The Stoker (1932)
Director: Chester M. Franklin
Cast: Monte Blue, Dorothy Burgess, Noah Beery
Synopsis: A man whose wife has deserted him winds up saving a beautiful girl from the clutches of a murderous bandit on a Nicaraguan coffee plantation.
The Stoker is a rather pedestrian title for a snappy, fast paced action flick that barely stops to draw breath as it provides no-nonsense entertainment originally intended for an undemanding — but not necessarily uncritical — early-1930s audience. Monte Blue (Ride Ranger Ride, Casablanca) plays the title role, a wealthy businessman named Dick who suddenly finds himself down-and-out when his deceitful wife stabs him in the back over a corporate buy-out bid and then swans off with her lawyer. He makes an unusual hero to say the least, and never really convinces in the part, but the film doesn’t seem bothered by that — it just sprints along at its breakneck pace and expects him to keep up.
After a drunken brawl in a dockside bar, Dick accepts a job offer as a stoker on a passenger ship bound for South America. One of the passengers is a cute little foreign girl (Dorothy Burgess) who, during a visit to the bowels of the ship, accidentally causes Dick to be injured. She warms to him but, having been betrayed by one cute chick already, Dick is having none of it. On shore leave he gets involved in another brawl with Santini (Noah Beery), a rebel leader, and finds himself in prison. Offered an opportunity to get out of prison by working on a plantation, Dick accepts only to find it is owned by cute foreign chick and her father. Of course, it’s not long before Dick is falling under cute foreign chick’s spell (she keeps calling him Deek — how could he resist?) and all seems well until Santini reappears.
This being a pre-Hays code movie, the screenplay is a little more adult than it would have been had the film been made just a couple of years later. The girls in the South American bar where Dick has his second brawl are clearly prostitutes out to get the drunken sailors to part with as much money as possible. When Dick’s mate grabs one of them, Dick asks him ‘What you going’ to do, tango?’ ‘I guess that’s what you could call it,’ his grizzled friend replies with a wink. The film also contains possibly one of the earliest examples of the classic line ‘It’s quiet out there — too quiet,’ when Dick is heard to murmur, ‘I don’t like this quiet. There’s something up.’ (I wonder where that line originated, or whether, like ‘that’s the beauty of it. It doesn’t do anything!’ they are words that were never spoken in a movie…)
All in all, for a film made on the cheap, this is pretty good. It was never going to win any awards, and the acting is typical early-1930s standard, but it’s so entertaining in a completely undemanding way that you probably won’t care about that. The sound on the print I watched was out of synch by a good couple of seconds but even that didn’t spoil my enjoyment…
(Reviewed 24th September 2009)