The Hook (1963)

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As the Korean War nears its end, Sgt. Briscoe (Kirk Douglas) and his men (Nick Adams and Robert Walker Jr.) save an enemy pilot (Enrique Magalona) from his fighter jet crash. They reluctantly take him along on the neutral fuel ship that’s transporting them and the jet fuel they’re tasked with bringing to headquarters. They’re forced to bunk with their prisoner, and then receive the order to execute him, which kicks off a battle of wills.

Directed by former playwright and actor George Seaton, this is a compelling drama and acting showcase with some big action scenes, especially during the opening bombing run. But it mainly unfolds in cramped, claustrophobic spaces like the cabin or the hold where one must crawl gingerly lest the leaky fuel canisters blow them all sky high. Suspense comes from the pressure of more than one countdown; Briscoe’s men must  execute their POW before they dock, later they resolve to help the POW escape in the night before Briscoe wakes up, and then, once the happy news comes that hostilities have ceased and war is over, the men race to find their unaware, escaped prisoner who’s gone on a suicidal plan to blow up the fuel and ship. Those “missions” and all the debate, action and character revelations that come with them, make for a tense psychological play that forwards the unsurprising morals that the enemy is human too, and so many battles are made of ambiguous goals and outcomes.

Walker made his screen debut here as the compassionate Private Dennison. His naivete gets one of the GIs killed, but Briscoe tries to comfort him with assurances that these deaths are random and nobody’s fault but the POW’s who did the shooting. Still, Dennison can’t relate to Briscoe’s battle-hardened pragmatism, tries to communicate with their POW and even learns his name, which of course makes Dennison even more reluctant to kill. Dennison refers to the military-issue Korean guidebook to argue his views about understanding and respect, but the older soldiers have no use for the flowery language of the Private’s booklet; they see it as a deceptive “tour brochure” that sells a pretty and fun side of the country that they’ve never seen among all the horrible bloodshed and bombing. Adams is great as the former Corporal who, due to boundless gratitude over a favour Briscoe once did him, goes along with all his orders. In the course of the growing tensions, Hackett struggles with his reluctance to obey and discovers his loyalty to Briscoe is based on a lie.

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Douglas is appropriately intense and uncompromising, seething with frustration and animosity, for the Korean who shot up his men, the soldiers who defy his orders, for the well-meaning ship captain (Nehemiah Persoff, in a good performance) he sees as a meddling peacenik, and this whole war that put them all in such impossible situations. “Any day a war ends is a nice day,” he says, and before it’s all over he finds out for himself, in the final moments facing the determined Korean opponent, that there is a time and place for a little more understanding.

The Hook is available from Warner Archive.

..and this post is part of the Kirk Douglas 100th Birthday Blogathon hosted by Karen at Shadows & Satin. Click here to read up on more Kirk movies! 

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15 thoughts on “The Hook (1963)”

    1. trust me my whole posts are written with banana fingers and I’m lucky if I catch all the typos before hitting ‘publish’ 🙂 (in fact publish seems to REVEAL them all!) anyway, yes interesting one, good acting by all and should add more praise for Magalona who says maybe a couple words but creates a decent character. Thanks!

  1. Long time since I’ve seen this one but if memory serves and your “take” as well, it would make a good opening for a double bill of Kirk Douglas features with Paths of Glory being the headliner.

    1. Yes it would, good pair of war-is-hell stories. Nice role for Kirk and good combo of actors for support. Especially liked Adams work here

    1. Certainly do, and when you had to wait or search for movies, it made them more special! Engrossing story and good acting, memorable for sure.

  2. Sounds like a lot of motive in this film, along with much food for thought. I like what you said about so many battles having ambiguous goals. Like Mike said in a previous comment, I bet this would make a great double-header with “Paths of Glory”.

    1. Very much a morals movie, even with the few big action scenes, it’s a small personal drama, feels like a play. Liked it.

      1. Looks like he had something of a slide after SPARTACUS… Or maybe just several films I’m not familiar with until we get to SEVEN DAYS IN MAY. (I did see THE LIST OF ADRIAN MESSENGER, but wasn’t too jazzed about that one.) I’ll seek out THE HOOK.

  3. I’m sorry to take so (ridiculously) long to read this — but it was worth the wait. It sounds interesting — and Douglas’s character sounds a bit like the uncle of his James McLeod in Detective Story: intense and uncompromising. I’d like to see Robert Walker, Jr., too — I don’t think I’ve never seen him in anything — and Nick Adams only in Picnic, Pillow Talk and Rebel Without a Cause, I think. Sounds like good stuff, all around. Thanks so much for participating in the blogathon, and for once again exposing me to a movie I’d never hear of before! 🙂

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