Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.
Released on March 24, 1950
Directed by Irving Pichel
Written by Robert Smith
Cast: Mickey Rooney, Jeanne Cagney, Barbara Bates, Peter Lorre, Taylor Holmes, Art Smith, Walley Cassell, Richard Lane, Jimmy Dodd, Minerva Urecal, Jack Elam, Ray Teal, Irving Pichel (voice), Red Nichols and His Five Pennies
In the aptly-titled Quicksand, Mickey Rooney leaves the safety and sunshine of the Andy Hardy series by the wayside and enters the dark world of film noir, where he soon finds himself trapped in a downward spiral of blackmail, kidnapping, robbery, murder, and of course, a no-good double-crossing dame. This little-known budget crime drama goes against the odds and really delivers some quality goods; if you’ve ever wanted to see a guy make every wrong decision in the book, and do so at an alarming rate, then you’ve come to the right place with this one, which scores an impressive 9 out of 10 on my Ten Rules of Film Noir scale.
Rooney stars as Dan Brady, a clean-cut auto mechanic working hard to make a buck, who quickly discovers that picking up hot blondes in diners is not the smartest thing for a guy to do, especially if you’re short on cash and your date is hungry for a mink coat. Eager for their night out, he borrows twenty dollars from the automotive shop’s cash register, intending to pay it back the next day…but things go south from there, and he sinks deeper and deeper into debt, and trouble. When he resorts to robbing a drunk in front of witnesses, the police become involved, and then Peter Lorre’s shifty penny arcade owner wanders into the mix, demanding payment from Rooney in exchange for his silence.
And from there, he sinks even deeper into the muck, and in typical noir fashion he soon finds himself trapped, unable to escape. And through it all you keep waiting—and hoping—for this dope to just stop, and turn himself in, but circumstance and stupidity are constantly working against him. And for me, that’s what made Quicksand so much fun, and such a draw as a noir film: watching one man stumble hopelessly into situations that were well over his head and beyond his grasp, and how every single move he made ended up being for the worse, creating a domino effect that ruined him at every turn.
The film’s director, Irving Pichel was no stranger to noir, having helmed They Won’t Believe Me a few years earlier; though I can’t say his camerawork was all that noir-influenced, the desperate atmosphere and sense of doom he created for the story definitely were, and his nighttime location work at the Ocean Park Pier amusement park in Santa Monica was a big plus. Robert Smith, who wrote the screenplay, contributed some sharp touches as well; I’d assumed this was his first go-around with the style, but I discovered he’d already penned some excellent noir films in the recent past, including 99 River Street, Sudden Fear, and I Walk Alone.
This is what I love about noir films, and why I’m such fan: no matter if they’re top of the line or low-end, they always have something to offer that will hold my interest, whether it be tough acting, cool dialogue, slick visuals, or bygone locations. Here, it was seeing Rooney in something besides a lighthearted comedy or romance, and handling it quite well; you also had some nice, oily work from Lorre in a small but important role, and James Cagney’s sister as the femme fatale who sinks her teeth into Rooney’s hero chump. This was a fast, efficient noir that pulled no punches, and offered this valuable life lesson: never dump the pretty girl-next-door who loves you for the seductive tramp with dollar signs in her eyes, and danger in her heart. (7/10)