Thursday, November 17, 2016

HANNIE CAULDER (1971) Olive Signature Edition (Blu-ray Review)

Olive Signature Edition

Label: Olive Films

Rating: R
Region Code: A
Duration: 85 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080P HD Widescreen (2.35:1) 
Director: Burt Kennedy
Cast:  Raquel Welch, Robert Culp, Ernest Borgnine, Strother Martin, Jack Elam, Diana Dors

Synopsis: Revenge is a loaded gun in director Burt Kennedy’s (The Train Robbers) Hannie Caulder. Raquel Welch (One Million Years B.C., 100 Rifles, and Myra Breckinridge) smolders as Hannie, a widow sworn to avenge her own brutal rape and husband’s murder at the hands of Emmett (Ernest Borgnine, The Wild Bunch), Frank (Jack Elam, Support Your Local Sheriff), and Rufus (Strother Martin, Cool Hand Luke), three of the most despicable scoundrels to have ever roamed the prairie. Eager for revenge, but lacking the gunfighter’s know-how, Hannie soon discovers new confidence and skill when bounty hunter Thomas Luther Price (Robert Culp, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice) teaches her the way of the gun. In no time, Hannie is strapping on her six shooter and setting out to put a few notches on its handle. Co-starring the legendary Christopher Lee (Horror of Dracula), playing against type as a sympathetic gunsmith who befriends her, Hannie Caulder hits its target from ten paces.

Hannie Caulder is a bit of a odd western entry, a British production filmed in Spain by the predominantly horror-driven Tigon studios, directed by an American, a western that is bloody and violent, touched with weird humor, and rooted in the arguably feminist rape-revenge sub genre. The movie stars Raquel Welch as the titular character, a woman driven to the end of her rope by the desperate acts of three despicable bank-robbers, the Clemens Brothers, played with inept villainy by a trio of familiar western character actors; Frank (Jack Elam, Once Upon a Time in the West), Rufus (Strother Martin, The Wildbunch) and the "brains" behind the trio, Emmett (Ernest Borgnine, Escape from New York). At the top f the movie the Clemens rob a bank, there's a brutal and very bloody gun fight, and this is one of the most bloody westerns I think I've ever watched, and that includes the Sergio Leone stuff, we have loads of bloodshed with massive amounts of the red-stuff pouring out of bodies. 

They make-off after the robbery looking to lay low but end up at the homestead of Hannie Caulder and her husband, the desperadoes gun him down, run a train on his poor wife (Welch) and set the house on fire, laughing maniacally as they ride off and leaving her for dead. The distraught Caulder roams the desert wilderness alone for a spell wearing only a poncho, making her way to a water well where she runs into a bespectacled and bearded bounty hunter named Thomas Price (Robert Culp, The Greatest American Hero)who steals the show as the soft-spoken gunslinger tasked with teaching Hannie how to handle a six-shooter, so she can seek revenge on the men who murdered her husband and raped her. He's reluctant to teach the woman to shoot a gun, particularly after she knocks him out cold upon their first encounter. 

Eventually he comes around and begins to train her in the way of the gun, the pair make their way to Mexico where Price enlists the help of a gunsmith named Bailey, played by horror-icon Christopher Lee (Horror of Dracula), in his only western film appearance. Bailey's home is located on the edge of the sea, we have a nice series of training montages as Hannie takes aim at target on the sea shore, later a group of Mexican bandits attack Bailey's home, the encounter enables Hannie to test her mettle and her new gun-skills, but she hesitates and nearly loses her life except for the assistance of Price, who afterward tells her she should abandon her quest for revenge, which she does not, of course, eventually tracking the bandits to a small town in Mexico.

Hannie Caulder is a fantastic watch, Welch is mesmerizing as the gorgeous revenger, which is a nice turn of the card for a Western, very few women were the focus of these films, and even fewer reaped any sort of decent revenge on the men who spoiled them, it was probably a novel idea at the time, when rape-revenge movies were a bit early in the cycle, too. Welch is not just a pretty face, she has some serious acting chops, conveying a complex array of emotions when called upon, but that she looks so damn fine in a poncho and hat, a very little else, doesn't hurt much either. The movie is a bit offbeat, combining a the feminist gunslinger angle with the ever-present male-gaze. While the rape is arguably more tastefully shot than most of the rape-revengers that would come, it happens mostly offscreen, the filmmakers cannot seem to pass up a chance to feature Welch's nicely shaped bottom framed in a pair of wet leather chaps, either, that along with the comical rapists makes for strange bedfellows. 

