The Roaring Twenties (1939)

e08f7-the-roaring-twentiesHere is a retrospective gangster film reminiscing about the Jazz Age and Roaring Twenties extending from the post WWI period  of prohibition to the election of FDR.
Two mainstays of the genre including the original gangster James Cagney and hard-boiled Humphrey Bogart star as two men in a group of three soldiers who meet during World War I. In the ensuing years Eddie Bartlett (James Cagney) initially has difficulty getting back into society, but after meeting Speakeasy owner Panama Smith (Gladys George) he finds himself climbing the ranks in the bootlegging business. Soon through grit and a ruthless drive Eddie makes good racketeering by utilizing taxis with booze to make it big. 

Through it all Eddie becomes smitten with a young singer he used to know when she was a young girl (Priscilla Lane), except she does not share his affection. Pretty soon his ol’ buddy George (Bogart) comes back into the picture, with a some shifting dealings of his own. Eddie practically runs the town now but when the Crash happens he gets pushed out by George and now Jean is off and married to her lawyer beau. Eddie is a washed-up taxi driver still hanging around Panama and he has time to do one last favor for Jean.

This is one of the last great gangster films of the 1930s following in the wake of other Cagney classics like The Public Enemy and Angel with Dirty Faces. Raoul Walsh directs this film and it develops as another dynamic, action packed film with a lot of drama and heart thanks to Cagney and George. It is however different from previous gangster flicks in that it plays out as a history although it keeps the nitty-gritty look of the previous films. Like Angel with Dirty Faces especially, there are also some sentimental moments because Cagney is not a complete scoundrel, just mostly. Not wanting to continue being typecast Cagney took a break from the genre not coming back until White Heat in 1949. He did pretty well for himself during the 1940s though with performances in The Stawberry Blonde and Yankee Doodle Dandy. There was another fellow who did not do too bad in that interim period either, new found leading man Humphrey Bogart.

“What was his business?”
“He used to be a big shot.”
 
4/5 Stars

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