Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Roaring Twenties (1939)

A bang-up cast puts some major pep into The Roaring Twenties.


There's nothing subtle in this gangster film. Even worse, the screenplay doesn't miss a chance to conveniently bring characters back together, in New York City of all places. One character has a grudge against another? Guess who'll meet up later? Prepare to give this script a lot of latitude with the liberties it takes poking at one's suspension of disbelief.

Still, James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart and Gladys George are fantastic in this 1939 effort by Raoul Walsh (White Heat).


Bogart delivers as the menacing, double-crossing George Hally. The Roaring Twenties really kicks into gear when he and Cagney share the screen. Much was made of a scene in Michael Mann's Heat that drew together Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino. Well, here's a similar scenario from 40 years earlier with two all-time greats.

Hally, Eddie Bartlett (Cagney) and Lloyd Hart (Jeffrey Lynn) are all First World War veterans who all met, like a lot of veterans during the Great War I'm sure, in a shell hole under German fire.

Their paths cross in civilian life. Bartlett can't find work, in a sombre nod to a problem veterans actually did face after war ended, and starts running booze during Prohibition. Hart is a by-the-book lawyer enlisted by Bartlett to help with the business side of his growing empire. Hally jumped feet first, with both arms not far behind, into a life of crime.


Bartlett and Hart both have eyes for the same dame, Jean Sherman (Priscilla Lane), a sweet, young lady with a great set of pipes. Bartlett loves Jean, but she's in love with Hart. That's going to be a problem.

When Eddie isn't busy having shootouts with night watchmen and other gangsters, he is slugging Hart for messing around with his girl.

The real treat here is Gladys George (Maltese Falcon). She is perfectly cast as the wise, and weary, speakeasy owner, Panama Smith. She has a soft spot for Bartlett from the get-go, saying he reminds her of a soldier she knew. Given how this script is put together, it's a surprise Hally didn't kill him when the two were overseas.


Plenty of sharp dialogue helps power The Roaring Twenties. "What a load of ice," offers Panama when she sees the engagement ring George bought for Jean. "Go home and rescue a swimmer," chides Hally when an apparent Coast Guard vessel prepares to stop his boat loaded with hooch.

Entertaining nightclub performances of My Melancholy Baby, It Had to Be You and I'm Just Wild About Harry break up the carnage and fisticuffs.

RATING: 8/10

FUN FACTS: Paul Kelly, who appears as Bartlett's foe Nick Kelly, appeared in more than 50 silent shorts starting in 1911. Director Raoul Walsh earned his first directing credit in 1913 with The Pseudo Prodigal. Cast member Edward Keane's last film was the 1959 Japanese gangster film, Ankokugai no Koayaku.

1 comment:

James Brannan said...

Greetings from the Pure Entertainment Preservation Society! This is a fine article. I have never seen this movie, but I have read a lot about it, and it sounds like a very exciting film.

I, Rebekah Brannan, have not participated much in the blog world in the past, but I intend to become more involved now.

I would like very much for you to participate in my upcoming blogathon, The Singing Sweethearts Blogathon, which will be my first real participation in PEPS. This blogathon, which will be hosted around Valentine’s Day, is celebrating the famous singing team Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy.

You can read the rules of the blogathon at: If you want to join, please comment and tell me your topic, if you have chosen one. I hope you’ll join me in honoring this brilliant team and the holiday of love!


Rebekah Brannan