Hannie Caulder (1972)

This is a big one from 1972. Strother is fourth billed, ahead of Christopher Lee even. The reason for this is pretty obvious, the three brothers are the villains of the piece and Jay was one of the many prairie scum he was known to play.  I’ve picked this film to do next for two somewhat interesting reasons.  First of all, it is a movie that I own on Laserdisc, and having recently reorganized all my discs to ease access to and be able to display, this came up and it was a great letterboxed title. The second reason I am taking care of this one now is that I am participating in a blog challenge that is hosted by my online colleague MovieRob.  Rob may be the most prolific film blogger I know. He posts two or three reviews on a daily basis. He has a monthly series he calls “Genre Grandeur”, this month’s genre is Revenge films, and Hannie Caulder fits squarely into that category.

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Ernest Borgnine, Jack Elam and Strother Martin are the Clemmons Brothers, a notorious trio of cutthroat slime who are also fairly inept. After a botched robbery where they leave behind a lot of bodies but escape with no money, after a long posse chase they need fresh horses. They kill the proprietor of a way station and before they make good with the theft of his horses, they discover his wife in the adobe house at the location and proceed to brutalize her in savage fashion.

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I don’t think anyone would take the subject of rape lightly, but one of the things that marks this film as a product of it’s time is the cavalier attitude of the three, as if they are having a sex romp rather than beating and violating an innocent woman. There are some lines spoken by the criminals later in the story, that reflect their bemused memory of the encounter they have with the victim. Raquel Welch plays Hannie and she was at the height of her popularity as an actress and a sex symbol at the time this movie was made. The marketing of the film made it abundantly clear that she would be on screen for much of the time with nothing but a poncho to cover herself up with.

That is the set up for the revenge plot, we want her to get back at these sons of bitches in the worst way possible. Hannie is left naked and alone with her dead husband and a burning house. How will she ever be able to be in a position to do anything to get some justice.  Well remember, it is a traveling way station she was at, and along comes a man who need to feed and rest his horse. Hannie is suspicious, after what she just went through who could blame her. It turns out that the man is somewhat sympathetic but really does not want to be involved. His name is Thomas Luther Price and it turns out that he is a bounty hunter of some renown. Price is played by Robert Culp, a familiar face from television and movies from the 60s on. He would co-star with Strother again in the 1976 Western Comedy,” the Great Scout and Cathouse Thursday. ”

He wants nothing to do with Hannie, but of course her determination and the circumstances eventually force him to relent and agree to help her prepare for seeking revenge on the three outlaws. The movie then takes some very traditional turns at filling in the second act. Those moments however are often entertaining although not always clear. Hannie sees Price collect the bounty on a wanted man that he guns down. Price uses part of the bounty to pay to bury the dead man in an appropriate manner, this marks him as something of an honorable man. She decides to emulate his behavior for the rest of the film. raquel-welch-and-robert-culp-in-jakten-p-br-derna-clemens-1971-large-picture

He decides that they need to visit a friend of his who is a gunsmith down in Mexico. The idea here is that she will have a weapon made for her that is light enough for her to handle. He will have time to condition her and train her in the techniques that he uses. The gunsmith is located on a beautiful stretch of beach at a two story hacienda, just right for some sunsets with kids and dogs on the beach. Christopher Lee is the gunsmith who builds her the weapon while sharing back story and creating a closer relationship between Thomas and Hannie. [This is apparently the only Western that Chistopher Lee ever appeared in.]Lee

For no particular reason, a bandito and his army arrive while our heroes are at this idyllic location. Bailey, Lee’s character does not want to do business with the group and a confrontation takes place. This allows Culp and Lee to show off some western action skills and it gives Welch an initiation into the process of killing a man with her own hands. Prices instructions will echo back to her in the climax of the film. Another character is introduced as well, a silent apparent competitor to Price, who also needs some gun work and appears to be more intimidating to the gunsmith than the band of outlaws.

