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August 14, 2012

Hannie Caulder

by Franz Patrick


Hannie Caulder (1971)
★★★ / ★★★★

Three bank robbers (Ernest Borgnine, Strother Martin, Jack Elam), while on the run from the police, raped Hannie (Raquel Welch) and killed her husband. To add insult to injury, they burned her home before heading off to do more damage in the west. Homeless and wearing nothing but a poncho, Hannie came across a bounty hunter named Tom Price (Robert Culp). She asked him to teach her how to handle a gun so she could take revenge on the three stooges who ruined her life. Directed by Burt Kennedy, “Hannie Caulder” was no ordinary western because its central character was female. I enjoyed the movie because it was almost as though the filmmakers were aware of the conventions of the genre and they took slight jabs at the rules. The dialogue was smart when it needed to be. For example, Tom Price, a symbol for how men should be like in westerns, quiet, solemn, and in control, told Hannie that whatever was done to her was something she would forget over time. She insisted otherwise and explained why she wouldn’t simply forget. Hannie didn’t use phrases like “I was raped” or “They killed my husband,” but through her single-minded determination to reach some kind of justice. By allowing the characters to speak what was on their mind, the film became more than about a woman seeking bloody revenge. It became a discussion about the rules of femininity and masculinity, what was expected of the two spheres, and what happened when rules were thrown out the window. All women in the film wore appropriate clothing and were aware of their place in society. But it wasn’t meant to be insulting. Hannie was a shining example of an anomaly, but she didn’t get away with it. When she wore pants for the first time on screen, she had to submerge the pants in water so it would fit her. When walking around town, she was treated by men, even men of the law, like an embarrassment–like a child who wet herself. The film was unexpectedly comedic, too. The bank robbers, who also happened to be brothers, were complete imbeciles. I wondered how they’ve managed to evade the authorities when they were so incompetent. But that was half the fun. It didn’t have to be realistic. What mattered was they had no control over their id. Furthermore, there was a hint of romance between Hannie and Tom, reflected by their walk along the beach during sunset. They strengthened their bond when Tom trained Hannie how to aim a gun and, more importantly, consider what the enemy might be thinking in a life or death situation. It added dimension to the story; a life together was perhaps something our protagonist could look forward to after she had closed the chapter involving the three goons. “Hannie Caulder” was deceptively well-written. It worked as a statement piece and a piece of entertainment.

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