Cast & Crew
At a diner, young auto mechanic Dan Brady has just finished telling his co-worker Chuck that he has broken up with his adoring girl friend, Helen Calder, when he notices the stunning blonde cashier, Vera Novak. Dan convinces Vera to go out with him that evening, but when he returns to his job at the garage, he remembers that he has no money. While making change at the register, Dan realizes that the bookkeeper will not be in to check the cash drawer for a few days and decides to borrow twenty dollars, intending to pay it back the next day when he collects the money that his friend, Buzz Larson, owes him. That night, he and Vera go to the Santa Monica pier, and she tells him she used to work in the arcade managed by the shady Nick. The next day, Dan is unable to reach Buzz, and when the bookkeeper arrives two days ahead of schedule, Dan buys an expensive watch on credit and pawns it, racing back to the garage just in time to replace the money. The next day, an investigator named Moriarity comes to the garage and tells Dan that if he does not repay the jewelry store within twenty-four hours, he will be arrested for grand larceny. That night, after a fruitless search for money, Dan goes to a bar on the pier, where he notices that the drunken Shorty McCabe, who runs the bingo parlor, has a wallet full of cash. Dan follows Shorty to the parking lot and robs him, but is seen by a witness whose screams bring the police. Dan goes to the arcade to meet Vera, and when he finds Nick manhandling her, he knocks him down, accidentally leaving behind the handkerchief he used to cover his face during the robbery. The next day, Nick calls Dan and says he knows about the robbery, and demands a new car in exchange for the handkerchief. Desperate, Dan steals a car from the garage, and later, his mean-spirited boss Mackey tells Dan that he was seen taking the car, and threatens to go to the police unless Dan pays him a marked-up price for it. Dan confides his problems to Vera, and she suggests that they steal the money from Nick's office. The robbery nets enough cash to pay off Mackey, but Vera spends half of it on a mink coat. With the remaining money, Dan meets his boss at the deserted garage, but after Mackay takes the cash, he pulls a gun on Dan and starts to call the police. The men struggle, and Dan strangles Mackey. Later, on the street, Dan encounters Helen and Chuck, who tells him that he quit his job after Mackey tried to extort money from him for the stolen car. Dan goes to Vera, but the police soon arrive, acting on a tip from Nick, and he hides on the fire escape as they arrest her. Dan climbs down the fire escape and finds Helen waiting for him by his car. After Helen declares her love for him, Dan tells her everything, and they decide to run away to Mexico. The car breaks down, however, and Dan uses the gun he took from Mackey to kidnap Harvey, a passing motorist, and force him to be their driver. When Harvey, who is a lawyer, tells them that Helen is not yet guilty of any crime, Dan orders Harvey to take him to the pier, where he will seek out Buzz. As Harvey and Helen drive away, they hear a radio news report announcing that Mackey is alive, and head back to the pier just as the police wound and capture Dan. The kindly Harvey offers reassurances about Dan's probable sentence, and Helen promises to wait for him.
Lewis J. Rachmil
Samuel H. Stiefel
Maurie M. Suess
A surreal escalation of nightmarish coincidence, the late-hour noir Quicksand (1950) is best remembered for casting Rooney against type in a twist-filled crime thriller far removed from Andy Hardy. The film was conceived as the initial project in an ongoing independent Rooney/Lorre deal that never materialized, forcing Lorre to declare bankruptcy and, "fed up with making faces" in Hollywood, retreat to Europe (albeit briefly) to direct The Lost One (Bad Boys: The Actors of Film Noir by Karen Burroughs Hamsberg). Significantly, this proved to be the final genuine noir for Lorre, who had launched the film style in what is often cited as the first genuine noir film, 1940's Stranger on the Third Floor. As with other efforts like Black Angel, he's a menacing secondary character here with only a tangential influence on the storyline; however, the actor still pulls off his role with the usual skill and professionalism he continued to bring to his AIP cycle of films in the following two decades. Rooney also wrote off the experience, noting in his autobiography (Life Is Too Short), "it was aptly titled. We sank in it." Despite the financial debacle, Rooney returned to noir one year later with the less interesting The Strip for MGM.
Fortunately the film itself earned positive notices and became something of a cult favorite among noir devotees. After the increasingly nihilistic run of crime films in the 1940s, Hollywood began imposing an increasing amount of moralistic control over its product for an unsurpassed decade of cinematic Puritanism that hamstrung even such mainstream, publicly-entrenched studio projects as Carousel and The Bad Seed. While a few uncompromised noirs like Fritz Lang's The Big Heat managed to squeak through during this wholesome period, Quicksand is more indicative of the times with an implausible, last-minute deus ex machina for our hero that sidesteps the accepted norms of noir's damned protagonists. Audiences might be willing to follow Rooney to the edge of a cliff but certainly not over it, at least according to this film's logic. Significantly, the one-night-gone-wrong structure of Quicksand foretold an entire subgenre of similar films decades later including Martin Scorsese's After Hours - another tale of a persecuted sucker on a hellish date-gone-wrong, also with an unlikely "happy" ending against all expectations.
Though Lorre was intended to become a director with Rooney producing under their deal, Quicksand instead proved to be one of the final directorial efforts for sometimes-actor Irving Pichel, best known for co-directing 1932's seminal horror-adventure The Most Dangerous Game. Though most of his output is generally workmanlike, his snappy, expert pacing is well in evidence from his first film through his last; significantly, the same year as Quicksand he teamed with producer George Pal to create the groundbreaking "realistic" science fiction film, Destination Moon. Meanwhile the screenwriter Robert Smith managed to outdo himself with an even more high-pitched late noir, 1952's wildly overplotted Sudden Death, featuring what is arguably Joan Crawford's most anxious and harried performance. Like Pichel, he also leapt into science fiction as the 1950s progressed with two standout efforts, one marvelous (1953's The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms with special effects by Ray Harryhausen) and one so absurd that it borders on crackpot genius (1952's Invasion USA).
Producer: Mort Briskin, Samuel H. Stiefel
Director: Irving Pichel
Screenplay: Robert Smith
Cinematography: Lionel Lindon
Film Editing: Walter Thompson
Art Direction: Boris Leven
Music: Louis Gruenberg
Cast: Mickey Rooney (Daniel Brady), Jeanne Cagney (Vera Novak), Barbara Bates (Helen), Peter Lorre (Nick Dramoshag), Taylor Holmes (Harvey), Art Smith (Oren Mackey).
by Nathaniel Thompson
According to news items in Hollywood Reporter, Mickey Rooney attempted to withdraw from this production in order to star in A Ticket to Tomahawk, but producer Samuel H. Stiefel, Rooney's partner in the independent production company, held the actor to his contract. Hollywood Reporter news items also report that Fritz Lang was considered for director and Ava Gardner and Jean Wallace were sought for the film. Portions of the picture were shot on location in Santa Monica, CA.