While Hannie and Price are getting ready in Mexico. the Clemens brothers are having their own travails. The three characters play like a sick version of the three Stooges. Borgnine is Emmett, the Moe like older brother with a seething temhanniecaulder6per and what little brains there are between the three of them.

Jack Elam is Frank,  the middle brother who delights in abusing the needy youngest, Rufus, played by our subject of this blog, Strother “Jay” Martin. In a failed stage robbery, Frank gets shot in the leg and the three bicker about who is at fault and whether or not their deceased father would allow the two older siblings to disabuse Rufus so mercilessly. They also continue to run from the law and seek opportunities to steal from whoever.

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Eventually the brothers ride into the same town as Price and Hannie, there is an incident that ends up leaving Hannie on her own and she proceeds to run through the revenge plot with a vengeance [tautology intended.].  Frank gets his with his pants down and that leaves Emmett infuriated. As he and Rufus are burying their brother, the following dialogue takes place:

Rufus Clements: I stole a Bible, Em. Do you want to read over Frank?

Emmett Clements: You know damn right well I can’t read! The hell with him anyway!

Rufus Clements: You shouldn’t have done that, Em. You’re gonna get God mad at us and he’s liable to…

Emmett Clements: Shut your damn mouth!

Rufus Clements: Well, I want to say something over Frank!

Emmett Clements: Well, say it and get it the hell over with!

Rufus Clements: All right… Frank… you’re dead! God… damn if I don’t miss you already, you miserable bastard!

The film is a pretty serious drama but you can see that there are strong comic elements being added here to make being in the presence of these horrible men more tolerable. Strother specialized in these ineffectual men who have power or the illusion of power but are really weak in the end. His twangy voice and whiny tone tell us that he is a frustrated man. He and Ernest Borgnine starred in “The Wild Bunch” just a couple of years before. They had no scenes together in that movie except for the gunfight at the beginning. Strother’s character in that movie is only slightly less comic but definitely equally degenerate. Borgnine is the one who has to reverses the kind of character he is playing. He is still a hard guy, but not an effective one as Emmett Clemen.

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There is a great shot earlier in the film which is shown from Rufus’s point of view. When the brothers are holding up the bank at the start of the movie, we see the perspective from inside of the barrels of the shotgun that Rufus carries.

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The director of this movie was Burt Kennedy, a veteran of Westerns in movies and television. He directed the comedy Westerns “Support Your Local Sheriff” and “Support Your Local Gunfighter” with James Garner as the lead. So he knew how to get the humor into a story but he was also a stylish film maker who brought something extra to the movies he was in charge of. He almost certainly contributed these odd comic moments to the script which had several others credited as well.

As Hannie starts to take her revenge on the brothers, there are moments from the past that come back to haunt her. The voice of her mentor reminds her where to look during a gunfight and how to be certain that the man she is shooting is dead. She also engages in some repartee with her victims, again with the comic in mind.

Rufus Clements: Just drop the damn bottle.

Hannie Caulder: with her back turned to Rufus. Hello Rufus.

Rufus Clements: I heard you got real smart since we saw you last.

Hannie Caulder: Funny, I didn’t hear the same thing about you.

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I doubt that it is much of a spoiler to say that Hannie gets her revenge in the end. A story like this would be most unsatisfying if there was no catharsis. Raquel Welch may never be seen as the consummate quick draw artist, but she looks great slinging her gun and standing in the tight pants and poncho that she sports for most of the running time of the film.

One of the odd things about the movie is that it has a feminist sensibility while all the while exploiting the sexual elements of the leading lady. There is a gratuitous scene that does a little titillating and is not essential to the plot, but because there is no actual nudity, the audience has to be given something to satisfy their voyeuristic  desires. When Price and Hannie first get to town, he grabs a pair of pants for her at the local emporium. They are much too large, but as children of the 60s knew, before pre-shrunk jeans were a thing, nothing helped the fit as much as soaking in the bath to let your trousers fit you. So here is that moment from this film.

