TROOPER HOOK, a surprisingly effective modest-budget western from 1957, marked by a thoughtful script and good characterizations, is also the last of six teamups of Barbara Stanwyck and Joel McCrea. *
After capturing a feared Apache leader, a veteran soldier is assigned to deliver one of the warrior’s long-time white captives back to her husband. Not only is her “shame” complicated by the racial animus of the day, she also has a young son by her captor. With prejudice from the whites already a factor, the journey ‘home’ is interrupted when the Apache escapes and comes after his boy.
Dismissed by critics at the time, forgotten today, it made enough to cover its outlay but the $2,000,000 gross placed it just 115th for the year. It was probably not helped by exploitative advertising cheapening it with blurbs like “A white squaw stolen from an Apache chief … now the massacre was on!”
Undeserved responses all round, as normally blah director Charles Marquis Warren does well by his cast, in fine form fleshing out the code-strapped people in a story conceived by Jack Schaefer, the author of “Shane”. The screenplay was written by David Victor, Martin Berkeley and Herbert Little Jr., with director Marquis pitching in as well. Desert location shooting was accomplished in Arizona and Utah. Gerald Fried gives it an interesting, low-key music score, though the intermittently occurring theme ballad sung by Tex Ritter has lyrics a mite too complex to easily follow. Trim running time of 81 minutes makes room for a good deal of cross-currents, hampered only by the too abrupt finale.
The cast is a winning hand, and their characters aren’t simple cutouts, each one given a welcome degree of dimension. During their stagecoach trip, the trooper and his charges interact with, among others, a genial cowhand (Earl Holliman, likable), the rip-snortin’ stage driver (Royal Dano, in rowdy makeup), a frantic businessman (Edward Andrews, going full-bore), the woman’s disgruntled husband (John Dehner, strong as ever) and of course, the Apache ‘Nanchez’ (Rodolfo Acosta, imperious).
Stanwyck’s ‘Cora Sutcliff’ is one of the actresses’ most guarded characters, doing most of her communication of the woman’s torn loyalties with flinty eyes and determined demeanor rather than language. Best of all is that cavalry sergeant ‘Clovis Hook’ is an admirable character, perfectly put across by McCrea. Along with his swan song in Ride The High Country, this is one of the oddly underrated actor’s finest westerner portraits.
With Susan Kohner, Stanley Adams, Terry Lawrence (the child ‘Quito’), Celia Lovsky, Sheb Wooley and Cyril Delevanti.
* Stanwyck and McCrea: Gambling Lady, Banjo On My Knee, Internes Can’t Take Money, Union Pacific and The Great Man’s Lady. By the time this came out, her star status was fading and she ceded top billing to McCrea, who since the mid-40s had decided to focus almost exclusively on the genre (four in ’57 alone). Stanwyck showed saddle savvy nine times, six of those in the 50’s. She later took her skill with the genre onto TV in four seasons of The Big Valley.
Charles Marquis Warren directed 17 movies,Trooper Hook the best. The others ranged from OK (Seven Angry Men, Little Big Horn) to terrible (Charro!), but he had considerably better luck producing TV series Gunsmoke, Rawhide and The Virginian.