THE ROARING TWENTIES (1939) B/W 107m dirs: Raoul Walsh, Anatole Litvak
w/James Cagney, Priscilla Lane, Humphrey Bogart, Jeffrey Lynn, Gladys George, Frank McHugh, Paul Kelly, Elisabeth Risdon, Edward Keane, Joe Sawyer
From The Movie Guide: "A fitting finale to a decade of memorable gangster films [e.g. LITTLE CAESAR, THE PUBLIC ENEMY]. This slick, whirlwind-paced crime melodrama is another tour de force for James Cagney, making it a companion piece to ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES. It was the brainchild of journalist-turned-producer Mark Hellinger, who assures audiences in voice-over during the opening credits that what they are about to see is based upon real people and events he covered as a newsman during the 1920s, when the gangster was king and Prohibition was nothing more than a bad law that elevated the gangster to his deadly throne.
"The picture opens with three WWI doughboys, Eddie Bartlett (Cagney), George Hally (Bogart) and Lloyd Hart (Lynn) discussing their future plans in a bomb crater during a battle in France. Hart intends to become a lawyer, and Eddie plans on going back to repairing cabs, but Hally explains that he is determined to put his Army weapons training to good use. Back home, Eddie becomes a successful bootlegger, hires Hally away from a rival gin peddler, and employs Hart to handle legal affairs for the legit end of his business. When war breaks out between the rival gangs, Hally, tired of playing second fiddle, helps set Eddie up in a trap that backfires. Later, Hally decides to go after Hart, who is now a crusading attorney. Chorus girl Jean (Lane) begs Eddie for help, and the stage is set for a climactic confrontation between Cagney and Bogart. Viewers aren't likely to forget Cagney's walk down the street at the end of the film.
"Walsh's direction of this third and last film in which Cagney and Bogart appeared together is awesomely swift, encompassing a decade in slick episodes, interspersed with newsreel footage of gangsters, rumrunning, and booze being made on the assembly line. Eddie is shown to be a good man ruined by the excesses of the times. Though he has gone bad, strains of decency are apparent in his relationship with Hart and Jean, and in his self-sacrificing attempt to save them from the violence of Hally.
"Cagney gives a supercharged performance, particularly when he is down-and-out and acting the role of a drunk in a stupor. Bogart is icily sinister as a man devoid of human kindness or affection, while George is terrific as the loyal saloon gal who will go to the Devil for her man.
"Cagney's role is based upon the spectacular rise and fall of New York gangster Larry Fay, a colorful and enigmatic underworld character who promoted the career of brassy nightclub singer Texas Guinan (the role model for Panama [played by George]). Fay also reputedly provided the inspiration for F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. This would be Cagney's last gangster film for a decade, until he took on the psychotic lead role in WHITE HEAT, working again with his good friend Walsh."
From Variety 's contemporary review of the film: "This is a partially true gangster melodrama from the pen of Mark Hellinger. As a seasoned Broadway columnist Hellinger well remembered the dizzy times that gave birth to such illegal hot spots as the Hotsy-Totsy, Dizzy, Black Bottom, etc. Above all, he had intimate knowledge of the El Fay, the Del Fay and the Guinan clubs, and the Texas Guinan-Larry Fay operation thereof. He has thinly disguised them as the central figures in this yarn, in a good many instances spilling some inside facts, but the blow-off (for the sake of better picture entertainment) is certainly fictionalized."