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You may all thank me now.

This is a solid movie with a traditional revenge theme, but it inserts a woman in the role of avenging angel and it takes place in the old west. If you like this idea and this movie, let me recommend  “The Quick and the Dead” to you. That Sharon Stone western is actually a better film, but it does not have Strother Martin, Jack Elam and Ernest Borgnine. Instead it features  Gene Hackman, Russel Crowe and a supporting cast of equally vile criminals. They had a lot they were trying to make up for.

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The Great Scout and Cathouse Thursday

This is one of the films on my list that I never saw in a theater. I can’t explain how that happened at all, this movie has Lee Marvin, Oliver Reed and Robert Culp as the stars. They are all actors I have enjoyed over the years. What it must have been like on the set with Marvin and Reed together. These two never found the bottom of a bottle. What is especially odd though is that Strother Martin is in it and he has a pretty good part. I must have been involved in something to miss an opportunity like this. You know what, this came out in the bicentennial year and my family was on the road for a month that summer. We went back to Battle Creek, driving across the country. I got to drive a lot because I had my license and my Dad needed to be spelled. I know we listened to Queen “A night at the Opera” and The Blue Oyster Cult on eight track most of the way. Dee and I had just gotten serious about seeing each other and before we left on the trip her mother had passed away and we took my Dad’s new car up to the funeral in Bakersfield. It was also an election year and I watched both of the conventions while we were traveling. I remember the speech that President Ford gave and all the hoopla about Reagan maybe being on the ticket with him. We were also on our way to Atlantic City where the Ice Capades was getting their tour ready for the road. We had built several props for the show and Dad was going back as a technical adviser. Dorothy Hamill had just joined the show after her star turn at the winter Olympics and we got a chance to meet her. So, I guess I was a little distracted.

The movie is a comedy with several broad strokes that might be a problem these days. There is not only a white guy playing an Indian, but he is also an English actor to boot. Rape and the clap are the basis of several big punch lines in the movie, and women get popped in the face in a couple of scenes. It was not as crude at the time as it actually plays now. That is a little backwards I suppose, but the problem was not language or nudity or violence, but the way that some of those things were portrayed. If you did not know, “Cathouse Thursday” is the name of the lead female charater played by Kay Lenz, and she is basically trapped in what was euphemistically referred to as White Slavery. She gets the nickname when our drunken Indian (played by a drunken Englishman) steals her and several other girls, he is planning on using them like underwear with the day of the week on it. You can get a good sense of the humor from that set up.

For the first hour, the movie is all over the place. Things happen for no reason, people are connected without really understanding how and there just seems to be a lot of chasing slapstick. It feels like they are stretching to make incidents funny intead of letting them grow out of the characters or the plot. Once we get to the main confrontation between Lee Marvin, Oliver Reed and their former partner played by Robert Culp, things make a little more sense. The movie is set in a very interesting time and place, it is a western but one that takes place after the myths of the west are settling into place. The election of 1908 is in the background and there is a funny campaign song that gets sung by our heroes. They support Taft because they always voted Republican. When it turns out that their traitorous partner is using the Taft campaign as a way to connive his way into office and promote a big prize fight, they start seeing the advantages of William Jennings Bryan.

As I said before, there are a lot of slapstick chases and crude jokes about Indians and their ways. The movie has some charm but it feels like a mess. The clearest part of the story is in the last half hour, but I’m not sure you will sit still and wait for it. There are a number of very clever gags in the film. Strother gets a terrific introduction in a bar scene where he and Lee Marvin turn out to be flimflamming the locals using a rattlesnake. Later there is a bit with a jar full of hornets. Jay plays dirty old man for most of the middle part of the movie, but the characters all yo-yo between wanting revenge and wanting to do right by the girl they end up traveling with.

The poster tag line may have been too prophetic for this movie. I did not choose to leave them out on purpose, but the movie is pretty forgettable.

[Originally published on Kirkham A Movie A Day, June 26, 2010 ]