Quicksand, 1950

A really nice noir thriller. The pacing and tension work great, as Mickey Rooney’s Dan slips and slides his way from one nightmare to another. Vera (Jeanne Cagney) does a sultry femme fatale, and Peter Lorre creeps about in his convincing manner as the low-rent proprietor/hood Nick. Even performances from most of the supporting cast really help Quicksand stand out. I admit that Barbara Bates’ Helen is too doggedly loyal. The attorney is way to accommodating, and there’s enough coincidences in the plot to almost wreck things.

Mickey Rooney would be about the last actor I would buy as a noir anti-hero. Even given that conceit, I usually can’t stand narration. I’ve got to admit that Rooney does surprisingly well; maybe his underdog, innocent look amplifies instead of undercuts the radical transformation that overwhelms his character. And his narration fits in quite well, actually allowing the pace to keep moving by skipping more exposition. Of course, given Helen’s devotional attitude to Dan, not too mention her attractiveness, we’ve got to wonder why he takes Vera seriously.

As others have said, all of the principle characters are flawed: Dan’s impulsive, not satisfied with himself, Vera is out-and-out mercenary, Nick uses people, and the fine Helen is completely gullible. It just takes one of them (Dan) to step out of their niche, and the whole bunch of them gets messed up pretty good. Even Dan’s boss and Vera’s landlady seem shady after awhile. The landlady shooing Dan away from Vera’s room makes sense; but why wouldn’t he take ten more seconds and grab the money first? He shouldn’t even have gone up there in the first place: give Vera some of it, then get lost. That wasn’t a coincidence–it was a choice. Maybe we’re to understand that he has misread Vera from the beginning; sort of Helen-like, he just implicitly trusts Vera.

I don’t really mind the truckload of coincidences. After all, film noir posits a world in which fate or chance interferes, usually determining outcomes. Things happen, but not for a reason. Of course, all the stuff that happens to Dan is incredible: a machine-gun burst of events. But it’s all contingent on something he initiated; he got stuck in debt because he got stuck on Vera.


Suspending our disbelief becomes difficult in Quicksand. I can accept what happens because reality here is foreshortened; it creates plausibility by assuming that we’re seeing events at a heightened, dreamlike pace. With the exception of the attorney’s paternalism and Dan letting his guard down with Vera, the movie’s tone and style relentlessly draw the viewer in. Lorre’s seedy presence contaminates everything around him. Very entertaining. 8/10.

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