Tag Archives: Quicksand

Quicksand (1950, Irving Pichel)

Quicksand is a film noir with room for cream and about five sugars. The genre often has a morality element to it, but this entry goes way too far with it. Or it might just be how the film treats lead Mickey Rooney.

Most film noir male protagonists are overconfident simpletons taken in by devious women; Rooney is a complete moron, however. And his confidence is all obvious bravado. He isn't just not smart, he never shows any reason for anyone–himself included–to think he is smart.

The script even gives femme fatale Jeanne Cagney, presumably cast due to her height (very few cast members are taller than Rooney), lines about Rooney being a malleable simp. There isn't much tension when she's telling him she's going to take him for a ride and he's just too dumb to figure it out.

Rooney has a likable quality, even in Quicksand, and maybe if director Pichel were better able to use the location shooting–he's visibly desperate for a sound stage–or the script gave Rooney narration throughout instead of just during summary scenes, the film might go better.

As for the supporting cast… poor Peter Lorre looks embarrassed, like he's waiting for someone to hand him a check after each scene. Then there's Cagney; her enthusiasm doesn't translate to a good performance. In one of the stupider roles, Barbara Bates can't make the good girl hung up on Rooney believable. He's just too much of a tool.

Quicksand misfires on all levels, but inoffensively.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Irving Pichel; written by Robert Smith; director of photography, Lionel Lindon; edited by Walter Thompson; music by Louis Gruenberg; production designer, Boris Leven; produced by Mort Briskin; released by United Artists.

Starring Mickey Rooney (Dan), Jeanne Cagney (Vera), Barbara Bates (Helen), Peter Lorre (Nick), Taylor Holmes (Harvey), Art Smith (Mackey), Wally Cassell (Chuck), Richard Lane (Lt. Nelson), Patsy O’Connor (Millie), John Gallaudet (Moriarity) and Minerva Urecal (Landlady).


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Quicksand (2003, John Mackenzie)

Most of Quicksand plays like a multi-national mystery from the 1970s, filled with familiar faces (or a few familiar faces anyway). About three-quarters of it, approximately. There’s good and bad stuff in those seventy minutes. Michael Keaton’s excellent, which isn’t surprising. Michael Caine shows up for what appears to be a small role (it gets bigger later) and has a fun time. He’s playing a washed up action star who’s too busy drinking and gambling to realize his career’s over. Kathleen Wilhoite and Xander Berkeley also have small roles–the plot moves Keaton from New York to the south of France for the dramatics and, presumably, cheaper location shooting–and both are great. There’s also Rade Serbedzija, in an unfortunately mediocre role. He’s fine, but it’s just a lame character. Unfortunately, the female lead–Judith Godrèche–cannot emote while speaking English. It’s obvious the first time she tries and, after that scene, she always has tears (Visine?) to show she’s upset.

But something happens once Caine becomes more integral to the plot. Quicksand all of a sudden gets neat. The script is very standard thriller fare and, in most ways, the resolution isn’t Archimedes hopping out of the tub, but it’s well-constructed and works.

In the last fourth (maybe third, I didn’t time the end credits), Berkeley gets a much bigger role–Quicksand might be one of his best performances and, given what a solid actor he is, it’s saying something. It’s a simple role–the friend–and he does it perfectly. Godrèche doesn’t really get any better, but the plot requires different things from her and she becomes more appealing.

When the film closes, it’s on a strange uptick, like it took a short cut to an ending it didn’t quite “earn,” but maybe getting to those places and getting a pass on the question means it did.

It’s not a particularly compelling mystery and Mackenzie somehow makes the south of France boring, so I spent a lot of time bemoaning the lack of more Keaton films. (Someone thought, at some point in production, the film was going to get a theatrical release, because they spent money on the casting agency). And then it gradually improves after a point, going from a standard thriller (which seem consigned to direct-to-DVD these days) to a moderately pleasant surprise.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by John Mackenzie; screenplay and screen story by Timothy Prager, based on a novel by Desmond Lowden; director of photography, Walter McGill; edited by Graham Walker; music by Hal Lindes and Anthony Marinelli; production designer, Jon Bunker; produced by Jim Reeve; released by First Look International.

Starring Michael Keaton (Martin Raikes), Michael Caine (Jake Mellows), Judith Godrèche (Lela Forin), Rade Serbedzija (Oleg Butraskaya), Matthew Marsh (Michel Cote), Xander Berkeley (Joey Patterson), Kathleen Wilhoite (Beth Ann), Rachel Ferjani (Rachel), Elina Löwensohn (Vannessa), Clare Thomas (Emma) and Hermione Norris (Sarah).


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