Saturday, September 3, 2016


United Artists, 79m 11s

A good little B-picture, QUICKSAND packs a lot of action into its modest duration. Set in Santa Monica, California, local mechanic Dan Brady (Mickey Rooney) takes an immediate interest in Vera (Jeanne Cagney) when he eyes her at a greasy spoon. But in a telling sign of the financial dislocation to come, Dan is short of cash before their first date. No matter, he already has fallen for Vera, a streetwise blonde dressed in black, and has grown bored with the perfectly nice but too-available Helen (Barbara Bates). Essentially a parable about womanizing and materialism, QUICKSAND suggests how disastrously trouble can escalate for those who attempt to live beyond their means.

In determined pursuit of Vera, the Navy veteran Dan clandestinely authorizes his own cash advance from the register of his tightwad employer Mr. Mackey (Art Smith). That shortsighted decision has a domino effect when Dan realizes he has less time than he thought to return the funds. Without any better options, he buys a watch on credit and quickly hocks it for a fraction of its value. That takes care of the cash register balance, but then Moriarity (John Gallaudet) informs Dan he is obligated to pay his debt on the wristwatch within 24 hours since he sold it before he technically owned it.

Is Vera worth all this trouble? "I can handle you easy," she mentions to Dan, who clearly is not up to the task of handling her. The better he gets to know Vera, the higher Dan's criminal credentials rise. Dan goes from petty theft to armed robbery, grand larceny, breaking and entering, kidnapping, and—possibly—second-degree murder. In the process, it becomes apparent Vera has a past with numerous pairs of pants in the area. Despised by her landlady (Minerva Urecal), the blonde prize is really the neighborhood tramp, devoted only to the man who might be able to buy her a ridiculously expensive mink coat. Vera is hardly the only character of low morality, though; some who learn of Danny's crimes would rather blackmail him than involve the police. After narrowly escaping the path of a bullet, Danny delivers the token noir line of existential recognition:  "I feel like I'm being shoved into a corner and if I don't get out soon it'll be too late. Maybe it's too late already." Bradford Galt (Mark Stevens) uttered a very similar line in THE DARK CORNER (1946).

QUICKSAND's location work is plentiful, the best of which was captured around Santa Monica Pier. With its games of chance and pierside location, the penny arcade makes for an appropriate film noir setting, especially at night, and particularly since the proprietor is portrayed by Peter Lorre. The cast in general is terrific, with Rooney in great form against type in the lead role. He also co-financed the film with Lorre. I never know what to make of Jeanne Cagney. At times she looks so much like her famous brother James it is difficult to think about her as an individual. In an uncredited role, the instantly recognizable Jack Elam appears briefly, and just where one would expect to find him.

It is especially great to see Art Smith (IN A LONELY PLACE [1950]), who was among those blacklisted after being named by filmmaker Elia Kazan before the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1952. As for QUICKSAND director Irving Pichel, he was among the "Hollywood Nineteen" who were subpoenaed but chose not to testify. Pichel also was blacklisted and had to continue his career outside the country before he died in 1954 due to a heart ailment.

The above screen captures were taken from the DVD version released by Image Entertainment way back in 2000. Since the source material was in decent condition, the featureless disc holds up just fine today.