Watched: October 17 2016
Director: Raoul Walsh
Starring: James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, Priscilla Lane, Gladys George, Jeffrey Lynn, Frank McHugh
Runtime: 1h 46min
It’s World War One and two guys are doing their best to smoke a cigarette in a shell hole during the fighting. A third guy joins them and they gradually strike up a friendship despite being from very different walks of life; Eddie Bartlett (Cagney) is a mechanic, George Hally (Bogart) is the son of a bar owner, and Lloyd Hart (Lynn) is a lawyer.
Upon returning home after the war, the three go their seperate ways and we follow Bartlett as he goes back to his old friend and his old job only to find that the world has moved on and there’s no work for him. To make matters even worse, Eddie decides to look up his old penpal from the war, Jean (the ridiculously gorgeous Priscilla Lane), and discovers she’s a school kid. To his credit, he walks away.
He moves in with his friend Danny Green (McHugh) and they take turns driving Danny’s taxi to make a living. After Eddie is arrested for unwittingly smuggling rum into a bar, he realises that there’s money in illegal alcohol and he starts producing and delivering his own, with the help of Danny, the fabulous Panama Smith (George) and his old lawyer friend from the war. He makes it big, runs into (the now legal) Jean again and starts to pursue her, with varied success. She tries, but fails, to fall in love with Eddie.
George Hally comes back into their lives and the business keeps growing. However, Hally’s ruthlessness and tendency towards violence push Lloyd away and drive Eddie to become more violent himself. When prohibition ends, Eddie has lost it all – his business, his girl, his best friends and his sobriety. Panama stands by him, but he becomes a drunk and reverts to taxi driving again.
Eddie is short tempered, proud and impulsive, but he’s not a really bad guy, more a victim of circumstance and his own ambition. Hally is more the psychopath – the one who delights in violence and excessive force. Panama and Danny are easily the most likable characters, and in many ways the most innocent victims of Eddie and Hally.
We loved the voice-over and the documentary feel of The Roaring Twenties. The plot and the characters are intriguing and the film was strangely educational, like a very engaging history lesson. Our love for James Cagney is still going strong – whether he’s playing a gangster or he’s dancing and singing, he is mesmerizing.
What we learned: don’t drink and drive, kids! Also, we learned a lot of stuff about the USA between 1920 and 1939. Thank you, voice-over dude!
Next time: The Wizard of Oz (1939)