On the other hand, there's his performance in Quicksand, one of the most underrated film noirs of its time. Unlike the know-it-alls he was used to playing, his character here, Dan, is a sap from the opening moments of the movie, disparaging the girl who loves him while falling hard for a cashier named Vera, who's obviously one step away from the alley and two from Tehachapi.
|Sure, kid, nobody's gonna notice that|
missing double sawbuck.
And what would drive an honest, hardworking mechanic like Dan into, well, a quicksand of disaster? A bottle-blonde dame who smells of sex and stinks of the gutter. It makes me feel better about myself that, no matter how stupid I was in the past regarding women, it was nothing compared to your typical noir dope.
|Dan reflects on what an idiot he is|
to go out with this woman.
|For a fun time, visit Nick's penny arcade!|
And since Nick is played by Peter Lorre, Quicksand's noir factor ratchets up a dozen or so steps. A guy with the charm of dung-covered Black Mamba, Nick orders some noisy little boys out of the arcade -- "or I'll save you all the trouble of growing up." One of my all time favorite actors, Lorre has a rare presence, unique delivery, and the ability to elevate any movie he appears in. It's he who discovers that Dan has mugged a drunk to pay off a debt, but offers to keep his mouth shut if Dan supplies him with a new car. Nice guy! (Their brief, believably sloppy fight scene -- without stunt doubles -- is a highlight.)
|"Would you like to spit on me, Danny? |
You can, you know."
|Never trust a dame with a fur coat,|
stolen money, and a big, fat smirk on her face.
|Jimmie Dodd (left) turns from the camera|
so the Mouseketeers don't see him ogling
a tramp like Vera.
Mickey Rooney isn't the only unexpected actor in Quicksand. Dan's co-worker, Buzz, has only one scene at the very beginning of the movie. He'd be completely forgettable if it wasn't for the fact he's played Jimmie Dodd, a few years away from becoming the Mouseketeer godfather on The Mickey Mouse Club. Quicksand offers the rare chance to see Dodd without large, round discs atop his head.
Mickey Rooney made Quicksand as his career was going into eclipse. Ironically, this was the time he gave his best performances in dramatic movies and, occasionally, on TV. (His portrayal in the corrosive title role of "The Comedian", a live episode of Playhouse 90, is an absolute a career highlight -- especially when you know it's based on a combination of the holy terrors Milton Berle and Red Buttons.) Unlike the MGM musicals he's best known for, Quicksand allows Rooney to often shift down into first gear, giving him several wonderfully subtle moments. Watch him dicker with Lorre over the keys to the stolen car in return of the bloodstained handkerchief he used in the mugging -- a scene where, like a couple of others, he resembles Leonardo DiCaprio not only in looks but style.
Yet, only 30 years old and already on the third of his eight marriages, he appears to know that his major box-office days are already behind him. For Mickey Rooney, Quicksand was more than just a movie. It was his becoming his life.