QUICKSAND captures Mickey Rooney in one of his excellent dramatic performances, here as star of this overlooked noir item from 1950. Mick and co-star Peter Lorre put their own dough into financing the meller, only to see reality reflect plot when their other partner skipped out with the profits. Mostly ignored, even panned, by critics at the time, it suffocated at 154th place at the box-office, grossing $1,800,000. Today, Quicksand earns long-overdue praise as a trim and intense melodrama about how one fateful step can sink into a vortex of woe.
Auto mechanic ‘Dan Brady’ (Rooney, 28) scores a date with blond-bomber cashier ‘Vera Novak’ (her name out to flash a warning?), but while hot to trot he’s also out of cash. He lifts a twenty from his job’s cash register. Trying to cover the petty theft he ends up in an increasing cycle of ever-larger schemes, including scams linked to Vera’s former boss (and flame), penny-arcade scuzz ‘Nick Dramoshag (again with the watch-your-wallet moniker), played to the seedy, switchblade-flicking hilt by Lorre. Meanwhile, Vera turns out to be harder than a lug wrench and designed to twist.
The three leads are in top form, and while Robert Smith’s plot is schematic in its predatory progression, his well-crafted dialogue has a naturalistic tone, and Irving Pichel directs with precision and economy. The team keep momentum cruising toward that old brick wall of fate for a satisfying 79 minutes, aided by a tense score by Louis Gruenberg.
Rooney beautifully underplays the duped Brady as an Everyman type of guy, with just enough edge to prod him into making a bet he can’t back. Cagney, 30, displays some of her older brother James no-nonsense attitude, giving Vera an inviting but danger-blinking vibe: she only appeared in a dozen films, four of them with her brother. Lorre at 45 was in a career downturn; this is one of his few good roles during the decade of the 50s.
With Barbara Bates (the ‘nice girl’ shined on for the femme fatale: been there, pal), Taylor Holmes, Wally Cassell, Art Smith, Minerva Urecal, Jimmy Dodd, Ray Teal and Jack Elam.
Cagney on Lorre: “He did it with all his might. Even though the picture was not a top drawer film he still approached it as if it were the ‘A’ picture of all ‘A’ pictures.”