Monday, March 21, 2011

Quicksand (1950)

This week we take a second look at Mickey Rooney’s initial journey into the world of noir. Released by United Artists in 1950, Quicksand was sandwiched between Mick’s “sports films” which were made with the intention of changing his on screen persona as the perpetual kid from Carvel High by placing him in more mature roles. During this run Mick plays a boxer (Killer McCoy), race car driver (The Big Wheel) and a roller derby skater (Fireball). While all entertaining in there own right, it’s Quicksand that leaves little doubt that Mick has shook off the dust from the town of Carvel and the Hardy family home and entered the adult world. Quicksand served to pave the way for his foray in noir with subsequence films such as The Strip, Drive a Crooked Road, and Baby Face Nelson all released in the ‘50’s.

But for a moment, suppose Quicksand had been another in the series of Andy Handy films. Andy’s all grown up, and not the way Judge Hardy had wished. So let us take a look at what trouble that rambunctious offspring of the Judge and Mrs. Hardy gets into once he’s “matured.”

For starters, once again Andy finds his rit in the tringer chasing skirts. This is no surprise as this pretty much was the major theme of all 16 Andy Handy films. This one could be called “Andy Hardy Looks for Love in All the Wrong Places” or, owing to the presence of Jeanne Cagney as the skirt in question, how about “Made it Ma. Top of the goil?”

So much for titles, so how’s about the set-up? This time around Dan Brady (Mick/Andy) is in need of dough so he can show the new girl Vera Novak (Cagney) a good time. So far sounds pretty much like we’re back in Carvel to me. As his means of transportation Dan sports around in an old jalopy, which is also shades of Carvel and he pals around with a bunch of swell guys named Chuck, Shorty and Buzz who are also short of cash. Are you beginning to see a pattern develop here as I sure am?

Similarities aside, the world of Santa Monica, where a good portion of the film takes place is no Carvel. While girls and guys pinched for cash and cars that have seen better days are present in both locales, times and nights were never as dark for Andy as they are for Dan.

Dan works as a grease monkey for one louse of a boss, Art Smith playing nicely against type, in an auto repair joint along with Chuck Davis (Wally Cassell). While eating lunch at a diner one day they spot the new cashier (Cagney) and of course are smitten on the spot. While paying his bill Dan puts the move on Vera and she reluctantly agrees to meet him later of a big night out listening to Red Nichols and His Five Pennies at a club on the pier.

As previously noted, Dan, like Andy, is short of cash and his attempts to borrow, or collect on loans he’d made to his pals are non-productive. So what’s a guy with a hot date and no dough to do? Just take a little withdrawal for his cash drawer at work of course. What the heck, Buzz (Jimmie Dodd) will pay him the twenty he owes him tomorrow so who’ll know? After all, it’s not like it’s stealing, just borrowing it for the night.

The night turns out somewhat different than Dan had planned as he and Vera find the club on the pier is closed that night. So as an alternative Vera takes him to the penny arcade she used to work in on the pier and we meet Nick Dramoshaq (Peter Lorre) the proprietor of the arcade. Isn’t strange how Dan and Vera were going to see Nichols and his Pennies and they end up in a penny arcade? Such is fate.

Turns out Vera’s no one man woman and had a passing interest in Nick before she priced him out of the deal by demanding he buy her a mink coat. As Dan will learn later, greed not desire is what motives Vera.

While unable to dance on the pier the night before, Dan’s time to pay the piper arrives the following morning when the auditor shows up a day early to do the weekly register count. Now faced with the prospect of the discovery of his “borrowing” from his cash drawer, Dan comes up with a fix-it-quick plan to replace the missing money. In a flash of brilliance he purchases a wrist watch on credit and then walks two doors down and pawns it. One can already feel the quicksand entrapping him.

What will follow is a series of ever increasing crimes; assault and battery, robbery, grand thief auto, breaking and entering, and kidnapping, one piling upon the other in rapid succession creating a deepening pool of quicksand that pulls on Dan to the point that murder begins sounds like a viable option.

Side note on the subject of murder; near the films conclusion while Dan is racing towards the Santa Monica pier he drives past a billboard of an upcoming appearance by Spade Cooley and his band. Some 11 years later Cooley would be sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of his wife.

Quicksand would be the darkest of the noirs Rooney would make in terms of both content and style. A good portion of the films takes place at night on the pier and in the seedy arcade and its back room occupied by the unscrupulous Nick. To show the depths Nick will go to make a quick profit, at one point he attempts to cheat a sailor out of a nickel when giving him change. It’s no wonder blackmail and the quick use of a knife is among his bag of tricks.

What for Dan begins as a routine day with his pals eating at the lunch counter steamrolls into a nightmarish world of desperation, unsavory characters and final redemption at the hands of “the other woman” in his life.

This other woman, Helen Calder (Barbara Bates) is Dan’s long suffering girl friend who “stands by her man” at the end. Her so doing doesn’t dampen the dark mood of the film by tacking on the Hollywood standard “happy ending” but rather it provides a means by which Dan can reclaim the decently she sees within him in spite of his transgressions against her and the law.

Coming in at a brisk 79 minutes, nary a moment is wasting on such trivial issues as character development. When we see Dan and his pals, his boss, his gal (both bad and good) and the sleepy-eyed Nick, we know from the get-go who’s good, who’s bad and don’t need to know much more. As the action begins accelerating, we hang on for the ride, just like the roller coaster at the pier. We know it’d be fast with ups and downs and with a number of curves thrown in along the way. As such, it’s not unlike the sinking ride into the quagmire of quicksand Dan puts himself in by “borrowing” twenty bucks.

Written by Raven


  1. watching this now.
    got no other way to contact you only here...i'd like to say this..
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    i hope this blog is doing well for you, the amount of followers etc.
    my best...doug.

  2. QUICKSAND is indeed a minor classic, but in my opinion, Rooney's tour de force came in the 1959 prison drama, THE LAST MILE, a grim tale of life on death row. Rooney really did show his acting chops in that one.

  3. Just watched this movie and liked it very much. Jeanne Cagney aside, the acting is much more realistic and less melodramatic than in the typical noir film, which made it very believable and suspenseful.

  4. Nice write up, Steve-O. Quicksand is a gritty, atmospheric little noir B-movie, and Rooney and Lorre are both great in it. I've enjoyed it several times. It can be watched / legally downloaded at The Internet Archive, along with many other good Public Domain noirs, if anyone would like to try it.


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