Film Noir Classics: QUICKSAND
After starring as the goody two shoes character Andy Hardy throughout the 1940’s, Mickey Rooney decided to take a role against type in this “film noir in a teacup” and “pretty nifty little picture” directed by Irving Pichel that was released in 1950.
Rooney plays an auto mechanic named Dan Brady who, after setting his sights on a pretty blonde dame (and our femme fatale) named Vera (Jeanne Cagney) decides to “borrow” $20 dollars from his garage’s cash register to take her on a swanky date. What seems to be just a small decision to do the wrong thing on the surface becomes the loose string that slowly unravels Brady’s life and has him sinking into deeper and deeper trouble. Things begin to go bad when the garage’s bookkeeper arrives two days early and Brady is forced to seek some quick cash to replace what he stole. He ends up going to a local jeweler and picking up a $100 dollar watch for a $10 dollars down payment after which he pawns it, getting $30 dollars. Brady deftly slips the money back into the cash register right in front of the bookkeeper claiming it was “stuck at the bottom of a sack”.
Things go back to normal until an investigator shows up at the garage prematurely accusing Brady of skipping out on the full payment for the watch he purchased. Brady now has to get even more cash so he steps over another moral line and robs a drunk along the boardwalk one night. Brady is quickly backed against another wall when he learns one of Vera’s friends witnessed the whole thing, but in the meantime he pays off the watch. Brady gets a mysterious call from Nick Dramoshag (Peter Lorre) who summons him to come to the boardwalk’s penny arcade. When Nick shows Brady the handkerchief he used to cover his face then threw away after the robbery, he blackmails him into stealing a car from the garage. Brady of course does it but soon after his boss confronts him and makes it clear he must either 1) pay the cost of the car 2) bring it back in 24 hours…or else!
While out on the town Vera confides to Brady that she knows where he can get the large amount of money he needs: Nick’s arcade. When Brady attempts to rob the place he is discovered by the night watchman who chases him through the dark but Brady manages to get the cash ($3000 dollars) and escape. He and Vera go back to her place to count it and then behind his back, she takes $2000 dollars and buys a mink coat, leaving him with less than he needs to pay his boss back for the car. When he tries to give only half of what he owes his boss calls the cops and pulls a gun on him. Brady fights back and in a moment of panic he ends up strangling him. Following the attack Brady finds out from his co-worker that their boss had accused him of stealing the car too which leads Brady to conclude he was just putting pressure on each of them to get some reimbursement money from anywhere he could dig it up.
Brady’s only saving grace throughout the film is his ex-girlfriend Helen (Barbara Bel Geddes) the “good girl” who has remained faithful and truly loves him. The film’s climactic footchase takes place on the Santa Monica pier after Vera is found out and Brady is cornered by the coppers.
What is nice about this nifty little noir is how the finale doesn’t doesn’t go for the expected sentimental Hollywood type ending but rather provides an honest and realistic one. Quicksand was shot entirely on location in Santa Monica, CA and was co-financed by Rooney and Peter Lorre.