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Film / Quicksand

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Quicksand is a 1950 American film noir that stars Mickey Rooney and Peter Lorre and portrays a garage mechanic's descent into crime. The film provided Rooney with an opportunity to play against type, performing in a role starkly different from his earlier role as the innocent "nice guy" in MGM's popular Andy Hardy film series.

Motor mechanic Dan Brady lacks funds for a heavy date with new restaurant cashier Vera, the type whose life's ambition is a mink coat; so he embezzles twenty dollars from his employer with plans to repay it the next day. To make up the shortage, he goes in debt for a hundred. Thereafter, every means he tries to get out of trouble only gets him deeper into financial difficulties that lead to bigger crimes as everyone he meets is out for themselves.

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Tropes:

  • Betty and Veronica: At the start of the film, Dan has recently broken up Helen (Betty)—a brunette Girl Next Door type—because she was getting too serious and talking about marriage and he didn't want to be tied down. He then falls for Vera (Veronica)—an exotic worldly blonde with a mysterious past. When Dan falls into a life of crime, Vera actively encourages him, seeing him as a shortcut to her goal of owning a mink coat. However, when it goes sour, Vera rats Dan out to the cops in an attempt to save herself. Helen, however, sticks by Dan no matter what he has does, and promises to be there for him no matter what.
  • Blackmail Backfire: Mackey attempts to blackmail Dan for $3000 over the theft of the sedan. When Dan can only come up with $1800, Mackey takes the cash and then tries to call the police. It an attempt to stop him, Dan winds up strangling him. And the kicker is Dan later learns that Mackey didn't know Dan had stolen the car. He ran the same line all of his employees and Dan was the only one who bit.
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  • Brandishment Bluff: Dan holds up Shorty by holding a comb in his coat pocket and pretending it's a gun.
  • Coincidental Broadcast: As Harvey and Helen drive away from the pier, they turn on the car radio to see if there is any news about Dan. They radio comes on midway through a story detailing a massive police manhunt with roadblocks on all the major highways. However, as the story ends they discover it is about a major crime in the capital. It is followed by a local news item about Dan, and they learn that Mackey is still alive.
  • Crime After Crime: Dan embezzles twenty dollars from his employer with plans to repay it the next day. To make up the shortage, he goes in debt for a hundred. Thereafter, every means he tries to get out of trouble only gets him deeper into financial difficulties that lead to bigger crimes as everyone he meets is out for themselves.
  • Femme Fatale: Vera is a low-rent version of this. It is implied that a lot has happened in her life before she started working as a cashier in Dan's favourite diner. She latches on to Dan as shortcut to getting her longed-for mink coat. She doesn't tell him to steal for her—he does that off his own bat—but once she finds out, she is happy to encourage him. And, when things go south, she rats him out to the cops in an attempt to save her own skin.
  • Letting the Air Out of the Band: While sneaking around the penny arcade at night, he bumps into a musical automaton and activates it. Trying to shut it off, he smashes the glass and rips out some of the works. The different instruments slow down and stop at different speeds.
  • My Car Hates Me: Dan's jalopy, which has already been established as unreliable, throws a main bearing just as he and Helen are starting their Run for the Border.
  • One-Word Title
  • Percussive Maintenance: Vera knows how to activate one of the musical automata in Nick's penny arcade by hitting it in just the right spot. This drives Nick crazy.
  • Pretty in Mink: Vera's greatest ambition in life to own a mink coat. She takes half the stolen money Dan leaves with her and uses it to buy a coat that she cannot wait to show off to Dan when he returns.
  • Reliably Unreliable Guns: While fleeing from the cops at the pier, Dan drops the gun he took off Mackey. The gun fires when it hits the ground, causing the cops to think he is shooting at them.
  • Run for the Border: After he thinks he has killed Mackey, Dan decides to run for Mexico with Helen. When his car breaks down, he hijacks Harvey's car and attempts to force the lawyer to drive them to Mexico.
  • So Much for Stealth: When Dan sneaks into the Penny arcade to steal Nick's cash, he bumps into a musical automaton that starts up and plays blaring band music.
  • Stealing from the Till: Dan wants to impress a girl with expensive tastes. So he borrows twenty dollars from the till. Then he learns that his tightwad boss has decided to run an audit early this month, well before payday. Each thing the mechanic does to try to fix his mistakes just digs him in deeper, until at the climax of the film he's fleeing to Mexico to avoid a murder rap.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Nick roughs up Vera in an attempt to get her to pay the $50 she owes him. Dan walks in on this and they get into a fight.
  • You Just Told Me: The police arrive to question Vera just after Dan has left her room. As Dan has just told her that he thinks he has killed Mackey, she assumes that is why they are and immediately tells them "I didn't have anything to do with him!" The police, who are actually there to question her about the break-in at Nick's and don't know about the attack on Mackey yet, get suspicious and the detective starts asking her series of leading questions. Vera's guilty conscience fills in the blanks and she makes a series of denials that dig her in deeper, as she keeps denying involvement in crimes she shouldn't even be aware of. When she realises what is happening, she flips and starts blaming Dan for everything.


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