TROOPER HOOK 1957

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.

Back at the fort,the Colonel in charge orders Hook to  escort Cora back to her husband.image

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.)

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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.

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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.

imageJohn Dehner is Cora’s husband Fred whose first reaction is, “I just don’t know why you had to bring the boy with you.”  Cora makes herself clear, “He’s my child,Fred.I couldnt live without him.”

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.

18 responses »

  1. We all have different tastes and sadly,Vienna I cannot share
    your positive vibe for this film. As much as I admire the two
    leads and the exceptional supporting cast I am not a fan of
    this film. The problem for me is Warrens typical ham-fisted
    direction,the guy had no idea how to set up scenes in the studio.
    The location work is fine greatly aided by Ellsworth Fredericks
    excellent photography.A potential powerful scene where McCrea is
    confronted by the local rednecks,led by Sheb Wooley is totally blown
    by Warren. I have always felt had this film been directed by Jacques
    Tourneur we would have had at the very least,a minor classic.
    Its also sad that McCrea never worked with Tourneur again after
    WICHITA. The themes of a woman outcast by her own race,tempered
    with gossipy townfolks and racist locals would have been the sort of thing
    Tourneur would have had a field day with.
    Interestingly,Charles Marquis Warren at the same time as TROOPER
    HOOK made a filmed Playhouse 90 episode,along the same lines with
    many of the same people involved.Titled WITHOUT INCIDENT it also had
    a powerhouse cast:Errol Flynn,Ann Sheridan,John Ireland,Julie London
    while watching it I thought…….oh for a director!
    Its great that you are spotlighting these little known films Vienna,and I am
    sorry that out tastes collide this time around.

  2. It’s always a personal thing anyway,isn’t it.
    I’d love to have seen what Budd Boetticher or George Stevens would have done with this.
    I love the dialogue and don’t know how much of it came from Jack Shaefer’s story or scriptwriter, David Victor. It becomes a two-hander for Stanwyck and McCrea. They really shine.
    Without Incident has some cast.

  3. I think I’d give this movie an easier ride than John did, although I’d say you like it a bit more than I do.
    I feel Warren was competent enough and quite enjoyed CATTLE EMPIRE. This one has a wonderful cast, the two leads are always highly watchable and their presence alone adds a lot to the movie for me.

  4. I always remember the start of Cattle Empire when McCrea gets dragged through the street. Not what we expect for Joel McCrea!
    Funny how you can re-watch a film and like it much more. I feel that way about Trooper Hook. It’s not perfect – I can think of a few changes I would make, but Stanwyck and McCrea are just so good .

  5. Here’s another Barbara Stanwyck film I’ve never seen – and I call myself a fan! Can you believe it?

    The scene that you’ve detailed, between Stanwyck and Dehner discussing her son, sounds quite thought-provoking. I’m glad the filmmakers decided to treat this subject with respect.

  6. Vienna, I remember reading a previous blog review of this, though I’m not sure where (I thought it was Colin’s blog but looks as if I’m wrong there). It sounds like a very interesting film with its daring subject matter – hope to see it in the future as I try to catch up wtih more of Stanwyck’s films. Another great posting.

  7. There’s a great review of Trooper Hook by Jacqueline T Lynch at AnotherOldmovieBlog – fron 2011.
    I think you’ll like it. It deserves more attention.

  8. Wow! I simply must find this movie — what a cast! And what an intriguing, atypical story for a western. Awesome review — thanks so much for bringing this movie to my attention!

  9. Thanks for giving us the skinny on a lesser-known Stanwyck vehicle, which sounds like it deals with some really interesting issues. There’s a piece in a recent New York Review of Books about The Searchers and the historical story it’s based on. The real “Debbie” suffered horribly first at the hands of her captors and then at the hands of her community of origin. It’s good to hear about films—even those that don’t rise to greatness—that take on difficult material like this. You know Stanwyck and McCrea were thrilled with their parts and the chance to talk above the standard cliche level… good stuff!

  10. The theme of discrimination is certainly well developed in Trooper Hook. Stanwyck and McCrea must have known they were dealing with a strong script.

  11. I hope to catch up with this one soon since it comes with an intriguing premise that addresses ideas most Westerns didn’t like to discuss. Also, I love McCrea and Stanwyck together. They had a graceful, genuine chemistry in all their movies together and got along well offscreen. I’m very happy you decided to gift us with another fine review, especially on a film that’s been kept kind of under the radar. This blogathon wouldn’t have been the same without you.

  12. I know not everybody likes westerns, but the period of the 1950s has so many of my favorite films which just happen to be westerns. So I hope you see and enjoy Trooper Hook as much as I did.
    Your Blogathon has been a great tribute to the enduring memory of Barbara Stanwyck. I’ve realised there are so many of her films I have yet to see.

  13. Hi Vienna,

    Just catching up with my blogs and am so glad not to have missed your wonderful review of this intriguing western. I’ll definately be hunting this one down. 🙂

  14. Have loved this film from the first time I saw it. Believe it to be a low budget classic, for the best possible reasons. Script is superb, in many ways ahead of its time. Acting is excellent from all involved. Fully expect its stature to grow as others discover it.

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