Each Monday, I continue to share Western movie reviews. I have now launched a podcast about the making of Westerns and the overall filmmaking process. Click here to listen.
Week 163: Hannie Caulder (1971)
I judged Hannie Caulder by its cover but can you really blame me? It might have the most misleading poster in Western film history. Selling sex symbol Raquel Welch in an outfit she barely wears in the movie and surrounding her with what appear to be her dirty but friendly sidekicks, I went into this film expecting something very different than what it is. And I must say the results were delightfully surprising.
Turns out the character actor trio (Borgnine, Elam, and Martin) may be funny at times but they’re also ferocious, a point proved early on in the picture when they commit some truly terrible acts to Hannie and her husband. All this feels like the set up for a typical Spaghetti Western of the era until Robert Culp shows up. He’s such an unconventional choice for the bounty hunter role, playing the skilled gunfighter as half-intellectual. Somehow it not only works but the actor manages to steal the film. For the next hour or so, he carries the movie through Hannie’s training and evolution as a killer. It’s not that Welch is bad in the film; her performance is on par with most male leads in European Westerns of the time (my recent watch The Deserter comes to mind). She’s nice to look at, has a few memorable moments, but is mostly flat. Culp on the other hand brings both heart and grit to the movie. Another unconventional casting choice is Christopher Lee who shines as a gunsmith.
Eventually the movie gets back around to its revenge plot and comes to a conclusion, making some narrative mistakes along the way. I won’t give any spoilers but there are some choices in the last third that prevented this film from reaching another level. Still, I credit Burt Kennedy with taking what looked like a flop on paper (and poster) and making something quite memorable out of it.
Watched on Vimeo