Dan Brady (Mickey Rooney) is a mechanic in California who tells his buddies that the girl he has been seeing, Helen (Barbara Bates), has been making plans for a wedding - to him, and he's none too pleased about that. He feels he's young enough to have wild oats to sow, and should be having fun rather than settling down no matter how nice Helen is, so when a new girl walks into the diner as the assistant Dan decides he can chat her up to prove to himself he still has it. She is reluctant at first, but he can be very persuasive and soon they have made a date. One problem, though: he needs twenty bucks to show her a good time tonight, and doesn't get paid till tomorrow...
By the time Mickey Rooney was making Quicksand his Andy Hardy days were behind him, and he was seeking to establish himself as a serious actor now his musicals had fallen out of fashion. To that end he appeared increasingly in roles which saw him graduated from the so-called juvenile leads of his recent past, but this particular effort came at a point when audiences were not envisaging him as a tough guy, even a put upon, downtrodden tough guy as befitting this film noir hard luck tale. The trouble was he carried too much baggage from those movies where he'd exclaim "Jiminy Jillikers!" or similar and it took a while for his public to accept he had matured.
Nowadays, looking back on this transitional phase, we don't have that same perception so we can see he was a very decent dramatic actor, something useful for this where he had to sell a whole load of contrivances to the viewer which may or may not convince you: there were a hell of a lot of coincidences in Robert Smith's script. However, if you took this as a yarn delineating one poor shmuck's descent into a Hell not necessarily of his own making, then you would likely get along with it a lot better, as it was meant to be nightmarish where the logic of what was occurring was as if the world had turned against Dan, not out of vindictiveness, or to teach him a lesson, but because there simply were no lucky breaks here.
All Dan wanted was an advance on his pay, so to that end he borrowed a twenty dollar bill from the till at the garage, fully intending to pay it back the next day once he has his wages. This simple lapse - his boss is shown to be a hardnosed mini-tyrant - is what sends him careering into misery and desperation as events escalate into what he believes will be a murder charge should he hang around. And the reason? Cherchez la femme! It's the woman from the diner, Vera (played by James Cagney's lookalike sister Jeanne Cagney in one of her few roles not in a film of her brother's), who is our femme fatale, and all because she has been greedily eyeing a mink coat at an expensive store. What she needs is someone stupid enough to accomodate her and buy that fur, so the hopelessly naive Dan is a prime candidate.
As with many a film noir, this was a moral tale so we can observe Dan would have been better off with nice girl Helen (Barbara Bates in her most typical role, and funnily enough the one the tragic, suicidal actress is best recalled for since Quicksand was relegated to public domain, thereby easier to see than many of her other works). Also adding a dash of personality was Vera's old cohort played by Peter Lorre, here rejoicing under the name Nick Dramoshag (!) who owns the penny arcade the couple inevitably end up in, those seedy surroundings ideal for a down at heel story such as this. In addition, it meant we got to watch Lorre and Rooney in a fistfight, not something you see every day, as Dan finds cash harder and harder to come by and resorts to violence to get his way. Naturally this tips the scales so far into chaos that he is a fugitive from the cops by the last act, having added theft, mugging, assault and possible murder to his litany of crimes, although oddly it was as if the fates took pity on the hapless Dan and resolved this less bleakly than you'd expect. Music by Louis Gruenberg.