QUICKSAND (1950). Director: Irving Pichel.
Probably trying to change his image and show his range the way song and dance man Dick Powell did years before, Mickey Rooney starred in this film noirish thriller about a mechanic who winds up on the run from police after meeting a tough blond with expensive tastes. Rooney is loved by a good brunette (Barbara Bates), but is more fascinated by the zesty blond (Jeanne Cagney) who lusts after a two thousand dollar fur coat. Rooney's troubles begin when he “borrows” twenty dollars from the till to take Cagney out on a date. Before long he's pawning watches he doesn't quite own, mugging drunks carrying wads of cash, stealing cars from his boss, breaking into arcades for the night's take, and strangling his employer. But the movie refuses to truly let Rooney be a bad guy even though it's clear that he is. His criminal actions aren't prompted by a desire to feed a starving family but by expediency; throughout the picture he consistently makes the wrong and most evil choices. SPOILER ALERT: Running off with the good brunette after presumably murdering his boss, he conveniently hijacks the car of a sympathetic lawyer and eventually learns that his employer is still alive. (“Men don't die easily,” the lawyer tells Rooney. “They take a lot of killing.”) At the unconvincing conclusion, Rooney assures everyone that he's ready to take what's coming to him, that he's essentially a “decent” person (who mugs, robs and “murders!”). In a part that could have been tailor-made for a young Cagney, Widmark or Garfield, Rooney acquits himself nicely, only resorting to stock good guy mannerisms – as if to redeem his unlikable character -- in the film's final quarter when the story goes completely awry and his formerly vital, emotionally-true thesping becomes perfunctory. The film's standout performance is from vivid Jeanne Cagney, who positively sizzles as the blond who's only out for herself. Equally good in a supporting part is Peter Lorre, who plays the arcade owner who's carrying a torch for former employee Cagney; he and Rooney have several good scenes together. Barbara Bates' mediocre acting proves beyond a doubt why little was heard of her after she appeared in this and at the ending of All About Eve the same year. The picture is well-directed and has an effective if unmemorable score by Louis Gruenberg, who decades before was composing operas for the Met.
Verdict: Not great but has its moments. **1/2.