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  Hannie Caulder Gunfighting gets glam as Welch heads West
Year: 1971
Director: Burt Kennedy
Stars: Raquel Welch, Robert Culp, Ernest Borgnine, Jack Elam, Strother Martin, Christopher Lee, Diana Dors, Stephen Boyd
Genre: WesternBuy from Amazon
Rating:  4 (from 2 votes)
Review: Brutish, bumbling outlaws, the Clemens Brothers - Emmett (Ernest Borgnine), Rufus (Strother Martin), and Frank (Jack Elam) - botch a bank robbery in a sleepy Mexican village. Fleeing the bloodbath, they happen across an isolated relay station where they murder the owner, then while away the evening taking turns raping his beautiful wife, Hannie Caulder (Raquel Welch). The next morning, poor, battered Hannie wanders the wilderness, with only a self-fashioned poncho to cover her naked body. She eventually encounters enigmatic bounty hunter, Thomas Luther Price (Robert Culp) and persuades him to teach her how to shoot a gun and thus take revenge.

A case of : nice poster, shame about the movie. Any exploitation fan who has seen those tantalising production stills with lovely Raquel wearing nothing but her gun-belt and poncho might salivate over the prospect of a Barbarella-style take on the spaghetti western, while feminists might anticipate a roaring rampage of revenge. Sadly, we get neither. Hannie Caulder is a curiously listless, mishandled movie that limps along from one uncertain encounter to the next and wastes a committed performance from Ms. Welch. Nonetheless, it was something of a prestige project for Tigon Films, the British exploitation outfit who cranked out Curse of the Crimson Altar (1968) and The Beast in the Cellar (1971), but also occasional gems like Repulsion (1965) and Witchfinder General (1968).

Producer Tony Tenser had long dreamed of making a western and roped in a few stars to make eccentric cameos. Hence we have Diana Dors as an aging prostitute, Christopher Lee (who was similarly enthusiastic about being in a western) as a Spanish gunsmith, and Stephen Boyd as a mysterious preacher. Shot in Spain, both the locations and the revenge-based storyline lend it a spaghetti western air, but Tenser’s ambitions are scuppered by writer-director Burt Kennedy’s obvious discomfort with the material. Kennedy made a few lively westerns, including The War Wagon (1967) and his two excellent spoofs Support Your Local Sheriff (1969) and Support Your Local Gunfighter (1971) (wherein bug-eyed Jack Elam delivers one of the funniest last lines ever), but is on record as saying he could not believe in a female gunfighter.

Kennedy seems almost contemptuous of his heroine. Hannie initially can’t pluck up the nerve to shoot and when she does often misses and even winds up wounded for her trouble. This lack of belief extends to the film’s uncertainty of tone, which wavers from grimy realism, to misjudged slapstick and sexploitation. Memo to all exploitation filmmakers: rape is not sexy. Kennedy’s decision to play Hannie’s rape as a piece of slapstick buffoonery (little Rufus keeps getting thrown outside and missing his turn. Yuck.) is particularly odious and he seems more comfortable indulging the would-be comic scenery-chewing of Messrs. Borgnine, Elam and Martin than crafting a convincing heroine. He opts for some Sam Peckinpah-style slow-mo for a few shootouts, but they leave the action scenes lumbering and unintentionally comic.

Robert Culp is vaguely interesting as the bearded, bespectacled bounty hunter, but his relationship with Hannie is scarcely developed within the scant running time. Culp was lured into the Tigon fold with the offer of a three-film deal and a chance to direct. Needless to say, that never happened at Tigon, although he did make his only film as director the next year: Hickey & Boggs (1972), which is every bit as weird a detective thriller as Hannie Caulder is a western. As for Raquel Welch, she finally proved she could play a convincing western heroine in The Legend of Walks Far Woman (1982), although there the tone was sober realism and certainly not sexy. At least we have those production stills. A bawdy spaghetti western with a sexy, half-naked heroine isn't a bad idea. If only filmmakers could get it right.
Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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