Starring: Raquel Welch, Robert Culp, Ernest Borgnine, Strother Martin, Jack Elam, Christopher Lee
Director: Burt Kennedy
Mood: I don’t want to speculate on what could possibly be going through your mind that would make you want to watch this movie.
Trigger warning: rape.
I have to use the word a lot in this review because that’s what the movie is about, and it would be wrong to use gentler language to make that subject more ‘pleasant’ to read about.
Please remember that this is just my opinion. It’s a sensitive subject, and I’ve done my best to be respectful. I don’t like this movie, but not because of the subject matter. I just think it fails on too many levels.
Hannie Caulder is more ‘rape-revenge’ Exploitation film than Western. I didn’t even know that subgenre was a thing until today, but now that I think about it, it’s obviously a thing because Quentin Tarantino has built a good portion of his success on exactly that category.
I discovered Hannie Caulder on a list of Westerns with strong female roles, and didn’t bother to see what it was about when ordering it. The same list sent me to Johnny Guitar, which blew me away with the powers of Joan Crawford, so I assumed I was in for a similar treat.
My DVD copy looks innocent enough, with just a closeup of Raquel Welch at the top and three scruffy looking dudes at the bottom.
If you Google the original movie poster and promotional photos, it’s a whole other story.
There we have Raquel Welch posing in a white dress and high-heeled leather boots, shoulders and cleavage exposed, legs spread wide, with the same scruffy dudes pressed against her. Photos from the movie show Welch in just a poncho and gunbelt, the poncho caught in a breeze, leaving little to the imagination.
It’s not gross at first. She looks happy and confident in her body.
But then you find out that Hannie Caulder is the story of a woman named Hannie (Welch) whose husband is murdered by two of the scruffy men in the poster, and she is subsequently gang-raped by them and another man.
Now, you have Raquel Welch cozied up with her attackers. Now, it’s f*cking gross. And that’s my TL;DR take on the entire movie – it’s gross, don’t bother.
Hannie Caulder opens with the belligerent Clemens brothers (Jack Elam, Ernest Borgnine, Strother Martin) messing up a bank raid. While being chased by federales, they come upon a horse station. They kill the first man they encounter, then find his wife Hannie (Welch) inside and proceed to rape her for what appears to be hours.
Other than one man climbing on top of Hannie and her screaming face, nothing is shown. Instead, for some reason director Burt Kennedy went with an almost Vaudevillian parade of comedy, during which we watch the outside of the home as one by one the brothers are tossed out the door in their long johns, having finished their ‘turn’, then sneak back in.
The silliness is in line with the villains’ characters, who have already been established as stupid and basically useless. But going for a chuckle over a rape? What the actual f*ck.
After the bad guys depart Hannie buries her dead husband, and starts off on foot in the same direction wearing nothing but a poncho and ripped up socks.
Thus begins Hannie’s quest for revenge.
As I said, everything about this movie is a miss for me. EVERYTHING.
- The costumes are atrocious and painfully modern, I even spotted shoulder pads
- I don’t want to criticize Hannie’s clothing choices, because it’s her body and her life – but as someone with a fondness for six-shooters, I firmly believe that if she was serious about revenge she’d have picked something that fit better than that stupid poncho she had to keep pulling back to draw her gun, and more practical heels for stealthy movement and riding
- Welch also has eye makeup and a blowout throughout the movie
- The fake blood is SO F*CKING BAD, it’s obviously cherry-red paint
- The only positive is how Christopher Lee manages to have a brown handlebar moustache ON TOP of a grey beard
- Despite its sensitive subject matter, the story manages to be wholly uninteresting
- BUT the final showdown feels like it’s from a totally different movie – it’s suddenly very Spaghetti Western and serious and even enjoyable, unlike literally every other scene
This is a talented cast. If they couldn’t turn this confusing, senseless turd into at least a cult classic, nobody could.
With better dialogue and a better story, I think Raquel Welch could have sold Hannie. In the scene where she goes out to see her husband’s body, you can see that Welch is capable of more.
Robert Culp is great as bounty hunter Thomas Luther Price. It’s a strong performance – it just doesn’t fit. With the slapstick comedy every time the Clemens brothers are on the screen, Culp’s character ends up feeling too smart and totally un-Western, simply because they’re on such different levels.
Elam, Borgnine, and Strother would have fit perfectly into any comedy Western of the time. You could have had these exact same guys pass through Support Your Local Sheriff and they would have been a riot. But casting them as clownish rapists is just too much. It’s a waste of Jack Elam.
Are we supposed to laugh or be mad? Leaving it up to me as the viewer to decide was a mistake, because OF COURSE I’m mad at the rapists.
But I also wasn’t swept up in Hannie, and that’s another huge mistake. She’s given no depth, no backstory, and no personality or development as the story stumbles forward. So even though I wanted her to get that revenge, I can’t say she’s a strong female character.
And it doesn’t help that at the end, she has to be saved by a dude. You couldn’t even give her that, let her be her own saviour? Instead some random man-in-black who is never f*cking explained shows up and saves her life.
It feels like the makers of Hannie Caulder were like, “Let’s just make a movie tomorrow. Rape? Sure, that’s a good storyline. People will want to watch Raquel Welch in a poncho chasing down rapists.”
And that’s pretty much what it was. Welch’s husband at the time got the movie made for her. It came down to a horror or a Western, the producer wanted to make a Western, and so they threw together Hannie Caulder, using a screenplay that director Kennedy heavily rewrote. Welch and her husband took profits instead of salaries.
Maybe the original screenplay was better. Who knows.
American professor and prominent feminist Carol J. Clover has spoken in favour of the rape-revenge genre, because the women stand up for themselves and take action against their abusers rather than wait for help from a system that continues to fail the victims. I can see that viewpoint, but I think Hannie Caulder fails at that narrative.
Yes, Hannie shoots men. But that’s the ONLY trait she really has. I don’t want to compare it to the sexed-up mess that is Bandidas, but it’s kind of the same thing. It’s showcasing the woman’s sexiness, which is totally fine, but NOTHING ELSE. A woman can be drop-dead gorgeous and show as much skin as she damn well wants and be a strong, layered character. All it takes is good writing. This is terrible writing.
You only have to read online reviews of Hannie Caulder to see that it totally missed the mark:
- “Raquel Welch is incredibly good-looking and this movie showcases her nicely.”
- “Add a very sexy Raquel Welch, hell-bent on revenge on those three who killed her husband and took advantage of her. Really enjoyed it.”
- “My favourite Raquel film, she never looked more beautiful and sexy.”
I don’t know what else to say here. Huge disappointment. The end.