Quicksand (1950 film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed by Irving Pichel
Produced by Mort Briskin
Screenplay by Robert Smith
Music by Louis Gruenberg
Cinematography Lionel Lindon
Edited by Walter Thompson
Samuel H. Stiefel Productions
Distributed by United Artists
Release date
  • March 24, 1950 (1950-03-24) (United States)
Running time
79 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Quicksand is a 1950 American film noir crime film starring Mickey Rooney and Peter Lorre in a story about a garage mechanic's descent into crime. Directed by Irving Pichel shortly before he was blacklisted for suspected Communist activities, the film has been described as "film noir in a teacup... a pretty nifty little picture" in which Rooney "cast himself against his Andy Hardy goody goody image."[1]


Mickey Rooney as Dan Brady
Peter Lorre as Nick

Dan Brady (Mickey Rooney), a young auto mechanic in California, takes $20 ($202 in 2017) from a cash register at work to go on a date with blonde femme fatale Vera Novak (Jeanne Cagney).[2] Brady intends to put the money back before it is missed, but the garage's bookkeeper shows up earlier than scheduled. As Brady scrambles to cover evidence of his petty theft, he quickly finds himself drawn into an ever-worsening "quicksand" of crime, each of his misdeeds more serious than the last.

He buys a $100 wristwatch ($1,011 in 2017) on installment payments and then promptly pawns the watch for $30 cash ($303 in 2017), covering the missing funds from the register at work. However, Brady is then threatened with grand larceny for violating the installment contract by selling a watch that he doesn't legally own. The finance company demands payment in full for the watch within 24 hours. After unsuccessfully applying for a payday loan and attempting to use his car as collateral for another loan, a desperate Brady resorts to mugging a tipsy bar patron known for carrying large amounts of cash.

Nick Dramoshag (Peter Lorre), the seedy owner of a penny arcade on Santa Monica Pier and a man who has had his own intimate history with Vera, discovers evidence of Brady's mugging. He blackmails the young mechanic, demanding a car from Brady's job in exchange for his silence. Brady steals the car, which he trades for the evidence from Dramoshag. However, Brady's morally lacking boss Oren Mackey (Art Smith) confronts Brady with allegations that he was witnessed stealing the car. Mackey demands the return of the car or $3,000 in cash ($30,324 in 2017), or he will go to the police.

Brady and Vera steal the month-end receipts from Dramoshag's arcade, obtaining $3,610 ($36,490 in 2017). Brady expects to use the money to pay Mackey. Vera, however, feels entitled to half the money, so she buys herself a mink coat for $1,800 ($18,124 in 2017). Once Brady learns what she has done, he is furious. He leaves Vera and returns to the garage, where he offers Mackey $1,800 to settle their arrangement. Mackey takes the money, but he draws a pistol and says he refuses to settle. The two men struggle when Mackey tries to telephone the police, and Brady strangles him in their altercation. Certain that his boss is dead, Brady takes Mackey's gun and returns to Vera to inform her of what he has done. He asks her to flee with him to Texas. She will not go, insisting that the authorities have no evidence against her. Disgusted by Vera's self-serving behavior, Dan ends their relationship and departs.

Outside of Vera's apartment, Brady's still-loyal but unappreciated former girlfriend Helen (Barbara Bates) waits in his car to talk with him. She had seen him earlier on the street and realized then that he was in trouble. She now decides to accompany "Danny" as they drive out of town to avoid his anticipated arrest for murder. After his car breaks down, Brady carjacks a sedan, which happens to be driven by a sympathetic lawyer (Taylor Holmes). Brady subsequently gets out of that car when they arrive at Santa Monica Pier. There he tells Helen to remain with the lawyer as he carries out his new plan to escape to Mexico on a friend's charter boat. He also assures Helen that he will send for her once he is safely resettled across the border. Brady rushes away to catch the boat. A few minutes later, the lawyer and Helen hear over the sedan's radio a news report that Mackey is actually not dead, that the shady auto dealer had survived his injuries. They now drive back to the pier to find Dan and inform him that he is not a murderer. Meanwhile, police officers spot Brady there, wound him by gunfire in an ensuing chase, and take him into custody. The film concludes with Helen, now on the scene, comforting Dan and promising to wait for him until he is released from prison.



Rooney co-financed Quicksand with Peter Lorre, but their shares of the profits were reportedly left unpaid by a third partner.[3] Most of the film was shot on location in Santa Monica, California, with exterior scenes at the old Santa Monica Pier. Jazz cornetist Red Nichols with His Five Pennies group are seen and heard in a nightclub scene.

Peter Lorre's fellow actors in Quicksand were impressed with his performances on the set. Commenting on the film in a later interview, Jeanne Cagney observed the following about Lorre: "He did it with all his might. Even though the picture was not a top drawer film he still approached it as if it were the 'A' picture of all 'A' pictures."[4]

The composer of the musical score for Quicksand, Russian-born Louis Gruenberg, was a great lover of American jazz and a close friend of the renown Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg. When hired to work on the film, both Gruenberg and director Irving Pichel were already under congressional investigation by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) as its searched to identify and expose Communists and any of their sympathizers in the movie industry, labor unions, journalism, and in many other areas of American society. Rooney and Lorre, by financing the production of Quicksand themselves, had the power to give their beleaguered colleagues much-needed opportunities to be employed and share their creative talents. Despite Rooney and Lorre's efforts to help the composer and director, Gruenberg and Pichel soon vanished from Hollywood.


Bruce Eder of Allmovie wrote Rooney "...gives what many consider to be the best performance of his career" and characterized Quicksand as "one of the more fascinating social documents of its era."[3] Fifty years after the film's first theatrical release DVD Savant wrote, "the quasi-downbeat ending of Quicksand doesn't simply let [the protagonist] off the hook, [which] makes for an unusually mature ending."[1]


  1. ^ a b dvdtalk.com, DVD Savant - Quicksand, November 17, 2000. Accessed: July 20, 2013.
  2. ^ For the plot description of Quicksand on this page, all monetary adjustments for inflation between 1950 and 2017 are based on Consumer Price Index (CPI) figures calculated and provided by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, United States Department of Labor, Washington, D.C. Accessed March 26, 2017.
  3. ^ a b Eder, Bruce. AllRovi. Film review. Accessed: July 20, 2013.
  4. ^ Burnett, Peter. Film noir reviews, Quicksand (1950). Jeanne Cagney's quotation in Burnett's review is drawn from and attributed to Stephen D. Youngkin's biography The Lost One: A Life of Peter Lorre. Lexington, Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky, 2005. ISBN 0-8131-2360-7. Retrieved April 4, 2017.

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