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February 2010

Hannie Caulder

cast: Raquel Welch, Christopher Lee, Robert Culp, Ernest Borgnine, and Jack Elam

director: Burt Kennedy

82 minutes (15) 1972
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Odeon DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 6/10
review by Max Cairnduff

Hannie Caulder

Hannie Caulder is that rarest of things, a British western. Combine that with it having a strong female central character, and a story of female empowerment at its core, and it's an unusual beast. Not for me a wholly successful one, but definitely interesting.

As the movie opens, in shotgun-o-vision as we gaze down double barrels towards terrified bank staff, we are introduced to the Clements brothers, Emmet (Ernest Borgnine), Frank (Jack Elam) and youngest brother Rufus (Strother Martin). In a matter of moments, Rufus has triggered a bloodbath, and the others are only too ready to join in. They slaughter a bank full of people, fleeing just ahead of Mexican troops. It's already apparent they're psychotic idiots, particularly Rufus who is both trigger happy and an imbecile.

Looking for fresh horses, they come across an isolated ranch. They gun down the rancher, gang rape his wife, torch the property and leave her for dead. Unfortunately, she's the titular Hannie Caulder (Raquel Welch), and clad only in a blanket she sets out after them determined on revenge.

So, murder, rape, and a wronged woman, all fairly common elements in a western... What's unusual here is that though Hannie soon meets a bounty hunter who takes a liking to her, Thomas Luther Price (Robert Culp), the story isn't about him avenging her; it's about her learning how to avenge herself.

The film has a solid cast, Christopher Lee crops up in a supporting role as a gunsmith living in Mexico, and Diana Dors has a cameo as a madam in a brothel. It's slightly odd so many accents aren't American but there are enough quality American names that it doesn't get too jarring. Borgnine, Elam, and Martin are on fine form, often very funny playing their characters as a sort of viciously sociopathic 'three stooges'. Strother Martin in particular, rarely moments away from pointless slaughter, is a hapless incompetent constantly berated by his brothers who despite robbing banks are forever penniless and running away from anyone who happens to fire back.

Robert Culp makes a solid supporting male lead to Raquel Welch's Hannie, slowly falling in love with her, and training her, but uncomfortable with what becoming a killer will do to her even if she survives. There's a quietness to his performance, which lends an at times much needed centre to the film.

Much needed, because where the film struggles is tone. The slapstick antics of the Clemens brothers sit slightly oddly with the sheer level of violence they're responsible for. Gratuitous shots of Hannie topless (from behind though) as she sits in a bath shrinking her jeans to fit don't quite match with having watched her anguished face as she's brutally raped in an earlier scene. It's a film with something of a feminist message, but at times older attitudes still definitely creep in.

Raquel Welch is fair enough as the lead, I have to be honest here and admit I've never been one of her fans, but she's convincing enough in a role which in any event isn't aiming for deep psychological insight. It is noticeable that she's perfectly made up, spotlessly clean and of course strikingly beautiful while everyone else in the film is dirty, unshaven and a bit ugly. But that's really just a product of the demands of the time the film was made.

Ultimately though, it's Borgnine, Elam and Martin's movie; it's the three stooges meet Raquel Welch, with Culp, and Christopher Lee preventing the whole thing spinning off into absurdity. It's an enjoyable film, and I wish other directors had sought to build on it and craft their own westerns with strong female leads, but it's also of its time and I'm not sure the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. That said, those parts definitely have their moments, and if you feel like a western that tries to do something a little different and to an extent succeeds, you could certainly do a lot worse.

DVD extras include the theatrical trailer, and a stills gallery.



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