Hannie Caulder (1972)

hanniecaulder71aThe long-threatened western.

It took some time with Google to remember what made me watch this. Turns out, it was a reference in a review of Jane Got a Gun to the hat worn here by Raquel Welch.[1]  Leave it to the New Yorker to remember Raquel’s iconic role as hat-centric, rather than the obviouses.  But then, the new movie stars waifish Natalie Portman, so a comparison couldn’t really be drawn based on Raquel’s usual calling cards.

The Clemens brothers [2] ride up to the local banco (bank, according to Google Translate).  In a scene sure to warm The Donald’s heart, the Mexican Police are all comically lying about, taking siestas in the sun as the gang robs the banco across the street; also heart-warming because they are still in Mexico.  An overzealous teller triggers the non-silent alarm — i.e. a bell with a rope — waking up the policias, triggering a chase on horseback with a great pounding orchestral score.

hanniecaulder01The three gringos — despite one being shot and another being Ernest Borgnine — escape the pursing cops. They stop at an adobe ranch house where a man introduces himself as Jim Caulder — I don’t like his odds.  Not surprisingly, he is dispatched within seconds and the gang goes inside to find the titular Hannie Caulder.  Over a static shot of the house we hear her screams as she is raped.  Nothing funny about that, although there is an odd bit of business with one of the men being thrown out the front door . . . twice.  Or maybe they were different men; they were indistinguishable from the distance.  No idea what they were going for there.

The next morning, the gang stumbles out the front door and leaves Hannie and her burning house behind as they oddly just walk their horses away.  It is a nice shot as she comes out of the flaming house holding a serape around her to find her bloody husband dead.  Like all good movie characters, she digs a back-breaking grave in the desert and buries her husband without breaking a sweat; a glistening, clothes-clinging sweat.

hanniecaulder32Up rides bounty hunter Thomas Price (Robert Culp) asking for water from her well. Hannie quite understandably points a rifle at him.  He easily takes it from her, but she is learning the ways of men . . . and brains him when his back is turned.  They end up riding together to find a gunsmith to outfit Hannie.  As you would expect, the gunsmith is played by Christopher Lee.  Wait, what?

After they are attacked by a band of illegal aliens — wait, I mean citizens — we see that Hannie has become a killer.  They ride to a town where they meet up with the Clemens bothers.  Hannie’s luck with men continues as Price is knifed by 1/3 of the Clemens gang.

The ending is a little anti-climactic, but it might have not been so at the time.  This was an early example of the rape-revenge genre, so maybe audiences were shocked enough just by a woman avenging her rape, that it had an excitement not conceivable today.  Hannie is also ahead of her time in getting off some good zingers as she kills the bad guys.  Finally, there is a strange deus ex Messala appearance by Stephen Boyd that makes no sense to me, and undermines Hannie’s accomplishment.  That’s men for ya.

hanniecaulder55It is obvious this was filmed in the early days of Hollywood’s new freedom.  A few son-of-a-bitches and asses are thrown around, but they come off as being spoken by a 10 year-old who just discovered them. There is no weight to them — to be fair, a lesson Martin Scorsese still has not learned.

Shockingly, Raquel is the best performer in the film.  Culp is perfectly fine in a TV movie sort of way, but nothing special.  The Clemens brothers are just boobs.  Ernest Borgnine screams every line.  Strother Martin and Jack Elam are just there for the comic effect of their antics and squabbling, but consistently fail.  Raquel, however, pulls it together with as much subtlety as the role allows, and with her natural beauty.  I’ll go out on a limb here and say there is just a pleasure in watching her on the screen that you don’t get from, say, Ernest Borgnine.  Strangely for the era, and for this actress in particular, there really is no gratuitous exploitation of her looks or figure.  Well, one shot of her bare back, but nary a hint of side-boob.


The only example I’m aware of that has shotgun-POV. Literally, first-person-shooter as the viewer is the shotgun.

There is enough thick red paint for a barn-raising, although not the projectile bleeding that Sam Peckinpah was pioneering at the time.  The natural pre-CGI sets, the natural pre-silicone set, the non-Clemens performances, and the always-welcome story of a woman getting revenge make this a good one.


  • [1] The New Yorker only referenced Hannie Caulder to say that, bad as it was, it still “blew away” Jane Got a Gun.  It did, however, say that the supporting cast had “gusto.”
  • [2] Ernest Borgnine, Jack Elam and Strother Martin.  Say, this supporting cast does have gusto!
  • Director Burt Kennedy previously directed Support Your Local Sheriff.  In 1969, the other New York braintrust over at the Times called it “dreadful”, illustrating that the NYT’s utter detachment from reality is nothing new.  The trailer I linked actually is pretty poorly done, but the film itself is 2nd only to Blazing Saddles in the comedy-western genre.  Granted, with competition like A Million Ways to Die in the West and The Ridiculous Six, the bar is lower than the saloon’s in The Terror of Tiny Town.
  • OK, the hat was pretty cool.

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