Each Monday, I continue to share Western movie reviews. I have now launched a podcast about the making of Westerns and the overall filmmaking process. Click here to listen.
Week 178: Trooper Hook (1957)
My study of director Charles Marquis Warren’s Western work begins with this Joel McCrea collaboration.
If Warren’s Arrowhead is a cringe-worth, embarrassing depiction of Native Americans in the Old West, then Trooper Hook might be the director’s antidote. Whereas the former film at almost every step of the way demeans its Native characters, this narrative turns the finger towards the prejudiced pioneers. Warren explores some interesting ideas here that are often skimmed over in other Westerns: how a white woman might feel after years of captivity by a tribe, her feelings towards her mixed offspring, the reaction her husband might have upon her return (the “Forgive me?” moment in particular is memorable). Thankfully, these concepts are anchored by two strong and subtle performances from McCrea (channeling John Wayne a little here) and Barbara Stanwyck.
However, the film is not without its flaws which ultimately prevent it from reaching greatness. When Stanwyck describes the initial persecution she received at the hands of the Native women saying, “They stopped when I became one of them. Looked like them. Smelled like them,” it raises one of my biggest complaints about the picture, that she never looked or smelled like them. When the actress is first shown, found by the cavalry, she appears like an ordinary white women with a few Native garments. She doesn’t look like she’s lived more than a day on the frontier. In fact, Barbara’s appearance barely changes throughout the picture and it’s a major flaw in Warren’s execution of the material. Another mistake is the theme song, which sounds nice at first, but interrupts the tension of the story as it continues on throughout the picture, spelling out what we can clearly see on screen. I love old Western theme songs but this should have been used only at the beginning and end of the film.
Some great moments, especially a suspenseful stand-off between the Native leader and McCrea’s group, make the film worth seeing but they’re sadly undermined by poorly drawn supporting characters and a ham-handed ending. This is the kind of Western that could be remade and improved upon.
Watched on YouTube