Red Nichols in Mickey Rooney's "Quicksand"

by Mark Gabrish Conlan

Last night I watched a DVD of the 1951 film noir "Quicksand," directed by Irving Pichel, written by Robert Smith and starring Mickey Rooney as a garage mechanic whose lust for a "bad girl" (a superb performance by James Cagney's sister Jeanne) and within a few days spirals downhill from embezzlement to loan fraud to robbery to attempted murder. One of the night spots Rooney's character takes Cagney's to is a club at which Red Nichols' band is playing, and while they're only shown doing one song (and most of it is talked over by the actors), it still offers a quick glimpse of Nichols' early-1950's band, with the awesome Joe Rushton on bass sax.

Incidentally, the next year Rooney made an even better film noir, "The Strip," with another jazz star, Louis Armstrong. In that film Armstrong is featured with the best band he ever led (Barney Bigard, clarinet; Jack Teagarden, trombone; Earl "Fatha" Hines, piano; Arvell Shaw, bass; Cozy Cole, drums) and there's a lot more great jazz footage than there is in "Quicksand." I remember a particularly amazing performance of "Shadrach" in which Teagarden takes a trombone solo using only his lips to change pitches and not moving the slide at all. Rooney also gets to sit in with the Armstrong All-Stars on drums, which he'd played 10 years earlier in the film "Strike Up the Band" with Judy Garland,and he's surprisingly good.

Posted on Aug 27, 2017, 5:39 PM

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