The TCM Summer Under the Stars Blogathon: Mickey Rooney in Quicksand (1950)
In fact, notwithstanding his affiliation with MGM’s Andy Hardy series and his “Hey kids, let’s put on a show” musicals with Judy Garland, Rooney had quite a respectable film noir pedigree. He starred with Sally Forrest in The Strip (1951), played a race car driver in Drive a Crooked Road (1954), and portrayed the title role in Baby Face Nelson (1957).
But best of all, he was in one of my favorite guilty pleasure noirs – Quicksand (1950).
In Quicksand, Rooney plays a garage mechanic named Dan Brady, a suave, gum-chewing, tune-warbling Casanova who has grown tired of his faithful girlfriend, Helen (Barbara Bates) – “I spent four years in the Navy fighting for freedom,” Don tells his work buddies. “Why get anchored down now?” Having given poor Helen the heave-ho, Don is ripe for the picking when he spies the new blonde cashier at his favorite diner. For Dan, it’s lust at first sight, and when he tries to land a date, he’s not a bit dissuaded when the dame coolly informs him, “I’m afraid you’ve made a mistake. I don’t come with the merchant’s lunch.” Before long, his persistence pays off, and the “gorgeous creature” – Vera is her name – agrees to go out with him. But Dan’s triumph is short-lived – he realizes he doesn’t have the money to take Vera on the town, and he’s unable to borrow the cash from friends. So what does Dan do – reschedule the date? Nah. Instead, he gets the bright idea to relieve his work cash register of a $20 bill, rationalizing that he can return the money before the company’s bookkeeper reviews the accounts later that week.
Sounds like a workable solution, but this is film noir, and things are never as easy as they could be, nor as simple as they seem. Financed by his pilfered $20, Dan enjoys a pleasant first date with Vera, during which she insists on stopping by her favorite clothier to show Dan the two thousand dollar mink coat she’s been coveting, and visiting the arcade where she used to work, for no other apparent reason than to inflame her ex-boyfriend, Nick (Peter Lorre), the arcade’s oily owner. But the afterglow from the date begins to fade when Dan learns the next day that the bookkeeper’s weekly audit is taking place earlier than expected, and he doesn’t yet have the cash to replace the money he lifted. Desperate to raise the funds, Dan proceeds to engage in a series of increasingly immoral and illegal deeds, including buying a watch on credit and hocking it at a pawn shop, robbing a drunken bar patron to pay for the watch, and worse! Much worse, in fact. (But I’m not going to tell you any more – you’re going to have to see it to believe it.)
Unfortunately, although Quicksand is filled with tension throughout most of its 79 minutes, it takes a wildly implausible turn at the end and peters out to what is – for me, at least – a rather unsatisfying conclusion. Despite this minor hiccup, though, most of the film is well-acted, tautly directed, and will take you on a wild ride that you won’t want to miss.
Dan’s faithful girlfriend was played by Barbara Bates, who you might remember from the last scene in All About Eve – she played “Phoebe,” the teenaged fan who breaks into Eve’s hotel room and ends the picture practicing bows with Eve’s Siddons Society award. Sadly, Barbara’s career never really took off – despite some well-received performances in films like Cheaper by the Dozen (1950), she reportedly suffered from mood swings and chronic depression and lost out on several roles as a result. Her depression worsened after the death of her husband in 1967, and two years later, Bates committed suicide. She was only 43 years old.
Speaking of All About Eve, after my first viewing of this film years (and years) ago, I learned that the Sarah Siddons Society is an actual organization. What I didn’t learn until today, while working on this post, was that the Sarah Siddons Society was created AFTER All About Eve was released, and that the annual award given by the group was modeled and named after the one in the film! (Did you know that? Is it just me?) Winners of the award have included Helen Hayes (the first recipient after the award’s creation), Ruth Roman, Lauren Bacall, Bette Davis, Angela Lansbury, Ann Miller, and Faye Dunaway. (Also, the award is not only given to women, although actresses who have received it far outnumber the actors. The handful of actors who’ve won the award include Brian Dennehy, John Maloney, and John O’Hurley.)
Watch for a brief uncredited appearance in Quicksand by Jack Elam, who has one line as a peanut-munching bar patron.
The director of Quicksand, Irving Pichel, can be heard in the film as a radio announcer. Pichel also directed the Robert Young-Susan Hayward noir They Won’t Believe Me (1947).
The object of Mickey Rooney’s affection, Vera Novak, was portrayed by Jeanne Cagney, the younger sister of actor James Cagney. She appeared in several films with her brother, including Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) and The Time of Your Life (1948).
Quicksand was supposed to be the first of a three-film collaboration between Mickey Rooney and co-star Peter Lorre. Their plans fell through, though, and ultimately, Quicksand was the only film to be made.
Mickey Rooney wasn’t happy with this film. In his autobiography, Life is Too Short, he wrote, “The less said about Quicksand, the better, except to note that it was aptly titled. We sank in it.” The critics of the day had a more favorable view of the picture, however. Ann Helming of the Hollywood Citizen-News praised Rooney’s “straightforward, mug-less performance,” and the reviewer for Variety wrote that Rooney “portrays the hard-luck mechanic in convincingly somber tones without once having the chance for any comic capers.”
Quicksand airs on TCM on Tuesday, August 13th at 5 p.m. EST. It’s also available on DVD and on YouTube. So check it out! Even if you’re not a Mickey Rooney fan, or can’t imagine him doing anything but belting out a tune or mugging his way through one of his patented comedic yet heartwarming performances, I promise you that you’re going to want to see him in Quicksand.
Seriously. You only owe it to yourself.
Do yourself a favor and visit these sites throughout the month of August to access the wealth of great posts being offered as part of this fantastic event!