A century before Beatrix Kiddo killed Bill and The Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, there was Hannie Caulder.
Hannie Caulder (played by Raquel Welch) lives at a horse station on the Texas/Mexico border. When the outlaw Clemmons brothers — Emmett (Ernest Borgnine), Frank (Jack Elam), and Rufus (Strother Martin) — arrive at the station following a disastrous bank robbery, they brutally murder her husband and take turns raping her. After setting the station on fire, the Clemmons Brothers leave Hannie for dead.
What they do not realize is that Hannie has managed to crawl out of the burning building. The next day, when a bounty hunter named Thomas Luther Price (Robert Culp) approached the burned out remains of the station, Hannie begs him to teach her how to shoot a gun.
“If I taught you the gun,” Tom says, “you’d go out and get your ass shot off!”
“It’s my ass!” Hannie replies.
“It’s a shame to get it shot full of holes,” Tom says, “It’s as pretty a one as I’ve ever seen.”
Tom refuses to teacher her how to handle a gun but he does allow her to ride with him. Before she mounts Tom’s second horse, Hannie sees that there is a body lying across the saddle. “I hope you don’t mind riding with a dead man,” Tom says.
After Tom realizes that she was raped, he agrees to her how to shoot. But first, he takes her into Mexico to meet a former Confederate gunsmith named Bailey so that Bailey can make her a gun. Bailey is played by Christopher Lee. In a career that spanned 70 years, Hannie Caulder was the only Western that Christopher Lee ever appeared in. At first, it’s strange to see Christopher Lee in a Western, using his Winchester rifle to gun down a group of bandits who threaten his family. But Lee is a natural and eventually, you stop seeing him as Dracula in a western and you just see him as Bailey.
As Bailey and Tom watch Hannie practice her shooting, Bailey says, “Fine-looking woman.”
“She wants to be a man,” Tom responds.
Bailey nods. “She’ll never make it.”
As an actress, Raquel Welch was often miscast in roles that were only meant to highlight her looks. She was always at her best when she played tough characters who were not afraid to fight and Hannie is one of her toughest. While the film certainly takes advantage of her appearance (she spends a good deal of it wearing nothing but a poncho), Welch also gives one of her best performances. Even with Culp, Borgnine, Elam, and Martin acting up a storm, she more than holds her own. She not only looks good with a gun but she knows how to use it too.
Though the film was obviously influenced by the violent Spaghetti westerns that were coming out of Italy at the time, Hannie Caulder was directed by Hollywood veteran Burt Kennedy. Kennedy was best known for comedic westerns like Support Your Local Sheriff and Hannie Caulder awkwardly mixes drama with comedy. Scenes of the Clemmons Brothers bickering and grizzled old west types doing a double take whenever Hannie walks by are mixed with Peckinpah-style violence and flashbacks of Hannie being raped. If the film had a director more suited to the material, it could have been a classic but under Kennedy’s direction, the end result is uneven but always watchable.