Friday Film Noir: Quicksand

By Pie Guevara

Pie Guevara appears in Post Scripts courtesy of Jack Lee and Tina Grazier. Pie Guevara is an unregistered trademark of Engulf and Devour Investments LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Walton Industries which, in turn, is wholly owned by David Walton.  So there!


Quicksand (1950) — Mickey Rooney, Jeanne Cagney, Peter Lorre.

My fascination with film noir began as a youth in the mid 60’s. It was at a Saturday afternoon matinée showing at the Park Theater in Lafayette, California when I first saw Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall star in “Dark Passage.” I fell in love with Bacall. I fell in love with Bogie. I fell in love with film noir.

Aside to RHT447 — This was when The Frontier Gun Shop was still on Mount Diablo Boulevard and there were only two stop lights in town. One at the intersection of School Street and Moraga Road to stop traffic in case of emergency for the old firehouse (which became the Town Hall Theater after a new firehouse was built) and the other at the intersection of Mount Diablo Boulevard and Moraga Road right down the street at the center of town. (The stop lights were new additions, replacing stop signs.)

Film noir emerged early in the 20th century but was not identified as a cinematic style until decades later when French critic Nino Frank coined the term in 1946. Visually these films draw from the German expressionism cinema of the first two decades of the 20th century. The distinctive low key lighting emphasizes contrasts of light and shadow elements in the camera frame to render a sense of depth and mood. Classic black and white horror films also drew from the visual elements of German expressionism.

For me, as a visual style, neither film noir nor classic horror have ever translated well into color. To my eye the closest color horror has ever come to classic black and white horror was done by the British film company Hammer. In my opinion there are no color film noir that equal or capture the essence of the genre in classic black and white with two possible exceptions — The Coen Brothers brilliant “Blood Simple” and Roman Polanski’s epic “Chinatown.” Both films have been classified as “neo-noir” but sometimes the taxonomy of cinema seems to be a bit overly enthusiastic. In a color film world film noir as a graphic exercise is essentially dead as it is highly unlikely that black and white film making as a popular commercial enterprise will ever re-emerge.

While film noir has a distinctive visual style it is the thematic elements which complete the picture. These themes are drawn from the darker side of the human experience and include disillusionment, pessimism, despair, crime, cynicism, greed and sexual motivation. Such are the psychological forces which drive the characters towards their ultimate demise or redemption in film noir.

Visually “Quicksand” is on the brighter side of film noir but not so the story. Mickey Rooney as Dan Brady is a happy go lucky guy who descends into a moral abyss when he steals 20 bucks to date femme fatale Vera Novak played by Jeanne Cagney. This role was a significant departure for Rooney whose earlier films cast him as the innocent nice guy. Peter Lorre as the seedy extortionist Nick Dramoshag gives this B movie an A movie performance. The story revolves around Vera and the desire she invokes in Dan and Nick. Jeanne in heels is taller than both Rooney and Lorre and she was probably taller than her brother James Cagney.

Mickey Rooney co-financed the film with Peter Lorre but they never cashed in on the profits as a third partner reportedly made off with the loot. (Now there is a possible film noir concept in itself.)

Mickey Mouse Club fans may recognize Jimmy Dodd on the left in the opening diner scene. Yes, that is a young Jack Elam (the immortal straying eye mug of Westerns fame) who walks in chewing gum in the bar scene. Pop up a load of corn.





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5 Responses to Friday Film Noir: Quicksand

  1. RHT447 says:

    Thanks for the aside. Can’t say that I was ever in The Frontier Gun Shop, possibly in my college years if it was still there. In the ’60’s I was still a young lad and my tastes ran more to Mattel and Greenie Stik M Caps. There was a toy store on Mount Diablo Boulevard, maybe at the SE corner of 1st or 2nd streets, that my grandmother would take me to.

    My mother graduated from Mt. Diablo Union High School in 1940. She and my grandparents lived in a beautiful Spanish style house they built on a hillside just south of Upper Happy Valley Road. My first bike appeared under the Christmas tree there.

    El Charro. My grandparents were friends with and helped the folks who started that restaurant. Every kid should sit down to a meal that is bigger than they are. I remember the whole family (including us grandkids) went there on a Saturday night. Place was packed, line out the door. The MaĆ®tre D’ (also the mother) recognizes my grandmother. Squeals of delight, hugs, and we all get ushered right in past the crowd to a table. Could be somebody called ahead, I have no idea. Still, and evening to remember.

    • Pie says:

      I remember that toy store but I forget the name. That is where I got my first baseball mitt and later my first real skate board. Before that board I and other kids screwed steel roller skates to pieces of wood and went flying down the hill. It is amazing that we didn’t kill ourselves.

      Yes, El Charro! Right next to the lumber yard. I used to ride my bike to the lumber yard and the saw man would give me scraps to work with.

  2. J. Soden says:

    More Quicksand –
    I see where Chico and Butte County are gonna insert themselves between PG&E and electric users. Nothing good for users is gonna come from another layer of bureaucracy.
    Higher rates will be guaranteed ’cause somebody has to pay for this, so how does that “protect” ratepayers?
    Smells a lot more like an ego trip for elected officials.

    • Post Scripts says:

      Jack here and yes JS, I totally agree with you. It seems our whole global social structure is fast evolving towards more and more bureaucracy. Can you name a country that isn’t? A country where they are movi8ng towards more freedom and individual initiative than they are for more centralized control and entitlements? I think big government is going to be the winner in the years to come because of liberalism exploitation of two underlying flaws in humanity, laziness and timidity. The more we rely on big government the more dependent on big government we become – simple. I hate to think what this world will be in another 100 years.

      • Tina says:

        It may not make another 100 years, depending on whether prophecy is part of your understanding, of course.

        It may be safe to say that freedom lovers are making some progress in America and influencing others around the world. We are winning on nominations to the court. We are eliminating regulations in all departments. The newest generation seems more eager to hear conservative voices. The Trump doctrine and philosophy is causing others in power to reflect…he’s winning at serving the people (getting reelected?) and following through on promises. He’s no empty suit and they notice!

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