One might not expect a hard-hitting working-class crime drama starring itty bitty Mickey Rooney, but he was a versatile actor, & an exceedingly big star in his day, with quality production backing him.
True film noir was a B area of filmmaking, not much interfered with by studios since not much money was on the line. When there was studio interference, such heady cynicism rarely made its way into an "A" film. Whatever failings Quicksand (1950) may possess are the result of too much studio attention. We have moralism instead of cynicism, & a happy ending that strains for credibility.
Right off the bat Quicksand had my attention when in the opening lunch counter scene I saw Jimmie Dodd in a tiny support role, & how often do you see the master of ceremonies from The Mickey Mouse Club in an actual feature film?
Our present Mickey plays Dan, an auto mechanic & freewheeling lady's man who has just scored a date with the gorgeous new waitress, Vera (Jeanne Cagney, the sister of James Cagney). If he's to impress her, he has to come up with twenty bucks fast, since he's flat broke between paydays.
A guy who owes him twenty can pay the next day, but that's one day too late. To cover his date with the blonde he "borrows" some money from his penny-pinching boss's till at the garage, convincing himself he'll be able to put it back before anyone knows it's missing.
It's hard to feel sorry for this dumb sod. The direction of the story is terribly obvious as is the meaning of "quicksand" when Dan finds his petty crime leads him by stages to the brink of murder.
For the story to work requires Dan to be both stupid & amoral. He has broken it off with a decent girl, Helen (Barbara Bates) who would die for him, & turns to petty crime merely to impress another girl whose selfish nature is so undisguised that she doesn't even qualify as a femme fatale, but only the foolish choice of a fool.
To replace the money in the till he hawks a hundred dollar watch which isn't really his & gets caught. To pay for the watch he rolls a drunk with a pocket full of fifty dollar bills which gets him blackmailed by local small-time crook Nick Dramoshag (wonderfully played by Peter Lorre), who corners him into stealing a car from his boss. His boss claiming a witness saw him do it gives Dan until the next morning to come up with three thousand dollars for the stolen car, or be lugged off to prison. And so on.
Vera has had a past relationship with gangsterish Nick & would probably still be with him if he hadn't been reluctant to spring for the price of a mink coat, on which she has set her sights with singleminded desire. Vera's a tough gal who expects to cash in on her beauty. Her undisguised self-interest is honest in its own way, so she's kind of likeable, skirting the bad-girl thing with an edgy pride in her own badness.
When she tells Dan where in the penny arcade Nick has hidden a wad of illegally gotten cash that he wouldn't dare go to the police about, Dan breaks in that very night.
He & his crooked gal decide to split the money fifty-fifty, but when it takes more than half to get herself that mink, she spends some of Nick's cut. Her philosophy is he should be happy to have anything at all since it was her plan got them the money in the first place. But if he doesn't have a full $3,000 he might as well have nothing, as his boss will have him put him in jail for grand theft auto.
Only when he's in too deep to turn it all around does he realize what a dope he has been. His old girlfriend tracks him down & knowing he's in the deepest kaka of his life is lovingly eager to help him in any way she can, will even make a run for Mexico with him if he wants.
Certain that he's committed murder & needing a car to get out of town, Dan kidnaps a guy with a cool car, making him drive Helen & himself out of town at point of a gun. Their kidnap victim is an attorney who starts fast-talking for his own life. He eventually convinces Dan to make a choice that will protect his girl rather than himself.
A wholehearted film noir would've left this guy dead in the streets, paying the ultimate price for his ignorantly escalating crime spree. But "A" films that only resemble film noirs need happier endings, & Quicksand pulls one straight out out of its ass. The dumbest dumb bastard on earth turns out also to be the luckiest.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl