US Release Date: 07-01-1972
Directed by: Burt Kennedy
- Raquel Welch, as
- Hannie Caulder
- Robert Culp, as
- Thomas Luther Price
- Ernest Borgnine, as
- Emmett Clemens
- Jack Elam, as
- Frank Clemens
- Strother Martin, as
- Rufus Clemens
- Christopher Lee, as
- Diana Dors, as
- Stephen Boyd, as
- The Preacher
- Aldo Sambrell as
- Mexican Soldier
Robert Culp and Raquel Welch in Hannie Caulder
Hannie Caulder was Raquel Welch’s final film in her western trilogy. Bandolero (1968), which co-starred Jimmy Stewart and Dean Martin, was more of an old fashioned American western. 100 Rifles (1969) was very much a contemporary western, featuring the very first interracial sex scene, between Welch and Jim Brown. With Hannie Caulder, Raquel Welch is the undisputed star of this spaghetti western. Not until Sharon Stone starred in The Quick and the Dead in 1995 would another actress so lead a cast in a western film.
The movie opens with three scruffy brothers robbing a bank and riding away to find Raquel Welch all alone in her isolated home after they murder her husband. The three men take turns raping her before setting her house on fire. All that Hannie has left is a blanket she turns into a poncho and her deceased husband’s rifle.
She wanders off and soon comes across a bearded Robert Culp. At first she does not trust him. Considering that she just got gang raped, we can assume she is a little messed up. After learning that he is a bounty hunter, she begs him to teach her how to shoot, so that she may exact revenge on the three murdering, bank robbing rapists.
He eventually agrees and they head for Mexico where he knows a guy who makes guns. They have a bit of a romantic moment between gun classes and exercises, but it is short lived. Soon some baddies arrive and they have a big shootout, in which Hannie gets her first kill. Now that she has made her bones, Hannie and the bounty hunter head out and soon come across her targets.
There is plenty of gun fighting action and everything does not go as you may expect. There is some humor here such as one brother telling another that he has more in his head than his pants. One joke is odd. During the rape scene, Strother Martin keeps getting kicked out of the house by his brothers so that they can have at Welch. He keeps running back in saying it is his turn. It is played for laughs, but a woman is getting raped for God’s sake.
Although men drooled over Welch in 1971 and women looked on with green eyes, she was very much a feminist and no film role at the time spoke in larger volume about it than one such as this. When a man says to her, “You're a hard woman, Hannie Caulder.” She responds, “…there aren't any hard women, only soft men.” After trying to get her pants to shrink by bathing in them, a sheriff smacks her behind and says, “Your bottom's wet.” She comes back with, “So's your chin.”
I understand that the attraction to this film is the presence of one of the most beautifully equipped women this earth has ever known. The publicity stills and movie posters are reminiscent of the ones used of Marilyn Monroe for The Seven Year Itch (1955) in that they are sexier than the actual product on screen. Here we have sexy photos of Welch wearing only her poncho and gun belt. Although that is all she wears for extended periods of screen time, we only get a glimpse of some cleavage and a bit of thigh. Hannie Caulder is a decent western that is far more about action than sex. That did not however stop her critics. Stefanie Pettit of the Spokesman Review (Spokane, WA) wrote at the time, “…if by some chance, (Welch) should become flat-chested later in life, all her talent will be gone.” Like I wrote, some women have green eyes when it comes to Welch.
Christopher Lee and Raquel Welch in Hannie Caulder.
This British production was shot entirely in Spain. The rugged terrain of the Tabernas Desert makes a believable stand in for the American West and the Mediterranean Sea for the Gulf of Mexico. It is a simple tale of revenge but with a memorable cast and taut direction from western maestro Burt Kennedy. Welch is surprisingly good in the title role. She brings a quiet inner anguish that hardens into a tough outer-shell. She is convincing as a woman bent on vengeance who learns to handle firearms in order to kill the men who raped her.
The villains, played by the trio of Borgnine, Martin, and Elam, walk the line between being humorous caricatures and stomach churning maggots. The rape scene is quite tame by today's standards but there is enough ketchup-red blood splattered across the screen to let you know the 1970s had arrived. Christopher Lee has a few good scenes as Bailey, a man with many children who custom designs a revolver for Hannie. The big shootout at his home in Mexico is excitingly staged and shot.
Robert Culp plays a rather cerebral bounty hunter. He's not very imposing physically but there is a deadly steeliness to his demeanor. As Eric mentioned, the story toys with the idea of a romance between Price and Hannie but the focus never strays far from her revenge plot. The script is spare; much of the story is told sans talking and Robert Culp gets the lion's share of what dialogue there is. He makes a patient teacher. Here's some advice he gives to Hannie about facing down a man in a gunfight. “If you're too close to a man, you see too much of him. You can watch him sweat, wet his mouth, blink. And while you're eyes are taking all that in, he can kill you. Back off. See everything and nothing.”
The cast also includes an uncredited Stephen Boyd as an enigmatic “preacher” who shows up in a few scenes and plays an important role during the climactic shoot-out between Hannie and the leader of the bad guys played by Ernest Borgnine. Aging British sex bomb Diana Dors is underused as the madame of a whorehouse. She gets only a few brief moments of screen time.
Raquel Welch was first and foremost the leading movie star sex symbol of her day. In her first scene she is shown standing in her home wearing a cleavage baring outfit that no real pioneer woman would have been caught dead in. The scene Eric mentioned where she attempts to shrink her pants by bathing in them is just an excuse to show her topless figure (although it is done tastefully from behind). Hannie Caulder is an unusual combination of sexual exploitation and women's liberation and as such is clearly a product of its time. While far from a great movie it is a solidly entertaining distaff western that at just 85 minutes doesn't overstay its welcome.
Raquel Welch in Hannie Caulder.
The humor is certainly the film's weakest aspect. Eric mentioned the "joke" during the rape, but it's not only limited to that one scene. The villains, as portrayed by Borgnine, Elam and Martin are played so much for laughs that by the film's climax they appear so inept that they no longer seem threatening and the outcome is never in doubt. During much of the film the story cuts between Hannie learning from Price, to the villains, and their antics appear to almost be from a different film.
I agree also that there's a schizophrenic attitude toward Hannie. On the one hand it's an empowering role in that she gets to seek revenge and deal out retribution, becoming a stronger person as the film goes along, but on the other hand, she is often presented merely as a sex object. We are meant to cheer and leer at the same time. This is most obvious in the scene both my brothers mentioned, where she attempts to shrink her pants. The only reason for this scene is to show off Welch's "ass"ets. I would argue that the cleavage revealing outfit that she first appears in, while included purely as titillation, isn't quite as unrealistic as Patrick implied. Hannie and her husband live in the desert, miles from anyone else. Unbuttoning her dress slightly, isn't that implausible.
Welch does a decent enough job in what isn't a very demanding role. The script never really gives her much personality and we never learn anything about her background. Culp is also quite good. I never noticed until this film just how much he looked and sounded like Robert Redford.
The script is rather weak. The Preacher character is a cipher who is never explained (Is he meant to represent the personification of death?) and the attack on Christopher Lee's home is also left as a mystery. Another weakness is having Hannie insist on giving the villains a fair chance in a gunfight. She wants to kill them as retribution for killing her husband and raping her, so why even give them a chance to fight back? I also didn't enjoy the resolution to Culp's storyline. Slightly altered and you wouldn't have needed the Preacher character at all, which would have made the ending much more satisfying.
This is definitely a flawed film, but admirers of Welch or fans of spaghetti westerns should find things to enjoy.
Photos © Copyright Paramount Pictures (1972)