abandoned the shitty trailer pieces. I wish I had a better reason other than that I just kinda forgot that I was going to make this a regular feature. And yes, this feature would have been lost forever—gone the way of Beta, HD DVD, and Randy Quaid’s sanity/dignity—were it not for a little trailer for an unheralded Don Siegel/Clint Eastwood picture. After watching Two Mules for Sister Sara I was going to write one of my standard-issue, cum-inducingly hilarious reviews of the movie…but then…but then I watched the trailer. There are shitty trailers and there are shitty trailers...and then there are trailers existing so far in the stratosphere of crapitude that words can do no justice (nevertheless, words will I use, and many at that). Although I didn’t see the Two Mules for Sister Sara trailer until recently, I now realize that it was the reason I started this soon-to-be-resurrected feature. It is the holy grail I was looking for.
Since a full appreciation of the shittiness of this trailer requires at least a cursory knowledge of the film, I will treat you to a capsule summary of Siegel’s picture. Gunman Hogan (Clint Eastwood), while traveling the Western countryside, comes across a gang of ruffians attempting to gang-rape Sara (Shirley MacLaine). Hogan, of course, smokes them bitches but good. Hogan is then shocked to discover—after Sara has clothed herself—that the woman is a nun. He soon reluctantly agrees to travel with her. The two develop a contentious relationship. When Hogan finds out that Sara is also a revolutionary fighting against the Imperial French, he decides to join her in attacking a fort. He is not an idealist, mind you, he just wants to capture some of that fancy French loot. When they arrive in the town of the said fort, Hogan discovers—in a final act plot-reveal—that Sister Sara is no nun at all; nope, the woman is a common, old-timey, Western, lady-prostitute. After Hogan helps the rebels overtake the French fort, he sexes Sara proper.
Two Mules for Sister Sara’s trailer veers so far into the wrong direction that it brings into question the intellectual development of its creators. First of all, this trailer misrepresents Two Mules for Sister Sara as "the most exciting Clint Eastwood picture ever made." There's action to be had, for sure, but Siegel's picture is more a character piece focusing on the relationship between these two bull-headed people—a weird sort of Western/Romantic Comedy. This problem, of course, is not unique to this trailer. Many trailers misrepresent their films' genres, or at least emphasize aspects that are underplayed in the actual film.
Nay, the biggest problem with the trailer: never once does it mention the fact that the Sister Sara of the film’s title is a nun. Let me repeat that because I think it’s worth noting: never once does it fucking mention the fucking fact that the fucking Sister Sara of the film’s title is a fucking nun. This trailer opts instead to show only those scenes in which Sara is not dressed as a nun. It focuses on steamy scenes between MacLaine and Eastwood—even the final scene of the movie, in which a fully clothed Eastwood hops into a bathtub with the nekkid MacLaine and kisses her passionately, is shown in the trailer.
This aspect of the trailer is troubling for a few reasons. Yes, it turns out that MacLaine’s character is not actually a nun but a prostitute, but this is not revealed until the end of the fucking film. Not only does this trailer reveal a giant plot-twist spoiler but it ignores the entire thing that the twist was twisting from. It would be like making a trailer for The Empire Strikes Back that consisted of a two-minute loop of Darth Vader telling Luke, "I am your father"—never explaining who Darth and Luke are or why this revelation would be such a big deal.
More troubling than this bone-headed plot-reveal, however, is the implication that it lends to the film’s title. As I’ve said before and will repeat again, this trailer does not show Shirley MacClaine doing nun stuff nor dressed up in nun gear. It just shows her getting all passionate and such with her co-lead Eastwood. Not knowing about any of the nunniness of the film, a viewer might assume that this film is called Two Mules for Sister Sara because Sara is Hogan’s sister. Jesus sister-fucking Christ, I'm going to throw up now.
This trailer has board-meeting, group-think written all over it. The studio-head—likely a boorish, cigar-chomping douche—probably sat at the head of an enormous conference table and berated his timid underlings.
“Goddamnit, men, we’re a fucking movie studio not a dick-sucking factory. Give me a fucking trailer that puts asses in the seats."
