"In 1939 the world was moving on. Warner Brothers, the Hollywood studio that owed its existence to Prohibition and the Volstead Act, was slowly weaning itself from gangster movies. The genre's greatest star, James Cagney, was heartily sick of playing gangsters - How many ways can you hit a guy, anyway? THE ROARING TWENTIES, from the story "The World Moves On" by popular Broadway columnist Mark Hellinger, was `a memory' of the era Warners mined so successfully, and profitably, in the thirties. It stars Cagney as Eddie Bartlett, a more-or-less good guy who fought in World War I only to return to a country that didn't quite know what to do with all of her returning soldiers. Bartlett's two army buddies figure prominently in his eventual rise and fall - the slimy George Hally (Humphrey Bogart) and golden boy Lloyd Hart (Jeffrey Lynn). Bartlett's first touch of the Big Bottom occurs early on after his return. The job he'd thought was waiting for him when he got home is filled by someone else, and soon enough he sees and grabs at the opportunities presented by Prohibition. Bartlett's ascent begins when he begins to manufacture his own bathtub gin. Along the way Barlett enlists the services of old foxhole buddies Hally (right-hand gunsel) and Hart (legal advisor). Bartlett goes into the speakeasy business with Panama Smith (Gladys George) and falls hard for pretty young Jean Sherman (Priscilla Lane). Of course it's lonely at the top, and with treacherous associates like Hally and rivals like Nick Brown (Paul Kelly), precarious as well. Cagney may have been sick of playing gangsters by 1939, but it's hard to tell that from his performance. There's just something right about everything he does with a character who has to travel, convincingly, from the gutter to the penthouse, and then back again to the gutter. It's a consummate performance, and director Raoul Walsh, best known as an action director, handles the intimate moments with delicacy and sensitivity. Barlett's forlorn love for good-girl Jean, with good-boy Lloyd lurking around in the background, is doomed from the start, and Walsh and Cagney explore it to good effect. Gladys George's Panama's miscast affections are also delicately painted. Walsh balances the quieter moments with action scenes that would have fit comfortably in the later-day gangster films of Coppola and Scorsese. In fact, the shootout in Nick Brown's diner is an obvious template for a similar scene in The Godfather. THE ROARING TWENTIES is a masterpiece. The transfer print is in very good condition - I was so wrapped up in the story I really didn't notice any flicks or flacks. Warners has loaded this one with fun extras. There's a twenty minute feature titled "The Roaring Twenties: Time Moves On" featuring director Martin Scorsese and film experts Lincoln Hurst, Alain Silver, Mark Viera and Andrew Sarris. The theme is the end of the gangster movie cycle and Cagney's and Bogart's careers. The other special feature is Warner Night at the Movies, which opens with a trailer; a 1939 newsreel ("Worlds of Tomorrow"); a charming Lloyd French directed "All-Girl Revue" that features a young June Allyson as `mayor for a day' singing the forgettable "We've Got to Make the City Pretty"; a Grouch Club entry titled "The Great Library Misery"; and a color cartoon, "Thugs With a Dirty Mug." "
Cagney and Bogie as bootleggers
R. J. Marsella | California | 06/08/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"One of my all-time favorite gangster movies. The Roaring 20's features James Cagney at his best as a returning WWI vet who has lost his job , turns to bootlegging and muscles his way to the top. Cagney is at his wisecracking tough guy peak in this and he is given a run for his money by Humphrey Bogart as his WWI buddy turned partner turned rival.
The movie traces these characters through the tumultuous speakeasy days. Cagney's character falls for a young singer who is in love with a young straightshooting attorney. Eddie(Cagney) has one loyal admirer in Panama Smith an aging speakeasy manager who is played flawlessly by Gladys George. She delivers the most memorable line in the movie "Get a Victrola- Jughead". The story culminates with Eddie being ruined financially and having a showdown with Bogart's character that results in the death scene to end all death scenes. Cagney's staggeriing down the street and collapsing on the church steps after being shot has been often imitated but never duplicated. A great movie and a piece of film history that stands up to repeated viewings."
All the Way Up, and All the Way Down
Linda McDonnell | Brooklyn, U.S.A | 08/05/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"That's the symbolism at the end of "The Roaring Twenties", my all-time favorite James Cagney movie. What a joy to watch Cagney as he plays Eddie Bartlett, a doughboy who can't get a job after WWI, and who stumbles into the racketeering world by accident. It's a world about tuxedo clad toughs who pack heaters and gats, and speakeasies raided by cops on the make, two-timing ingenues and shady ladies with hearts of gold. And ultimately, a world set right by truth, justice, and the repeal of Prohibition. Supporting Cagney's gangster protagonist is a wonderful ensemble cast. Gladys George has been around the block, but gets stuck on Eddie; Priscilla Lane is the baby face that Eddie's ga-ga about, who sings "Melancholy Baby", "It Had to Be You" and other great songs of the period; Frank McHugh is Eddie's sidekick from the trenches to the big time; and Humphrey Bogart is the rat fink who chisels and kills with very little effort or remorse. "The Roaring Twenties" is a great movie about a good boy who fell in with the wrong crowd, expertly put over by that prince of the gangster movies, James Cagney. Take it out for a little ride back to your VCR."
The Roaring Twenties
John Farr | 06/21/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"A breakthrough for director Walsh, this classic boasts electric performances from both Cagney and Bogie. Consistent with most Bogart portrayals from the thirties, his George Hally is a low double-crosser who puts the screws to honorable (in his way) Eddie. Consistent with most Cagney roles, Eddie gets his revenge. "Twenties" is a worthy swan song to the glory days of the gangster picture--and just wait for that immortal closing line of dialogue."
An Immortal Classic - the stuff dreams are made of...
B. G. Carroll | Liverpool, England, UK | 03/03/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This movie - the pluperfect example of the Warner gangster film - seems a better film today than at the time it was released. Directed with flair by Raoul Walsh, it moves at a cracking pace and is especially well cast with a gallery of Warner Bros regulars. Cagney dominates the picture with one of his most likeable and poignant performances, always full of humour and above all humanity. The attention to period detail is outstanding and especially, with regard to its music score - a brilliant collage of contemporaty popular songs woven into a marvellous dramatic score by that unsung genius, Ray Heindorf who also provides the knockout orchestrations.
The finale is pure magic, as Cagney dies in the arms of Gladys George, on the steps of a large church (one of the most ubiquitous standing sets on the Warner Lot - Bette Davis runs up those steps at the start of Deception (1946) and it stood in as a Court House in a dozen films). Bogart makes a great ratfaced crook and his verbal sparring with Cagney is a delight.
The DVD is all one could ever wish for - a sparkling restoration with terrific sound and a host of extras to delight the most discerning of buffs. My only quibble - for some weird reason, my copy lost synchronisation bewween sound & picture for about 15 minutes (Reel 2?). However, I have seen other copies and it was fine.
Bravo Warners! This great film is now immortally preserved and its stature can only grow with each passing decade.