After a second viewing of Trooper Hook,I’m beginning to rate this western highly,mainly due to the terrific performances of Barbara Stanwyck and Joel McCrea.
Barbara plays Cora Sutcliff who had been captured by Apaches and has a young son,Quito (Terry Lawrence) by the Indian chief,Nanchez (Rudolpho Acosto). Cora is rescued by an Army troop led by Sgt.Clovis Hook (McCrea) and Nanchez is captured.
There is also the start of the discrimination Cora will face. The Colonel’s wife (who has given Cora a dress) asks him what he would do if she were Cora. His instant reply is,”You’d have killed yourself before you let it happen to you.”.
Cora is given a room at the fort. She’s dressed in shabby clothes,mocassins and wearing a headband. She finds a mirror in the room and gazes at herself as if to say,is that me.She murmurs,”Cora?”
As Hook sets off with Cora and Quito, she has changed into trousers and a blouse, and the headband is gone. (She is carrying the dress given to her.)
At their first stop,a group of men led by Sheb Wooley wont let a store keeper give them food. Finally Cora,who until then has not spoken, finally comes to life as Wooley tries to get hold of Quito.
“Take your hands off my son,” she screams, “if one of you touches my boy,I’ll kill you!” She strikes out at Wooley before Hook steps in and knocks him down.
Now we know the strength of feeling Cora has for Quito. As they leave, Hook says,”Those are the first words I’ve heard out of you – mighty powerful sentiments.”
They board a stagecoach driven by a wild man,Mr Trude (a barely recognisable Royal Dano) whose only concern is his timetable.
On the journey,Hook asks Cora if Nanchez treated her right. She replies, “It was the squaws that made me wish I was dead. But they stopped when I became one of them – looked like them,smelled like them.”
At another stage stop, a hotel owner sees Quito and says the dining room’s full.
A young cowhand,Jeff Bennett (Earl Holliman) boards the coach and sleeps most of the way. At one point Cora says to Hook,”Why don’t you ask me when he put his hands on me,was it like any other man.” He replies that it is none of his business,but she wants to tell him, “I got used to being his squaw,it was just one of those things I had to learn and accept in order to survive.”
Hook is equally honest with Cora when he describes his time in the notorious Andersonville prison,and what he had to do in order to stay alive.
Thinking about her husband, Cora says he is good and kind,they were married for 9 years.
Suddenly we see the coach from a distant hill.Nanchez stands watching,his shackles broken. He has obviously escaped from the fort.
The next stop for a change of horses has Jeff leaving (after Hook pays his fare to Trude) Three new passengers come on board – Senora Sandoval (Celia Lovsky) and her granddaughter Consuela (Susan Kohner), and Charlie Travers (Edward Andrews), a bombastic businessman.
As the coach takes off, Jeff hears Nanchez has escaped and he rides after them to warn them.
After continually saying how good he is,Trude crashes the coach. Nanchez and his small band of men are nearby and Nanchez sends one of his men to talk to Hook who refuses to hand over the boy.Travers just wants to save his own neck and pleads with the Senora, “Isnt your granddaughter worth more than some half breed kid.”
They camp overnight and try to fix the stage. Travers offers Cora half of the money he is carrying and she tries to run away, “I’ll run till I drop.If Nanchez finds me, he’ll have to kill me before he takes my son.”
With Nanchez still nearby, Hook gets Jeff (who has stayed with them) to take Quito up to a rock where Nanchez can see them. He tells Jeff to hold a gun to Quito’s head. Then Hook,followed by Cora, goes out to where Nanchez is. We see Hook raising his arm as if signalling Jeff to shoot. Nanchez backs down and rides away.
At their destination, San Miguel,Hook hires a buckboard to take them out to Cora’s husband’s ranch. Cora has put on the dress the Colonel’s wife gave her and we see the admiration in Hook’s eyes.
He replies,”You expect me to live with him – what about other people. What do I tell them.You should have left him with his own kind.” Cora says quietly, “His own kind is me.”
Hook tries to talk to Fred, “The boy gave her a reason to live.”
As they are having a meal,Fred says,”I was ready to forgive you about the Indian.” Cora snaps, “Forgive me?”
Hook gets ready to go back to the fort and Cora says she is coming too,- “Without my son,I have no place here.”
Fred suddenly takes up a rifle and says, “I’m her husband. She belongs to me. You can take the boy but not her.”
The ending comes suddenly as Nanchez appears again and (very conveniently!) Fred and Nanchez kill each other.
Cora talks about going back East to relatives and Hook makes her an offer.
“I’m 47, nearly 30 of that in the army,makes a man rough. Got 4 months till the end of my last hitch.You could get a room in the settlement near the post.” Cora says, “What about your family.” (he had told her he had a wife and 2 daughters).
He explains, “A man gets defensive,everybody in the fort trying to marry him off. If you invent a family and stick to it,it makes it a lot easier for everybody.” Cora smiles, “I think I always knew.”
So a brighter future ahead – maybe.
This is a quiet and powerful film.Stanwyck and McCrea are well nigh perfect – Barbara as the woman whose only reason for living is her son. And McCrea as the tough soldier who has been through a horrific ordeal himself and isn’t going to judge anyone else. (He even suits the mustache he wears).
For the 50s, the detail when Cora and Hook describes their experiences is gritty and real. It’s a down beat story and I was grateful for the uplifting ending. You feel Cora and Hook deserve some happiness.