After a long silence, Don, a fresh-faced newcomer, piped in, "Well, I was thinking about it and I think that this is a pretty unique twist on the Western. A subdued romance between a cowboy and a nun. A little controversial, yeah, but controversy sells. Men are already gonna come for Clint; we play up the romance angle and we get more women as well. And of course, the whole romance with a nun thing will pull in all the arty, art-house types. They like that kind of sacrilegious stuff. I think it'll go over like gangbusters."
"Don, are you familiar with Preminger's movie The Moon Is Blue?"
"I don't see what this-"
"Just answer the question, Don; have you seen The Moon Is Blue?"
"Um, no, I don't-"
"Well, let me give you a rundown: It's a talky picture about two men who try to bang the same broad. Nothing happens. She decides to stay a virgin until she's married."
"Sir, I still don't see-"
"Now, Don, do you know what happened to that tame movie?"
"I don't know."
"It was condemned by the Catholic church. Do you know what that means?"
"I don't know."
"It means that they considered this movie so evil, so vile that anyone who watched it was condemned to an eternity of Satan-rapings. And I suppose, the actual film, were it die, would also be condemned to hell. Fortunately, for the picture, I don't think it was filmed on nitrate so it'll probably be ok. Now, Don?"
"Knowing what you do now know about The Moon Is Blue, do you know what would happen if we advertised our picture as the one where Clint pokes a fucking nun?"
"I'd have the Legion of Decency so far up my ass-"
"Hey, any press is good press."
A nervous hush fell over the room. The studio-head glowered at Don. After a long silence he approached the now trembling underling. The studio-head looked deep into his eyes and slapped Don with enough force to knock him from his seat. Don, cowering and crying, could not muster the emotional strength to return the studio-head's gaze. The studio-head, chest heaving from his alpha-male triumph, returned to his position at the head of the table.
In an angry, yet measured, tone the studio-head continued to address his men, "Gentlemen...I...need...ideas. I don't care what you tell me; just tell me what I need to hear, what that godforsaken, mouth-breathing public needs to hear to part with its cash and watch our fucking movie."
After another nervous silence, Randy, the studio veteran sitting next to Don, chimed in, "Ok, the way I see it, we just dump the whole nun angle. Just gonna bite us in the ass."
The studio-head nodded in agreement, "I like the way you're thinking."
"Instead we just focus on getting as many men and women to the movie. I know the movie's not wall-to-wall packed with action, but we can still take the most exciting parts and shove 'em all in the trailer. Then, we just inter-cut that with all the steamy Clint/MacLaine scenes. By the time we're done with this trailer, it'll look like The Dirty Dozen and An Affair to Remember fucked and had a kid...and this movie was that kid."
"I love it. I love it. I love it. Goddamn if that formula don't work every time. Randy, you deserve a fucking promotion. Alright, gentlemen, we've got a winner here. Now if there are no other ideas or objections I think we can get started."
A nervous Don timidly rose his hand before speaking up again, "Guys, I hate to be a downer but the name of the movie is Two Mules for Sister Sara."
The irate studio-head rolled his eyes, "So."
"Well that's the thing; our movie is called Two Mules for Sister Sara. You see, if people don't know that she's a nun, won't their assumption be that she's Clint's sister? I mean that would mean that they'd think these two siblings are banging each other. Don't you think-"
The studio-head pulled a handgun from his breast pocket, calmly placed it on the table, and slid it across to Randy. "Pick up the gun, Randy."
Randy reluctantly picked up the gun.
"Randy, shoot Don."
"Sir, I don't-"
"Randy, this is not an option. Point the gun at Don and shoot him."
Randy pointed the gun at the trembling Don. Don looked him in the eyes, "Randy, you don't have to do this."
The studio-head shouted him down, "Shut it, Don. You're opinions are all used up. Randy, do as I say. I will not be trifled with."
"Randy, you will follow instructions. Shoot. Don. In. The. Head. Now. I will not repeat myself."
Randy closed his eyes as he pulled the trigger.
The delighted studio-head again addressed his men, "Alright, gentlemen, seeing as we're now all in agreement, let's go out and make me some fucking money."