Hannie Caulder (1971)

Director: Burt Kennedy
Starring: Raquel Welch, Robert Culp, Ernest Borgnine, Jack Elam, Strother Martin, Christopher Lee, Diana Dors
Music: Ken Thorne

Hannie Caulder is a film that is very hard to classify. Sure it’s a western, but what kind of western is it? It appears to be a Spaghetti Western, produced by the British; and made by and starring Americans. Furthermore at times, particularly during the opening scenes, it comes across as a dirty little exploitation picture. Adding to that it often veers off into black comedy. Strangely that comedy is performed by the three most repugnant characters in the film – almost as if the film-makers wanted us to like them.

Here’s a quick overview of the story. The three Clemens brothers, Emmett (Ernest Borgnine), Frank (Jack Elam), and Rufus (Strother Martin) ride into a sleepy Mexican town. It is the middle of the day, and all of the Federales are taking a siesta. The Brothers make their way to the bank and hold it up. The robbery goes wrong and it turns into a violent bloody shootout. With the Federales awoken, the would be banditos mount their horses and gallop out of town. With the Federales hard on their heels, the Clemens boys ride their horses pretty hard until they are worn out.

Here, they come upon a farm with a corral full of fresh horses. As they attempt to steal some new beasts, the owner of the property enters the picture brandishing a shotgun. Unfortunately he doesn’t notice Rufus off to his left, also carrying a shotgun. Rufus fires and the farmer is killed. Inside the small homestead, the farmer’s wife, Hannie (Raquel Welch) is preparing a meal. Frank, Emmett and Rufus stumble into the house and repeatedly rape her.

With fresh horses and their carnal desires satiated, the brothers ride off leaving Hannie to die in the burning homestead. She manages to scramble out before the building collapses, but her only possession is a Mexican poncho which barely covers her.

Desolately she waits at the house. What for? – we’ll never know. Suddenly a stranger appears with two horses. The man is Thomas Luther Price (Robert Culp), and he is one of the most feared and respected bounty hunters in the country – depending on which side of the law you stand.

Hannie offers her body to him if he will teach her to shoot. He says no and rides off. She refuses to take no for an answer and follows him on foot. Eventually Price gives in, and agrees to teach Hannie the art of gunfighting, so se can seek revenge.

Hannie Caulder is an uneven film, not only because of the differing styles, but because the actors appear to be acting in different films. The Clemens Brother are the Three Stooges – that is if the Three Stooges were violent psychopathic rapists. Everything they do is wrong – the bank heist goes wrong – a stagecoach robbery goes wrong. They are just plain incompetent. At one point Emmett explains that everything would have been okay if their father was still alive – only to learn that Rufus accidentally killed their Daddy while cleaning his gun. I don’t know if it is meant to be black comedy, but the lines are delivered as if it is.

Next we have Raquel Welch. This film was made at the peak of her popularity, and she certainly looks great, especially in the poncho. But as a rape victim her character is damaged goods. But at times this film displays a double standard – she wants revenge because she was brutally raped, but to get this revenge she is willing to offer her body to Price. Even when a sleazy sheriff spanks he on the ass, she passes it off as a joke. Now I am far from being an expert on the psychology of rape victims, but I can accept that after such an incident, that the sex act would no longer have any meaning to Hannie. But the fact that she is so doggedly determined to track down and kill the men who violated her would indicate otherwise. As I said, I am not an expert, but to me the character seems uneven.

That brings us to Robert Culp. I have seen Culp in numerous television shows, but in very few movies. Based on my limited viewing experience, I would say that this is Culp’s best performance. He is the ‘heart’ of the picture. He is noble, fair, and great with a gun. In real life, nice guys often finish last, but not so here. Of course, if you are going to watch Hannie Caulder, you are watching it foe Raquel Welch – I understand and appreciate that. But this is not a skin flick. It’s about performances, and Culp gives the best one.

And worth a quick mention, horror film icon Christopher Lee makes a small appearance as a gun smith, and what’s more – he’s a good guy?

I’d like to recommend Hannie Caulder very highly. But I can’t. It’s bit too confused and the character motivations are skewed. I can even see some people being offended by this film. But it is a ‘revenge and retribution’ flick, so some unpleasantness is to be expected. Maybe this would make a great vengeful female gunfighter double feature, teamed up with The Quick And The Dead.

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  1. I saw this back in ’71 and all I can remember is how funny the 3 criminals were. It truly was the life of the film. Especially when Strother Martin, at his sick and degraded best (worst?), shows up to a funeral with a stolen Bible.

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