Film Noir

Mickey Rooney’s Crime Spree

Mickey Rooney (right) tries to not strangle Peter Lorre (left).
Peter Lorre (left) toys with a desperate Mickey Rooney.

If you hate the thought of a young-ish Mickey Rooney playing a bad guy, please do not read any further.

We mean it. We’re not talking about a fellow who squirts water out of his boutonniere or puts whoopee cushions on people’s chairs. Nay, we’re talking kidnapping and murder, as portrayed in the gritty 1950 crime drama Quicksand.

You may remember Rooney as the über-talented child actor who could do anything – sing, dance, act, and play musical instruments. He became a superstar when he starred as the kind-hearted rascal Andy Hardy, in the Andy Hardy series. It was a character that cast a long shadow.

So, when Andy Hardy – er, Mickey Rooney – breaks into an arcade at night to steal a few thousand dollars, you realize you’re rooting for him to get away with it. Even when he attacks his boss and flees to Mexico, you know you won’t relax until he’s safely across the border.

Quicksand is one of those gritty black-and-white movies that makes you feel a bit grimy afterwards. There are not many glamourous scenes, and there are certainly no glamourous people. Almost all the characters (except for Rooney’s saintly but stupid ex-girlfriend) are as morally corrupt as Rooney.

Rooney plays a car mechanic whose boss (Art Smith) is a mean, cheap jerk. We are given a glimpse into both men’s characters early in the film: the boss gets angry about employees leaving the light on in the stockroom and, in a fit of pique, turns off the light above Rooney’s head as he works. As soon as the boss leaves, Rooney glares after him and snaps the light back on.

The film starts to pick up speed when Rooney, desperate for cash before payday, helps himself to a $20 bill from the company till. However, the bookkeeper arrives early to pick up the cash deposit, and Rooney scrambles to replace the money. One bad decision creates another and, before long, Rooney finds himself racing towards Mexico.

We won’t give you too many details because this film is best enjoyed when you’re unprepared. We will tell you, though, there are some very clever plot twists that will make you exclaim, in your out-loud voice, “No way!”

You couldn’t ask for a better cast in this film. Jeanne Cagney (sister of James) is the girl of Rooney’s dreams, a gal who would do anything to wear a mink coat. Rooney asks her, “Think you can handle me?” Cagney, with a smirk of contempt, says, “I can handle you easy.” We know how this will go.

Barbara Bates is Rooney’s dense ex-girlfriend, and we mean head-shakingly dense. But, as a girl who is loyal to a fault, Bates almost breaks your heart.

The most outstanding performance, in our opinion, is by Peter Lorre who plays a slimy arcade owner. Lorre is creepy and loathsome, and you can’t take your eyes off him. Rooney abhors Lorre and regards him as the worst type of human, even though Rooney proves himself just as capable of despicable behaviour.

The tension in Quicksand heightens with each new plot development. The movie starts to squeeze against you on all sides you until you feel as desperate as Rooney. How will Andy Hardy get out of this one!

If you’re keen to see a young-ish Mickey Rooney in a demanding dramatic role, we recommend Quicksand. Even with its flaws, it provides a hang-onto-your-hat ride.

Quicksand: starring Mickey Rooney, Jeanne Cagney, Barbara Bates. Directed by Irving Pichel. Written by Robert Smith. United Artists Corp., 1950, B&W, 80 mins.

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30 thoughts on “Mickey Rooney’s Crime Spree

  1. Lorre steals the film, I think. There are several unbelievable plot twists, and the ending is unconvincingly happy. But Rooney gives off a good sense of desperation. He really became a good character as he grew older.

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  2. A great review of a good movie. Micky Rooney was really something, wasn’t he? Still, I cannot help but wonder what path his career would have followed had he been a foot taller.

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  3. I have never seen this nor even heard of it before now. It sounds very interesting and like a great against-type role for Mr. Rooney. Thank you for not giving too much away. On more than one occasion, I have had a film I’ve not seen spoiled by a discussion of its ending and/or plot twists.

    I look forward to tracking this one down, Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

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    1. Thanks for dropping by, Patti. There are some really terrific plot twists in this film and it would’ve really lessened my enjoyment if I knew about them beforehand. I hope you get the chance to see it – I’m looking forward to your review already! 🙂

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  4. I’ve been wanting to see this film for a while, thanks for the great reminder. It’s funny but Rooney has a lot of dimension to his acting. Have you seen him play ‘killer’ Mears in The Last Mile He’s quite good as the anti hero… Great post as always, I might just watch this later.

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  5. Ah! So you dug this one out of your film collection as you said you would. 🙂 I’m glad you reviewed it.

    Rooney was at that point at which many former child actors arrive. They are are known for polite roles, grow up and want to do something else. It’s frustrating.

    Many child actors today go straight for the gritty stuff while still a minor. I can’t watch it, but I suppose that helps them sustain their career into adulthood.

    Cheers,
    Java

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    1. Yes, I certainly did dig it out, and I CAN’T BELIEVE I waited so long to see it. Sheesh!

      You’ve made some excellent points about former child actors and the frustrations they face as they grow up. I just picked up Shirley Temple Black’s “Child Star” at a second-hand bookstore. Am looking forward to reading her perspective of growing up in Hollywood.

      Thanks for dropping by. 🙂

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  6. I really like the sound of this one, having been impressed by a couple of the films Jeanne Cagney made with brother James – and with Peter Lorre and Rooney cast against type it sounds irresistible. I see it is available on DVD in the UK so will aim to see it soon!

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    1. Jeanne Cagney is perfect in this film. When I first saw her on screen, I was distracted by her resemblance to brother James. But her performance is so good, you forget all about the actress and focus on the character.

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  7. I have to admit that I enjoy Rooney in this role quite a bit. He mixes things up well and was capable of practically anything. I’m also a Lorre fan and like him in this film. He sleezy roles are quite appealing to me.

    I sure would like to see this film again. I might have to dig this one out. Thanks for another great post.

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  8. Even when Mickey was being swell and cute, I always saw a tough guy there. It was hard for Mickey to make the transition, but he sure did and he still keeps on keepin’ on. I saw this one way too long ago and now I need to see it again with fresh eyes.

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  9. Ruth, although I’ve never seen QUICKSAND myself, I knew Mickey Rooney had done quite a few dramatic roles as he got older (including an especially good one from THE TWILIGHT ZONE, about a jockey who wishes to be “a big man” and lives to regret it), but I’m all the more impressed that he held his own in this film noir, and with Team B. fave Peter Lorre, no less! After reading your superb review, I’ll keep an eye out for QUICKSAND on TV! 😀

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    1. Thanks for dropping by, Dorian! The “Twilight Zone” episode you mentioned sounds really good.

      I’m looking forward to reading your review of “Quicksand” one day – I know that it will be sooo entertaining with your research and terrific photo captions.

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      1. Ruth, my friend, you’ve piqued my interest in QUICKSAND all the more; I’m a sucker for blog posts with snappy captions, as you well know! 🙂 I’ll keep my eyes peeled for QUICKSAND and see if it’s on TCM or the like!

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  10. If you enjoyed this film you might like the 1951 film called the Strip. Here Rooney plays a drummer and a sap for a girl who is more interested in a mobster played by James Craig.

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  11. I’m not really a Mickey Rooney fan. But I did enjoy him in the film, Quicksand. Overall, it’s a wonderful film although is starts slowly but gets better and better as the story unfolds.

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  12. Wow that was strange. I just wrote an extremely long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t appear. Grrrr… well I’m not
    writing all that over again. Anyhow, just wanted to say wonderful blog!

    Like

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