|The Roaring Twenties|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Raoul Walsh|
|Produced by||Hal B. Wallis|
|Written by||Jerry Wald|
|Based on||The World Moves On (1938)|
by Mark Hellinger
|Music by||Ray Heindorf|
|Edited by||Jack Killifer|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.|
The Roaring Twenties is a 1939 crime thriller starring James Cagney, Priscilla Lane, Humphrey Bogart, and Gladys George. The epic movie, spanning the periods between 1919 and 1933, was directed by Raoul Walsh and written by Jerry Wald, Richard Macaulay and Robert Rossen.
It was based on "The World Moves On," a short story by Mark Hellinger, a columnist who had been hired by Jack L. Warner to write screenplays. The movie is hailed as a classic in the gangster movie genre, and considered an homage to the classic gangster movie of the early 1930s.
Three men meet in a foxhole during the waning days of World War I: Eddie Bartlett, George Hally and Lloyd Hart, and experience trials and tribulations from the Armistice through the passage of the 18th Amendment leading to the Prohibition period of the 1920s and the violence which erupted due to it, all the way through the 1929 stock market crash to its conclusion at the end of 1933, only days after the 21st Amendment brought an end to the Prohibition era.
Following World War I, Lloyd Hart starts his law practice, George Hally, a former saloon keeper, becomes a bootlegger, and Eddie Bartlett, a garage mechanic, finds his old job filled. At the suggestion of his friend Danny Green, Eddie becomes a cab driver. While unknowingly delivering a package of liquor to Panama Smith, he is arrested. Panama is acquitted and after a short stint in jail, they go into the bootlegging business together. Eddie uses a fleet of cabs to deliver his liquor, and he hires Lloyd as his lawyer to handle his legal issues. He re-meets Jean Sherman, a girl he formerly corresponded with during the war while she was in high school, who is now an adult working at a nightclub. Eddie gives her a job singing in Henderson's cabaret, where Panama is hostess. Eddie wants Jean as his wife, giving her an engagement ring that he asks her to hold until he's saved up enough money to quit the criminal rackets.
Eddie and his henchmen hijack a shipload of liquor belonging to fellow bootlegger Nick Brown who had refused to cooperate with him. In charge of the liquor shipment on board is George who proposes that Eddie bring him in as a partner. Eddie agrees and back home they inform the authorities about one of Brown's liquor shipments. After the shipment is confiscated, Eddie and George lead a heist of the warehouse and steal it. As they are leaving, George recognizes one of the watchmen as his former sergeant that he disliked and murders him. After learning of the murder, Lloyd quits with George threatening to kill him if he ever informs on them. In time, as the bootlegging rackets prosper, Eddie sends Danny to arrange a truce with Brown, but Danny's body is dropped off in front of The Panama Club. Eddie goes after Brown for revenge, but George, by now resentful with Eddie's increasing power, tips off Brown, who sets a trap. A gunfight ensues, and Eddie kills Brown while escaping. Suspecting George's betrayal but unable to prove it, Eddie dissolves their partnership.
Things continue to go bad for Eddie as he discovers that Jean has never really loved him and is in fact in love with Lloyd. Subsequently, after speculating in the stock market, Eddie's bootlegging empire crumbles in the 1929 crash. He is forced to sell his cab company to George at a price far below its value. George mockingly leaves Eddie one cab for himself, correctly foreseeing that Eddie will soon have fallen so low that he'll be back to being a mere cab driver.
By chance, one day Jean steps into Eddie's cab and he renews his acquaintance with her and with Lloyd, meeting their young son. Lloyd is now with the district attorney's office and Eddie is aware that the office is preparing to bring a case against George. Eddie reminds Lloyd that George will still follow through on his threat against Lloyd from years earlier. The encounter leaves Eddie despondent since he's still in love with Jean and he becomes an alcoholic, though he'd never drunk at all during the years that he was bootlegging.
When Jean discovers that George is indeed planning to have Lloyd killed, she appeals to the drunken Eddie for help. He initially declines, but ultimately decides to go to George's house to ask him to have mercy on the couple. While there, Eddie is mocked again by George for his shabby looks. Not only does George refuse to cancel the hit on Lloyd, but he decides he'll have to kill Eddie too since he now believes that Eddie will inform on him to the police in order to help Jean. This results in a shootout in which Eddie kills George and some of his men, redeeming himself.
After running outside, Eddie is shot in the back by one of George's men and collapses on the steps of a nearby church. As the police arrest the remainder of George's gang, Panama runs to Eddie and cradles his lifeless body. When a police officer begins inquiring about who Eddie was, she replies, "He used to be a big shot."
In 2009 Empire magazine named The Roaring Twenties #1 in a poll of the 20 Greatest Gangster Movies You've Never Seen* (*Probably).