After spending a few years making insipid pictures that promised (and delivered) little more than ogling shots of her bikini-clad body, Raquel Welch decided to prove she could act by tackling more serious roles beginning with Hannie Caulder, a nasty little Western made by Tigon British Film Productions on location in Spain. Shortly a trio of slovenly brothers (played by Ernest Borgnine, Jack Elam, and Strother Martin) botch a bank robbery and escape into a desert, they stumble across a small ranch owned by the title character and her husband. The brothers kill the husband, gang-rape Hannie, and leave her for dead. In one of the movie’s many overly convenient plot contrivances, conscientious bounty hunter Thomas Price (Robert Culp) happens upon the ranch soon afterward, then agrees to teach Hannie about guns so she can track down and murder her assailants. Predictably, they fall in love while she trains, and just as predictably, circumstances ensure that Hannie must confront the brothers without Thomas by her side. Excepting an interlude during which Hannie and Thomas hang out with a philosophical gunsmith (played by Christopher Lee), that’s more or less the extent of the story.
Thanks to the considerable skills of director/co-writer Burt Kennedy, the picture moves along at a good clip, frequently exploding with bursts of brutality, and the film looks terrific. Yet the story is trite and even periodically nonsensical; virtually no explanation is provided for a shootout at the gunsmith’s home or for the presence of a mysterious gunfighter played, silently, by Stephen Boyd. This narrative opacity makes the movie seem more and more vapid as it speeds toward an insipid climax. Unsurprisingly, the picture’s biggest shortcoming is also its biggest attraction, and that’s Welch. Her performance comprises posing rather than acting, so she’s never more than a beautiful physical presence. That said, Borgnine, Elam, and Martin are enjoyably repulsive as they bicker and whine their way across the frontier, and Culp is terrific as the bounty hunter. Calm, prickly, and wise, his characterization commands the screen, so Hannie Caulder rises when he’s present and wanes when he’s not.
Hannie Caulder: FUNKY