An offbeat Western financed in Britain, starring American and British actors and filmed in Spain, Hannie Caulder's (1971) frequent unusualness works almost all the time. There's no other Western quite like it and several facets are unique and memorable. At its center is an especially good performance by star Raquel Welch, who was never sexier than she is in this.
The film was produced by Tigon British Film Productions, a company up to then associated almost exclusively with extremely low-budget exploitation films, especially horror movies. The U.S. rights are owned by Paramount, which in turned sublicensed them to a new independent DVD label, Olive Films, now releasing an intriguing cross-section of cult favorites and unjustly obscure treasures film fans have been wanting to see for years.
I have an older Japanese release of the film. It looked fine but this transfer is a shade better and runs slightly longer, 85:20 vs. 81:49. I didn't watch them back-to-back but a quick glance at the Japanese DVD suggests some of the violence may have been trimmed slightly for the earlier Region 2/NTSC release.
In Mexico, the none-too-bright Clemens brothers - Emmett (Ernest Borgnine), Frank (Jack Elam), and Rufus (Strother Martin) - attempt to rob the local banco during the siesta, but the scheme turns sour and there's a shoot-out bloodier than the one that opens Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch (which featured Borgnine and Martin but not Elam). The three desperate outlaws, hotly pursued by Mexican soldiers, stop off at a farm to steal fresh horses, where they shotgun blast the owner to ribbons and brutally rape and leave for dead his wife, Hannie Caulder (Welch).
Some time later, she meets almost mystical bounty hunter Thomas Luther Price (Robert Culp, bearded and wearing spectacles), who rejects Hannie's pleas to teach her how to shoot. However, watching her relive the rape in a nightmare changes his mind. As the Clemens brothers shoot their way across the West, Price takes Hannie to philosophical English gunsmith Bailey (Christopher Lee), who lives on the Gulf of Mexico with his Mexican wife and their large brood of young children. There Price reluctantly teaches Hannie his trade, warning her, "Win or lose you'll lose. You'll not be the same person." Hannie, however, is undeterred.
Hannie Caulder was directed and co-written by genre veteran Burt Kennedy (with Steve Canyon TV scribe David Haft, writing together under the pseudonym "Z.X. Jones"). Kennedy struck gold with the Western comedy Support Your Local Sheriff! (1969) starring the irreplaceable James Garner, and many of his other Westerns had been light-hearted, from the entertaining John Wayne-Kirk Douglas The War Wagon (1967) to the disastrous Frank Sinatra oater, Dirty Dingus Magee (1970). This probably accounts for the utterly balmy, oil-and-water mixture of Three Stooges-like comedy involving the Three Clemens, played so broadly Strother Martin is even more Strother Martiny than usual.
While they're a delight to watch, to say the least it doesn't work that they're also the ruthless central villains, graphically murdering people left and right, to say nothing of violently raping the film's heroine.
But, other than that, Hannie Caulder is way above average. Perhaps aware of Welch's limited range (though she's just fine within that range), and/or perhaps in wanting to create a mythic "Woman with No Name" inspired by Clint Eastwood's Western heroes, Hannie Caulder has relatively few lines and doesn't even speak at all until 18 minutes into the film. Nonetheless Kennedy, almost certainly with much input from Culp, gets an impressively expressive performance out of her; she expertly conveys well her internal anguish and mixed feelings about killing.
Iranian costume designer Ray Aghayan deserved an Academy Award for Welch's costumes, which if not exactly believable to period are even more distinctive (if less iconic) than Welch's cave girl get-up from One Million Years, B.C. (1967). She is, in a word: hot. The film allows for some amusing flirtatious bits, like having Hannie buy leather pants several sizes too big, which she shrinks by soaking herself in a tub, from which she alluringly emerges in order to check their progress. Even her hair is sexy in this.
Culp, who one regrets didn't do more Westerns, is terrific, giving the seasoned gunslinger-mentor part new wrinkles, combining a natural delivery with an intelligence and world-weariness that's almost mesmerizing.
Being a British production, '50s blonde bombshell Diana Dors pops up briefly as a brothel madam, while Irish actor Stephen Boyd, Welch's Fantastic Voyage (1966) co-star, has a strange, unbilled role as a mysterious gunslinger known only as The Preacher.
But the real surprise is Christopher Lee, then desperately trying to shed his Count Dracula image for more rewarding character parts in A-list films. As the bearded, salt of the earth gunsmith who deplores violence, Lee is magnificent, in a role as far removed from his Hammer-created villains as can be imagined.
Video & Audio
Filmed in Panavision, Hannie Caulder is presented in its original 2.35:1 original aspect ratio with 16:9 enhancement. The transfer is clean and sharp, and as stated above an improvement over the slightly shorter Japanese DVD from 2004. The mono audio, with no alternate language options or subtitles, is adequate and the disc is Region 1 encoded. There are no Extra Features.
An above-average, almost feminist Western with many unique qualities, to say nothing of its fine central performance by Raquel Welch, looking incredibly sexy throughout, Hannie Caulder is Highly Recommended.
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