Hannie Caulder (1971)
I never thought I’d be discussing a western that starred Raquel Welch, however what really caught my attention was that Hannie Caulder (1971) was the feminist strain that at least is there in the first half of the film. As I’ve said before there are very few Westerns that place women at the centre of the film, positioned on the sidelines as either prostitutes, school teachers or dancers. Hannie (Welch) does not fall into any of these categories, her power comes from the same place as male in the Wild West finds it, his gun.
We first meet our heroine after she is brutally raped and left for dead by the Clemens brothers, played by three actors Ernest Borgnine, Strother Martin and Jack Elam who have grown into the roles of on-screen villain over the past decade or more. These roles take that image to a whole new level, they are no longer just gunfighters and bank robbers, they become sexual attackers who take advantage of women who doesn’t even realise she’s just been widowed. It’s a brutal beginning to a film that comes in the wake of The Wild Bunch (1969) as much as Sam Peckinpah didn’t intend to, changed the face of film violence that is being imitate in this film, not to the same proportions as the earlier. We don’t have the countless victims or the body count either, it’s a more honest and direct violence. Making use of explosive blood capsules that simulate gunshots which heighten the violence, it’s no longer suggested it emphasised for the camera, the audience wants more so is delivered more. Today it looks laughable as the simplicity of these special effect which has been refined over time so its no longer a novelty but part of the language.
So why do I think this has a feminist strand to the film, now I must be careful a its a big statement to make about a film that has Raquel Welch who you really wouldn’t associate with feminism. More of a 1960’s – 70’s pin imported to Hollywood, the next bombshell to draw in the male audience which admittedly she doe here. Instead of using that power for sex she uses her body, her entire being for purposes of revenge. First left for almost dead by the Clemens brothers who ride off loaded with sexual energy that has just been released, monsters who leave a victim who wants revenge. Its usually the man whose left outside whilst the violence is dealt out to the fa,ily who are eventually killed, leaving him nothing but anger that has to be resolved.
It takes another man to come along and transforms the defencless woman into a killer. A bounty hunter Thomas Luther Price (Robert Culp) a man otherwise to be feared. A straight version of the man with no name that Sergio Leone defined in the dollar trilogy. Hannie Caulder even has the look of a spaghetti Western, the level of violence and visual style. Price reluctantly takes Caulder under his wing becoming her teacher of the gun that will only bring her loss in life and no gains. Prices life as a bounty hunter has come at as cost, he has lost his soul. When he hands over his latest find to the sheriff he leaves money and makes sure its all spent on the dead mans funeral and tomb stone. He wants to ensure that the dead are respected, even if he couldn’t. Hannie has to learn all of this with her time with him.
Hannie must also learn how to handle herself, she won’t allow herself to be seen as a sexual object, even though the camera does until she learns how to handle a gun and loosing her femininity, gaining respect and fear, two attributes you don’t associate with a woman of the West. Hannie learns her trade down in Mexico with the assistance of a gunsmith Bailey (Christopher Lee) who builds one to her needs, a gun light enough for a woman to handle yet just as lethal once she learns how to handle it. Some of the training is rather pointless though. He is vital to her transformation into a gunfighter. Lee’s time on-screen is limited to a few scene but his steals the scenes he’s in.
Going back to the Clemens brothers, there’s an attempt really bring profanity into their roles which really doesn’t sit well in this film. The aim is to bring in a new audience, that has actors from the golden age. They become more comical as the film goes on, losing that edge they had in the opening scenes that define Hannie who is hell-bent of revenge. She becomes more violent as they lose their edge, when they should be showing the audience how dangerous they are. Or maybe there is another reading, their age is getting the better of them, Hannie was one last messy conquest before it all goes terribly wrong for them which make more sense.
Hannie Caudler is a film that starts with good intentions, the hopes of reaching a new audience that is slowly starting to fail. There’s an attempt as a romance between the teacher and student gunfighter which doesn’t really happen and that a good thing for this film that should rightly focus on her coping with a multiple rape that has traumatised her (for a while). She shows weakness, the humanity that Price lacks which is one of the films few strengths, placing a woman in stronger role for a change which in the 1970s is still rare without a few love scenes. It’s a minor Western made as the embers of the fire that was the Westerns fire was going out.