Hannie Get Your Gun: Old Western Helps Western World Blow Off Steam

Hannie Caulder

Well, it happened: 304 Electoral College votes went to Trump, two less than the sum he earned but too many to deflect his win, and he’s set to be inaugurated as the 45th president this month. As concerns of Roe v. Wade being overturned, Russian hacking being permitted, and the most qualified candidate (a woman) losing the highest office to the least qualified candidate (a man) sink in, citizens may want to check out an old western to vicariously release their frustrations.

Almost on cue, Olive Signature Films has released a new High-Def digital restoration of Burt Kennedy’s 1971 cult western “Hannie Caulder” featuring Raquel Welch in the title role. As a frontierswoman back in the 1800s, supposedly when America was great, Hannie expects a life of liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Her prospects look good since she’s married to an entrepreneur who owns and operates a horse station in an isolated area between towns.

But fate rears its ugly head when a band of bank robbers (played by Ernest Borgnine, Strother Martin and Jack Elam) ride in, murder her husband, rape her and burn down the business before heading out. Refusing to give in and be a victim, Hannie rises up and moves on in an innovative and fashion-forward poncho. En route, she encounters a skilled and empathetic bounty hunter (Robert Culp) who, with his mentor (Christopher Lee), teaches her how to use a gun so she can hunt down the bandits.

If the screenplay by Z.X. Jones (based on a story by Peter Cooper and characters by Ian Quicke and Bob Richards) sounds familiar, it’s because the film was remade and released in 2016 under the title “Jane Got a Gun” starring Natalie Portman. It also was the inspiration behind Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” films of 2003 and 2004.

Yet during the early 1970s, it was rare to see a female lead who was beautiful, good and badass—especially at the helm of a traditionally male genre such as the western. It was equally unusual for the heroine to be played by a voluptuous actress with what were then considered exotic features. Except for 1950s and 1960s romantic comedies starring Sophia Loren, Gina Lollobrigida or Annette Funicello, curvaceous brunettes were typically resigned to femme fatale roles. But Welch helped break this cinematic image.

Vastly underrated for her contribution to pop culture, Welch wasn’t just a sex icon of the 1960s and 1970s, she was an empowering figure to women in the same way Clint Eastwood was to men via his spaghetti westerns and “Dirty Harry” movies of that time. Even though the R-rated “Hannie Caulder” is by no means a great film, it’s heartening to see a female take on a role traditionally dominated by men. Nearly half a century later, Capitol Hill can watch and take notes.

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Ms. Arvia is a freelance writer, former filmmaker, artist and Janet-of-all-trades who is pleased to contribute to our magazine since she’s always been Rebellious.

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