Saturday, 3 January 2015

Movie Review: Hannie Caulder (1971)


A British-made revenge Western with a mashing of Spaghetti sub-genre elements, Hannie Caulder attempts to capitalize on Raquel Welch's comely assets but is betrayed by an uneven tone and underdeveloped ideas.

Frontier woman Hannie Caulder (Welch) is violently raped and her husband is killed by the Clemens gang of three brothers (Ernest Borgnine, Jack Elam and Strother Martin). Hannie vows revenge, and teams up with bounty hunter Thomas Luther Price (Robert Culp). Together they travel to Mexico and visit legendary gun-maker Bailey (Christopher Lee), who forges a gun for Hannie. Price then teaches her the finer points of killing men in a shootout. Hannie and Price catch up with the Clemens brothers in a nearby town, but Hannie will find killing her tormentors more difficult than she imagined.

The project was conceived as a star vehicle for Ms. Welch, and co-funded by her Curtwel production company. Directed by Western veteran Burt Kennedy and filmed in Spain, Hannie Caulder boasts a decent cast and a traditional if tired premise. But the film collapses from neglect, due mainly to what appears to be a hurriedly written script by Kennedy under the pseudonym Z.X. Jones.

The tone is fundamentally unbalanced, leaving the film spinning between coarse humour, grim revenge, and attempts at gory violence. The Clemens gang resemble the Three Stooges on a bad day, the ruffians trading insults that are meant to be funny. The bad humour sits uneasily next to the rape and murder that they nonchalantly dole out, and the large gobs of bright red blood that sprays out of every victim of a gun shot.

Even worse, some key events and characters drift in and out of the film with no explanation. A small army of Mexican bandits attacks Bailey's beachfront house, triggering a mass shootout with dozens of casualties. Who these bandits are and what they wanted is never even tangentially explained. And there is a dark, mysterious gunman who makes a couple of critical interventions during Hannie's journey, including the small matter of saving her life. His identity and motivation are left up to the imagination.

Welch does as best as can be expected. Her extremely limited range is kept under the wraps of a character who does not need to say much. Towards the end of the film she starts trading snappy one-liners, and does so with a dull trace of conviction. Meanwhile, her figure is coyly hinted at through some clever fashion choices, including a poncho with not much underneath for much of the film.

The surprisingly strong supporting cast rides along for the pay cheque. Borgnine, Elam and Martin are noisy, dirty, and annoying. Lee is unsure what he is doing in the film; Hannie Caulder must be the only Western movie where characters cross borders and wait for weeks to obtain a pistol. Only Robert Culp as bounty hunter Thomas Luther Price is able to add any weight to the proceedings. On the plus side, the cinematography is decent.

Hannie Caulder is a third-rate Western for what was then a third-rate actress with first-rate looks.






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