The Roaring Twenties (1939) 3.43/5 (1)


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Rating: The Good – 78.7
Genre: Gangster
Duration: 106 mins
Director: Raoul Walsh
Stars: James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, Priscilla Lane

Prohibition era gangster drama starring James Cagney as an initially honest Joe who returns from The Great War to find no job waiting for him, a lack of tolerance for veterans, and a city ripe for the plucking. It’s not long before his plucky attitude, feisty determination, and very hard edge see him rise to the top of the bootlegging world, a position that attracts as many enemies as it does friends. Throw in a case of unrequited love and the stage is set for some dramatic showdowns.

The Roaring Twenties is one of those era-defining crime dramas immortalised by the competing presences of Cagney and a cusp-of-stardom Humphrey Bogart as his untrustworthy partner with a murderous streak. Cagney has been better but not often as he shows us a warmer version of his more famous gangster incarnations but with all the grit. Bogart makes for a fantastic villain which is unsurprising given how well he walked the line in his more heroic roles later on. Priscilla Lane is only fair in the role of the love interest but her character is a nicely original take on typical female roles in films from that era.

Penned by, among others Robert Rossen, the  script is luscious to say the least and full of that perceptive quality which the best films from the 30’s & 40’s are unmatched for. On the directing front, Raoul Walsh brings his composed touch to the film balancing war sequences, restaurant shoot outs, liquor heists, boat hijackings, nightclub drama, and good old fashioned heart-on-sleeve drama with an assured ease. The film looks wonderful too, capturing all the glitz and glamour of the period while never being consumed by it.

The Roaring Twenties is exactly what we’ve come to expect from the 1930’s prohibition retrospectives but replete with a class that would flatter any project. Not least, it’s also a rare opportunity to see two of that cinematic generation’s greatest actors go head to head in vintage style.

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