Director: Burt Kennedy
Screenplay: Burt Kennedy, David Haft (together credited as Z.X. Jones)
Based on Characters and a Story by: Ian Quicke, Bob Richards, Peter Cooper
Starring: Raquel Welch, Robert Culp, Ernest Borgnine, Jack Elam, Strother Martin, Christopher Lee, Diana Dors, Paco de Lucía
Country: UK, Spain
Running Time: 85 min
Year: 1971
BBFC Certificate: 15

The British production company Tigon are best known for their horror films, being behind classics such as Witchfinder General and The Blood on Satan’s Claw. However, they didn’t make these exclusively. They made the family favourite Black Beauty, for instance, and, in 1971, they made the Western revenge movie Hannie Caulder.

The story goes that Tigon head Tony Tenser had a meeting with Patrick Curtis, a publicist and wannabe producer who had just formed Curtwel Productions with his then-wife, Raquel Welch. The husband and wife pair wanted to get some projects off the ground that would give Welch a chance to star in something different to what she’d worked on previously, something tougher and more demanding from an acting perspective. They were keen to make a horror film, initially, but the idea of a British-produced Western appealed, so they went with Hannie Caulder for a Welch vehicle instead and co-produced The Sorcerers in between.

The Spanish shoot for Hannie Caulder was notoriously difficult, with fallouts, poisonings and financial problems abound but the film was eventually finished, nonetheless. It performed well at the UK box office but took a bit of a beating by critics on its initial release.

Over the years, however, aided by the championing of the film by some critics and Quentin Tarantino, Hannie Caulder has been re-assessed. Now, 88 Films are releasing the film on Blu-ray as part of its Tigon Collection. I love a good western, so got hold of a copy to share my thoughts with you here.

The titular Hannie Caulder (Welch, of course) is a frontier wife living a peaceful life, before her world is shattered when three bumbling outlaw brothers, the Clemens gang (played by Ernest Borgnine, Jack Elam and Strother Martin), arrive at her isolated homestead. After a failed bank robbery, the brothers brutally rape Hannie and murder her husband before burning down their home. Consumed by a thirst for revenge but lacking any skills in gunslinging, Hannie doggedly requests the assistance of Thomas Price (Robert Culp), a gruff bounty hunter. Though initially reluctant, Price agrees to train Hannie in the art of the quickdraw, turning her into a formidable force.

Whilst honing Hannie’s skills and helping her track down the Clemens brothers, Price attempts to talk the desperate woman out of seeking vengeance, but she’s unwilling to change her mind.

I enjoyed Hannie Caulder. Being a British Western, it seems to take some of the polish of its Hollywood counterparts whilst adding a healthy dose of the grit of the Italian ‘spaghetti’ Westerns. It’s nicely paced too, with a good amount of action spread among the relatively simple narrative.

It’s very much a rape-revenge film as much as it is a Western. It takes an interesting stance on this, questioning the act of revenge, where many others wouldn’t. The initial rape act is treated relatively sensitively too, at first. Hannie seems to suffer from mental trauma from the incident in the first half. However, much of this sensitivity is upset by some inappropriate humour.

Most notably, the Clemens gang, whilst suitably unsavoury and played with relish by a trio of Hollywood’s best character actors – Ernest Borgnine, Jack Elam and Strother Martin, become far too much like comic relief as the film goes on. Whilst the rape is brutal, the rest of their misdeeds are largely played for laughs, undermining their role as evil figures this innocent woman is hellbent on bringing to personal justice.

This, on top of too much meddling from male characters, also prevent Hannie Caulder from being the feminist statement it might have looked on paper. Still, it’s refreshing to see a Western from the era with such a badass female lead.

The central relationship is interesting too. You feel like Hannie and Price are going to become a couple by the end, which again would have weakened the rape-revenge angle, but it’s not as simple as that. Theirs is more of a teacher-student relationship.

Aiding the strength of this double act are two strong performances. Culp impresses as the intelligent, level-headed gunslinger, whilst Welch proves there’s more to her than a nice set of legs and breasts. There’s still some objectification of her body, as in her previous films, but she’s given a character with more range than usual and pulls it off. She also gets the film’s best zingers when facing off against her foes.

There’s a nice surprise elsewhere in the cast too, with Christopher Lee cropping up as a gunsmith friend of Price’s. He seems to be enjoying a role where he’s not a villain in a horror film and, indeed, it was the only Western he featured in. It’s a shame, as he actually pulls off the part nicely and doesn’t seem as out-of-place as you might think.

Overall then, Hannie Caulder might find its drama undermined in places by some misplaced comedy but, otherwise, the film is an enjoyable Western shooter with an interesting cast.

Film:

Hannie Caulder is out on 20th May on region B Blu-Ray and DVD, released by 88 Films (pre-order it here). The transfer is decent with wonderfully detailed textures and pleasing colours, though there’s some slight damage to the print and the digitised grain suffers a little in brighter spots. I used screengrabs throughout this review to give you an idea of how it looks, though these have been compressed. I had no issues with the audio.

LIMITED FEATURES

– Limited edition glossy O-ring
– Booklet Notes by Barry Forshaw & Lee Broughton

SPECIAL FEATURES

– High Definition (1080p) Blu-ray presentation in original 2.35:1 Aspect Ratio
– Original Uncompressed Mono
– Optional English SDH subtitles
– Girl Power Goes West – Adam Scovell on Hannie Caulder
– The Account of the Accountant – Interview with Maurice Lansberger
– Original Trailer
– Stills Gallery
– Reversible sleeve featuring new artwork by Sean Longmore & original poster

In ‘Girl Power Goes West’, Adam Scovell talks about how Hannie Caulder came about and where it sits within the Western genre as well as among the ‘rape-revenge’ microgenre. He then goes on to analyse the film. It’s a thoughtful and informative piece that I appreciated a great deal.

There’s also an interview with a member of the crew normally absent from promotional material or special features, the production accountant. ​​Maurice Lansberger discusses his involvement in the film. He actually did more work on this than usual, getting a post-production supervisor credit by the end. He shares his memories of the shoot, including some of its problems.

I didn’t receive the booklet to comment on that.

Overall, whilst hardly loaded with extras, what’s here is of good value and the restoration is decent. As such, it’s an easy recommendation for those curious as to what a British Western might look like.

Disc/package:

Where to watch Hannie Caulder
Hannie Caulder - 88 Films
Film
Disc/Package
3.5Overall:
Reader Rating: (1 Vote)

About The Author

Editor of films and videos as well as of this site. On top of his passion for film, he also has a great love for music and his family.

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