An independent British film company known mainly for their gothic horrors and sexploitation comedies, Tigon attempted to broaden its horizons and go more “Hollywood” in the early 1970s. The company’s head, Tony Tenser, had always wanted to make a cowboy picture, and the opportunity came about with producer Patrick Curtis offering a western/drama project to Tenser (the two had made Michael Reeves’ THE SORCERORS some years earlier) that would have international star Raquel Welch attached to it (Mrs. Curtis at the time). Not nearly as huge a box office hit as the producers and investors expected it to be, HANNIE CAULDER stands today as a memorable vehicle for iconic sex symbol Welch, and it’s a fun, action packed revenge flick with a stellar cast.
The rogue, cold-blooded trio of the Clemens brothers – Emmett (Ernest Borgnine), Frank (Jack Elam) and Rufus (Strother Martin) – rob a bank and murder a few onlookers while doing so. On horseback, they run from the law, stopping off at the ranch farm home of Hannie Caulder (Raquel Welch) and her husband. The Clemens boys don’t hesitate to shoot down the husband, but when they find poor defenseless Hannie inside, they take turns sexually assaulting her before setting the place on fire and taking off. Wondering around aimlessly wearing nothing but a brown blanket poncho, Hannie encounters Thomas Luther Price (Robert Culp), a spectacles-wearing, bearded loner who makes his trade as a professional bounty hunter. Looking for water for his thirsty horse, Price finds himself unexpectedly knocked out cold by the still-in-shock Hannie. Despite this shaky first meeting, when Hannie learns how Price makes his living, she pleads with him to teach her how to shoot, a request which he turns down numerous times before finally giving in. All Hannie cares about now is avenging her murdered husband and bringing down the three outlaws that violated her, something she feels she must do herself.
Shot mostly on location in Spain, HANNIE CAULDER not only utilized that country’s beautiful landscapes, but also some of the standing sets from previously shot Spaghetti westerns (some of the interiors were done back in England). It’s too bad that American director Burt Kennedy (a veteran of western TV and numerous cowboy pictures such as RETURN OF THE SEVEN, SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF, DIRTY DINGUS MAGEE, etc.) reportedly disowned the film over a salary dispute, because it’s quite good, even if it carries a thin plotline stretched thick. With satirical touches thrown into a grim situation, this British-produced R-rated western packs in plenty in its 85 minutes: interesting and lively characters, lots of bloody shootings (the bright red stuff spurts freely throughout), scenic widescreen horse riding, and its all topped off by its very sultry lead.
Welch (who spends most of her screen time modeling the aforementioned poncho, and later, a pair of tight dearskin britches) is not only beautiful, but she pulls off the role of a damaged frontier woman – who transforms herself into a trained killer – quite well and has great chemistry with her leading man, Robert Culp. Culp (one of Hollywood’s gem big screen and small screen actors, who sadly just recently passed away) is terrific as Price, an expert shootist and a bounty hunter with a conscious, so much so that his reluctance to instruct Hannie in the way of the gun is to prevent the psychological outcome that will haunt her for the rest of her days. The character has some noticeable depth, showing his gentle side when playing with a bunch of children (and also implying that he might really just want to settle down and have a family of his own) and the fact that he always gives some of his bounty reward money back to pay for the funerals of his recently deceased subjects.
Whoever thought of pairing Borgnine, Elam and Martin as baddie brothers should get high points because it’s brilliant casting and a large part of the film’s appeal. All three had been in numerous westerns (Elam was just in ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST and Borgnine and Martin were both in THE WILD BUNCH), but together they're priceless, bringing on a strange juxtaposition of comic relief and relentless manslaughter (not to mention their reckless act of rape), and their constant bickering, yelling at each other at the top of their lungs, and their occasional slapstick conduct have often triggered comparisons to The Three Stooges. Christopher Lee was promised by Tenser on the set of THE CRIMSON CULT (a film currently being prevented from DVD release by MGM/Fox, despite their spending time and money to remaster and restore it) that he would stick him in one of his non-horror films, if something came up, and it did. Lee plays Bailey, a British gun maker living with his Mexican wife and children in a hacienda by the beach, creating a special pistol for Hannie’s rather delicate, feminine hand. Lee apparently loved doing his only western, and it’s great to see him here, especially when he’s shooting at some banditos with a rifle. Stephen Boyd (FANTASTIC VOYAGE) appears unbilled as an ambiguous preacher garbed entirely in black, and “special guest star” Diana Dors (BERSERK) has a brief and rather thankless part as a Madame.
Originally distributed theatrically by Paramount, Olive Films has licensed HANNIE CAULDER from that very studio for its American DVD premiere. Presented in 2.35:1 (Panavision) with anamorphic enhancement, the transfer is a solid one, with colors (including those deep blood reds and the rich blue skies) coming off strong and detail being very sharp. There is some fine grain and a few print blemishes here and there, but the overall image is impressive. The mono audio is presented in the original English language (with no subtitle options) and is absolutely fine, with no hints of any hiss or distortion.
For more information or to purchase this DVD, check out the Olive Films website HERE. (George R. Reis)
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