Quicksand Review

If you’re dying to see what a darkish film with Mickey Rooney, James Cagney’s sister and Peter Lorre might be like, here’s a watchable effort from Glass Key.

Andy Hardy finds love, larceny…and murder?

Stuck with the inevitable end to his onscreen childhood, Mickey Rooney returned to the movies after World War II with a few darker efforts. Probably the bleakest of these, Quicksand has the distinction of placing Rooney with James Cagney’s sister Jeanne and a past his prime Peter Lorre. The film is well-made, fairly tight, but lacking any suspense. Director Irving Pichel navigates the plot, about mechanic Rooney’s downward spiral after snagging a $20 bill from the company cash register, ably enough without any unnecessary detours. A silly, upbeat ending and Rooney’s typically artificial acting tend to hinder what could’ve been a better picture with a tweak here and there.

The strength of Quicksand is in taking a basic, very noirish premise of a regular and not terribly bright working class stiff who meets a blonde and has his life increasingly unravel. Vera’s the type of gal who wants a $2,000 mink coat and tells us she’ll do whatever it takes to get it. Cagney plays her so that the viewer knows she shouldn’t be trusted but can’t be sure just how low the bottom goes. It’s to impress Vera and take her out for a night on the town that Rooney’s Dan Brady swipes twenty bucks. He plans to put the money back in the register before anyone’s the wiser but then the auditor shows up early. And the watch he buys with credit only to pawn puts him another $100 in the red. And the set of fifties he holds up drunken bingo man Shorty for opens up even more problems. And so on and so on until Dan finds himself on the run from the law. Lorre fits in as arcade owner Nick, a former boss and more to Vera. Lorre could do the role in his sleep at this point, but he still emits a little magic when saying the line “No, I don’t like to take a jump off the pier” as a deadpan answer to Rooney’s sarcastic question.

An actor besides Rooney might have sold the Brady character more effectively as a simple everyman. Rooney’s less insufferable than usual here, but his mannerisms and general behavior (have you ever noticed the resemblance to Cuba Gooding, Jr.?) only make Brady increasingly unlikable. When he commits one act of desperation you hate to judge, but by the time he’s holding up poor Shorty the line’s been crossed. His interest in Vera is presumably carnal while hers is out of either boredom or expected benefaction. That much is at least understandable. Less obvious is the character of Helen, played by the pretty Barbara Bates, who’d later be another Hollywood tragedy after committing suicide via carbon monoxide poison in her mother’s garage. Helen’s crazy about Brady from start to finish despite him utterly brushing her off until he needs help. There’s really no apparent reason for her attachment to him. It’s not quite as unimaginable as the sympathetic lawyer Brady conveniently kidnaps but the gap of believability is plenty strained.

That ending is just extraordinarily off in numerous ways. It’s a total patchwork of coincidence and merriment, seemingly of a world foreign to the entirety of what came previous. I struggle to think of anything resembling a film noir that so unabashedly lets a daisy poke through the asphalt cracks without warning. It makes the film take on some sort of Wizard of Oz, dreamlike state where Brady had been in a nightmare the whole time before waking to lollipops and candy canes. Any defense of how this plays out would be almost absurd. Trying to even keep a straight face while thinking about it proves difficult.

Pushing the complaints on Rooney and the ending to the side for a minute, Robert Smith’s screenplay is just taut enough to maintain interest without getting too wrapped up in who’s playing the protagonist. The modern take on some of the events shown lends itself to being read as a credit cautionary tale. Brady is constantly trying to pay back more money than he had planned on and essentially faces foreclosure at every turn. His initial $20 “loan” accrues quite the debt of interest.

The Disc

Quicksand is one of the first titles released in R2 by Revelation Films’ Glass Key series of film noir entries. Initially, there was hope that maybe these movies would get some overdue care. Alas, not to be here. This is the same, sub-VHS quality where the films have probably never looked worse. No clean-up, restoration or affection involved. Give us your money for something you could just as easily watch online for free in no worse condition. This image, which is windowboxed, may actually look the best of the lot in comparison to the other titles released simultaneously – Trapped and Woman on the Run – but that’s hardly a compliment. As if the poor condition of the materials, which plainly look to have been transferred from video, wasn’t bad enough, the disc also suffers from improper NTSC to PAL conversion. New wrinkles like combing and stuttering movement can be added to the list of neglect. These public domain level outings are not impossible to watch or even enjoy, but it would sit poorly with me knowing I’d financially supported this kind of endeavor.

Audio is two-channel English mono. Dialogue can be made out rather easily but no miracles should be expected. No subtitles.

No extra features either, unless you want to count the four chapter stops.

clydefro jones

Updated: Apr 16, 2009

Get involved
Continue the conversation over on The Digital Fix Forum
Quicksand Review | The Digital Fix