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DVD Review: ‘Quicksand’ (Digitally Restored)

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Quicksand is one of those noir nuggets that has been widely available in the public domain in more-or-less substandard versions for some time. Now, Film Chest Media Group is releasing its Digital Restoration of director Irving Pichel’s 1950 film that was intended to transition child actor Mickey Rooney into more mature roles. So the movie has historical importance, but it has other charms as well.Quicksand

By most accounts, Quicksand, co-financed by Rooney and fellow actor Peter Lorre, was an ideal vehicle for Rooney’s adult debut. For one matter, at the beginning of the film, Rooney’s character, Dan Brady, isn’t much different from his famous role as Andy Hardy. For those who don’t recall the series, from 1937 to 1946, Rooney’s Andy Hardy got himself involved in minor small-town scrapes based on his pursuits of money and skirts. But his willingness to fudge the truth was usually resolved after a fatherly talk from his Dad, Judge Hardy. Likewise, Quicksand opens with Dan Brady as a decent All-American guy with decent All-American buds with a decent job as an auto mechanic with a hard-nose boss. If he’d only notice her in the proper light, Helen Calder (Barbara Bates) would be his ideal decent American girl.

Instead, Brady is taken with blonde lovely Vera Novak (Jeanne Cagney) and “borrows” $20.00 from the company till to give her a night on the town. He thinks he can replace the money in the morning and no harm done. But things don’t go his way, and the rest of the story moves further and further away from Andy Hardy sentimentality.

Instead, petty theft moves to burglary which puts Brady at the mercy of opportunistic penny-arcade owner Nick Dramoshaq (Peter Lorre) which leads to grand theft, assault, kidnapping, and Brady fleeing to Mexico. Still, the ending finds Brady redeemed by the good girl, a sympathetic lawyer, and an apparently forgiving legal system.

Typical of many such morality plays of the period, Quicksand is a cautionary tale of why good guys should pursue good girls and avoid greedy temptresses and not try to cover-up small-time indiscretions. What makes Quicksand still watchable is the acting, especially by Rooney and Lorre. Film buffs should enjoy seeing Rooney’s range as he continually has to react to his worsening circumstances, moving from despair, anger, and fear. Peter Lorre, of course, is at his oily best tormenting Brady. Everyone else is pretty much predictable two-dimensional stock characters who are who they seem to be at first glance. The film has a fine noir look, which means many of the scenes are shot at night on location in Santa Monica. This is where the restoration is most obvious in giving viewers clean visuals, most notably at the carnival.

The 79 minutes of Quicksand will mainly interest those already interested in films of the period. It’s a neat little artifact of its time, which puts it not quite into A level quality, but better than most B pictures of the era.

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