As much as I love Welch in the movie, and I do, it is TV actor Robert Culp however who stole the show, his bounty hunter is the epitome of dignified calm and cool, not someone who tosses off corny one-liners, he's a man with a purpose, a nice guy in a nasty line of business. As someone who grew up with Culp in the 80s on TV shows like The Greatest American Hero it was a revelation to see him in something so different, and he was awesome, I will definitely have to seek out more of his film work. 

The movie has two stories that converge, we have Hannie's story while she trains to be a gunslinger with Price, and we also follow the inept exploits of the Clemens Brothers, who are scoundrels but also a bit on the brainless side, offering some offbeat comic relief as they rob banks, at one point using way too much explosive and blowing up all the money in the safe, the teaming up of Elam, Martin and Borgnine is inspired, even if their onscreen menace is cut with an over abundance of Three Stooges type tomfoolery, which seems a strange choice for a rape-revenger.

The scenery looks real familiar, these westerns that were filmed in Spain used a lot of the same old dusty locations and sets, which I didn't mind, the arid vistas and dusty trails look great, and this is a nice looking western, perhaps not on par with some of the tastier Sergio Leone and Sergio Corbucci classics, but still and great looking movie with some nice panoramic lensing. This might not be an Italian spaghetti western but that is absolutely what they're aiming for, right down to the Sergio Leone esque main title credit sequence, though I wish the score by Ken Thorn was more up to the task, as it stands it has a few evocative pieces but perhaps I am just spoiled by the memory of the classic Morricone scores, by comparison this one is sort of weak. 

Audio/Video: Burt Kennedy's western rape-revenger Hannie Caulder arrives on Blu-ray from Olive Films as one of their newly launched Olive Signature editions presented in 2.35 scope aspect ratio in 1080p HD with a what is being called a new digital restoration. The source used for the digital restoration look very nice, with only the very faintest of wear and tear, the grain is nicely managed but does appear a bit thick at times, which  is not a negative in my opinion, this doesn't look like it's been put through any eyesore-degraining process, I like my westerns with some grit and grain and this Blu-ray delivers. As this was my first watch of the movie I have no basis for comparison but I found this to be a pleasant 1080p view, skin tones looked natural, the old west colors are a bit muted by design, but the oft seen swathes of blood are vivid and overall the image is nicely detailed and appropriately crisp without the aid of artificial sharpening tools. without actually knowing I think this is sourced from a print, and not the original camera negative, which might explain some of the thick grain in a few shots. 

The lone audio track on the disc is a DTS-HD MA Mono 2.0 option which sounds good, everything is nicely balanced and crisp, there's no audio distortion I could detect and the Ken Thorn (Superman II, III)score comes through with some nice buoyancy, optional English subtitles are provided.  

As part of the Olive Signature Series Olive have seen fit to offer up a nice selection of extras beginning with an audio commentary from Repo Man director Alex Cox who is a spaghetti western expert, it is a good listen with loads of information about the locations, the cast and crew and how the movie stacks up against other Westerns of the era.  

There are also a handful of interviews, including a 13-min interview with film scholar Ben Sher who speaks about the rape/revenge aspect of the movie, how it fits into the sub-genre, a 21-min interview with Sir Christopher Frayling on the history of Tigon Studios who produced the movie, and how this rape-revenge western is a bit of an odd duck for them. Lastly we have film critic Kim Morgan's essay "Sympathy for Lady Vengeance" in text-format on the disc and as part of the 8-page booklet which accompanies this release. As part of the Olive Signature series the disc comes in a clear Blu-ray case with a two-sided sleeve of artwork, a nice thick card stock slipcase and an 8-page booklet with movie stills and poster artwork, and of the artwork I really liked the attractive peach Melba toned scheme they chose for this release, it stands out in a good way on the shelf. 

Special Features:

- New High-Definition digital restoration
- Audio commentary by Western expert and director Alex Cox (Walker, Repo Man)
"Exploitation or Redemption?" - an examination of rape-revenge movies with film scholar Ben Sher (13 Mins)HD 
- "Win or Lose: Tigon Pictures and the Making of Hannie Caulder" - interview with Sir Christopher Frayling on the history of Tigon Studios (21 Mins) HD 
- "Sympathy For Lady Vengeance" - Essay by film critic Miriam Bale

I loved watching Hannie Caulder (1971), Raquel Welch is quite good as the revenge-driven main character who looks great in a poncho and wet leathers, the movie is also bolstered by a enigmatic turn from TV actor Robert Culp as the kind-hearted bounty hunter who aids her on her journey. The new release from Olive Films looks and sounds great, has some cool extras and is a worthy addition to your collection if you have a fondness for westerns with a rape-revenge bent.