Quicksand (1950 film)


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 dates
  • 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

Young auto mechanic Dan Brady (Mickey Rooney) takes $20 (equivalent to about $200 in 2015) from a cash register at work to go on a date with blonde femme fatale Vera Novak (Jeanne Cagney). 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 fast finds himself drawn into an ever worsening "quicksand" of crime, each of his misdeeds more serious than the last.

He buys a $100 wristwatch ($1,000 in 2015) on installment payments and then promptly pawns the watch for $30 cash ($300 in 2015), 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 who has a history with Vera, discovers evidence of Brady's mugging. He blackmails the young mechanic, demanding a car from Brady's job in exchange for silence. Brady steals the car, which he trades for the evidence from Dramoshag. However, Brady's morally lacking boss Oren Mackay (Art Smith) confronts Brady with allegations that he was witnessed stealing the car. Mackay demands the return of the car or $3,000 in cash ($29,600 in 2015), or he'll go to the police.

Brady and Vera steal the month-end receipts from Dramoshag's arcade, obtaining $3610 ($35,000 in 2015). Brady expects to use the money to pay Mackay. But Vera feels entitled to half the money and buys a mink coat for $1,800 ($17,000 in 2015), leading Brady to end their relationship. He offers $1,800 to Mackay to settle their arrangement. Mackay refuses, and the pair struggle over the telephone when Mackey threatens to call the police. Afterwards, Brady believes he's murdered his boss.

Brady's still-loyal but unappreciated former girlfriend Helen (Barbara Bates) then reenters the scene and tries to woo him back. Later fleeing what he believes will be a murder charge, Brady carjacks a sedan which happens to be driven by a sympathetic lawyer (Taylor Holmes). Brady learns that Mackay survived his injuries, and decides to turn himself in to authorities.

By movie's end Brady is back with his faithful girlfriend, who promises to wait for him while he spends the next few years of his life in prison.



Rooney co-financed Quicksand with Peter Lorre but their shares of the profits were reportedly left unpaid by a third partner.[2] 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.

The film's composer, Louis Gruenberg, a close friend of Schoenberg's and a great lover of jazz, was, like the director, already under investigation by HUAC in its investigation of suspected Communists. By financing the movie themselves, Lorre and Rooney were giving their beleaguered colleagues a much-needed opportunity; despite this, both director and composer 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."[2] 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. 1 2 dvdtalk.com, DVD Savant - Quicksand, November 17, 2000. Accessed: July 20, 2013.
  2. 1 2 Eder, Bruce. AllRovi. Film review. Accessed: July 20, 2013.
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