Saturday, September 29, 2012

America's Funniest Home Invading Rapists: "Hannie Caulder" (1972)

The "rape revenge" story has been told many times in the past, but I doubt few films have ever portrayed it with comedic elements.

The villainous trio of Ernest Borgnine, Jack Elam, and Strother Martin can never seem to rob banks right. After another failed attempt, they happen upon Raquel Welch after they murder her husband in cold blood. After raping her, they leave her for dead, burning down her home. She escapes wearing just a blanket, and meets up with bounty hunter Robert Culp. He agrees to show her how to shoot, so she can exact her revenge. Her gunfighting technique is tested when she helps Culp fight off bandits while they are visiting Christopher Lee, a gunsmith who fashions Caulder a custom revolver. Eventually, Culp and Welch meet up with the three villains, and a lot of people die.

To highlight the good first, Robert Culp is such a natural actor, it is a shame he has had to resort to trash like the "Silent Night, Deadly Night" series as of late. His Thomas Price character is sympathetic and tough, without being another superhero cowboy who never gets hurt or never has a feeling. Christopher Lee is a revelation as the gunsmith Bailey. Taken out of his usual horror film, he shows he can really act without having to pop fangs in his mouth or wrap himself in toilet paper and limp after turn of the century archaeologists. His role is brief, but good. Burt Kennedy, a veteran Western director, knows his stuff. The gunfight at Lee's home is as well shot as any action sequence today, without relying on special effects or CGI. The obligatory romance between Welch and Culp is also handled very well, as they tentatively fall for each other.

The three brother rapists, played by the usually reliable Martin, Elam, and Borgnine, are written like they just stepped out of a Marx Brothers or Three Stooges movie. They spend most of their scenes either arguing like five year olds, or blowing innocent people away. As a viewer, you already hate them enough for their crimes without the screenwriter having to resort to weak "funny" scenes to show how awful they are. I was not sure if this was a drama, or a weak Western comedy along the lines of "Dirty Dingus Magee," especially when the soundtrack sometimes does the "funny music," accentuating the "funny" rapists' actions.

Poor Raquel Welch. She is gorgeous, but the director and writer did not have enough confidence in her to fully write a character for her. In her first few scenes, she does not have any dialogue! Most of her scenes involve a peek-a-boo game of showing various parts of her body without resorting to full nudity. Fine for a comedy, but I did not think we should be ogling a recent rape victim and widow.

The introduction of a mysterious man in black (no, not Johnny Cash) to help Caulder was probably supposed to bathe the film in an air of mysticism, but the stunt feels weak and half thought out. His presence is never explained, as if the writer wanted the viewer to draw their own conclusions. As Welch begins gunning for her prey, she keeps having flashbacks to her rape and hearing Culp's advice in her ears during the gunfights. The screenwriter hits us over the head with this over and over again, but decides we are smart enough to analyze a character who shows up for no other reason than to get Welch out of a jam. Poor judgment on the writer's part.

Due to the aforementioned positives, I do slightly recommend "Hannie Caulder," but do not watch this for a positive Western female role model. This is definitely a chauvinistic idea of a vengeful, beautiful female gunfighter. (* * *) out of five stars.