Western Wednesdays: ‘Hannie Caulder’

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.

  • great experience
    March 4, 2017 at 7:45 am

    great experience

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  • Richard--W
    September 19, 2015 at 1:27 am

    Hannie Caulder is something of a hybrid. A spaghetti western made by Americans with British money. It has more story and characterization than any spaghetti western. The spaghetti western only existed for a decade. It exploits the external trappings of the genre, but internally it’s a completely different animal from the American western. With hindsight, it’s influence on the American western was entirely destructive. In contrast to the varied subject matter and intelligence of the American western, the spaghetti western limited its pallet to bounty hunters out for revenge and seems to have been made by Neanderthals. Clint Eastwood’s popularity in the genre is way out of proportion. He made fewer westerns than any other western star, and the more American westerns you see, the less impressive and the more wooden-headed his work becomes.

    If you can overcome the apparent need for rape fantasies and sleazy men dominating the action, you’ll find that women have always had strong roles in American westerns dating as far back as The Lady In the Dugout (1918) and The Wind (1928). The former is included in Lost Treasures of American Film Archives volume 5 and the latter was a vhs and a laser disc. Among the more significant female lead westerns are Leaves of Grass (1947), Ramrod (1947), William A. Wellman’s Westward the Women (1951), Many Rivers to Cross (1955), The Shooting (1965-7), True Grit (1969 the original not that feminized remake), Comes a Horseman (1978) and the remarkable Heartland (1979). All are easily obtainable on DVD. Compared to the women in these films, Hannie Caulder and Ellen in The Quick and the Dead are really just men’s roles given to an actress for novelty’s sake. For a film that digs deeper into women’s authority among the men, take a look at Susan Clark’s Indian Agent in Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here (1969), a period western still ahead of its time.

    Recently, Amy Madigan and Diane Lane found the untapped subtext in two traditional western romances that everybody thought had been tapped out, in Riders of the Purple Sage (1995) and The Virginian (2000) respectively. Warner Archives released them both. Rene Zellweger plays a woman character I’ve never seen done before in Appaloosa (2008). Her Mrs. French is firmly rooted in the biographical reality of the Earp brothers wives, whom the author Robert B. Parker researched. He takes the character further in the next two novels, but film adaptations haven’t been made of those yet. Zellweger was courageous to take on the role after bigger stars in Hollywood turned it down.

    The female lead western thrives in films made for home video and cable television. Disney’s two-part mini-series Little House On the Prairie (2005) is a richer and more mature adaptation than the long-running TV series, and an overall better film with terrific roles for women that come straight out of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s novel. Michael Landon Jr. stepped into his father’s shoes by adapting Janette Oke’s Love Comes Softly novels into Christian films told from a largely secular perspective. These twelve films made between 2003 and 2013 are female lead stories in which women characters must contend with frontier life and primitive conditions without the benefit of sheriffs, gunfighters or rapists. Sometimes it’s a good idea to simply reject the legacy of the spaghetti western. The men are mostly good guys even when they’re not the right guys. When Landon Jr. left the series continued under different leadership but the results are the same. And don’t forget Glen Close’s mail-order-bride in Sarah Plain and Tall (1991). And there are many, many more.

  • [A]
    August 14, 2010 at 10:59 am

    ..now I need to see it again

  • [A]
    August 14, 2010 at 10:57 am

    I hate to admit I might’ve not watched this .. maybe as a kid, when I used to watched a lot of cowboy stuff..

  • Stemplar
    August 12, 2010 at 3:30 am

    Hannie Caulder is a strange film. From Raquel Welch’s point of view its a revenge film. The villains, the Clemens brothers, are like the three Stooges, seem to be in an entirely different movie. As westerns go in the 70s, its not bad and can enjoy repeated viewing. Still, the movie has Christopher Lee as well as an uncredited Stephen Boyd. The film does leave itself open for a sequel that never happened.

  • Tweets that mention Western Wednesdays: ‘Hannie Caulder’ | The Flickcast -- Topsy.com
    August 11, 2010 at 6:15 pm

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by The Flickcast and Elisabeth Rappe, Daniel Joseph Balvin. Daniel Joseph Balvin said: To the queue it goes. RT @ElisabethRappe: Every Western-hating chick might want to watch this Hannie Caulder: http://tinyurl.com/2anmxkd […]

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