“Iconic imagery, but not really too convincing a heroine. “
If genre entries produced in Italy are “spaghetti Westerns”, what does that make those produced in Britain? “Fish and chip Westerns?” “Roast beef Westerns?” Shot in Spain, but made by Tigon Film, and including such quintessential Brits as Christopher Lee and Diana Dors in supporting roles, this is nicely-photographed and hits all the right notes. But as the titular character, who seeks revenge after her husband is gunned down, and she herself raped, by the Clemens brothers, Welch perhaps has too much cinematic baggage. While responsible for one of the all-time absolute classic images of the genre, it’s an association which leaves the viewer struggling to look at the heroine without seeing fur bikinis or even Fathom, rather than a widow, hellbent on and dedicated to vengeance with an almost psychotic obsession and lack of self-concern.
Still, there is plenty to enjoy, not least Culp as the bounty hunter who, reluctantly, agrees to take Caulder under his wing, largely realizing that she’s going to get herself killed otherwise. He delivers exactly the right air of world-weary wisdom, and Hannie’s training is covered in enough depth, and with enough bumps in the road, to be credible. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of the Clemens (Borgnine, Martin and Jack Elam): for some reason, they are portrayed almost as comedic jesters or harmless buffoons, characters in great contrast to the vicious rapists and killers we first see. It’s an odd combination, that doesn’t work. Much better used is Lee, as a gunsmith who has retired to Mexico to raise rug-rats, and it’s there Caulder’s mettle is first tested.
I did suspect that she wouldn’t be able to complete her mission without significant male help – this was made in 1971, after all. I was somewhat right, but only somewhat. The ending is both fairly satisfying, in that it avoids the obvious get-out in this direction, but also unsatisfying, in that it merely replaces it with a different one, which is likely too much of a deus ex machina to be acceptable. However, there’s no denying Welch’s credentials as a screen icon, and if this could never be called a classic of the genre, there’s enough here that does work, to make this more than an acceptable entry in the field. Even if one which, thanks to its Anglo origins, perhaps would be best accompanied by a nice cup of tea.
Dir: Burt Kennedy
Star: Raquel Welch, Robert Culp, Ernest Borgnine, Strother Martin