As I’ve made way through the Western genre, I’ve had one silly hope — that I’d stumble on some awesome, forgotten, cultish series that centered on a female gunfighter. The Quick and the Dead couldn’t be the only one, could it? Surely Sam Raimi had a stash of some spaghetti westerns he drew from?
Obviously, there isn’t such a series. I’ve met many a tough broad in the genre (I mean that in the most complimentary of ways) but other than Doris Day’s Calamity Jane (a write up that will come eventually) or Jane Fonda’s Cat Ballou, lady gunslingers are in short supply. Thankfully, Sharon Stone has some competition in Raquel Welch and Hannie Caulder.
Hannie Caulder’s origin story is predictable pulp — her husband is killed, and the outlaws responsible promptly gang rape her. Caulder strides out of her burning house with only a blanket to her name, and vows to get revenge.
Luck delivers her a bounty hunter in Thomas Luther Price (Robert Culp) who reluctantly agrees to train her in the art of killing. He also buys her a pair of pants (but not, it seems, a shirt) and takes her to Mexico where she can have a pistol made by Bailey the gunsmith (Christopher Lee).
With Welch in the lead, there’s some predictable cheesecake moments. The camera likes lingering on her shapely behind and the side-boob under her sexy serape. But she’s tough and unflappable in her resolve to gun down the Clemens Brothers. When some sheriff whines that she’s a hard woman, she sneers. “Like the man said, there aren’t any hard women — only soft men.” It’s a condemnation of the West and its frontier justice. If no man can protect Caulder, she’ll do it herself.
Caulder falters once or twice in the face of violence and blood, but she’s got nothing to lose. If this was made today, Price would undoubtedly do the killing for her so that Hannie could stay soft, feminine, and sympathetic. But this was 1971 when women — even if the camera did linger on their T&A — could still get down and dirty without any mass media condemnation.
If Hannie Caulder came out tomorrow, there would be a slew of articles criticizing the violence dealt to her and by her. Women, in the Old West as much as now, are meant to uphold peace and civilization. They aren’t meant to embrace bloody revenge.
The film leaves Hannie in a fascinating and unusual place. She’s not only borrowed Blondie’s hat and serape (It’s not like he’s not using them anymore. In 1971, he moved to the mean streets of San Fransisco*), but his sense of justice and financial profit. It’s one hell of an origin story, and I wish Hannie Caulder had been the first film in a Dollars like trilogy. It would have been the series I’ve always craved.
*A special mention has to go out to the brilliant Kimberly Lindbergs and her site Cinebeats, which is where I first heard of this film. It’s not on Instant Watch, but it’s fresh on DVD.)
**Speaking of those mean streets, The Enforcer has “It’s my ass!” scene that echoes Hannie Caulder. I guess wardrobes weren’t the only thing they traded.