After the WWI Armistice Lloyd Hart goes back to practice law, former saloon keeper George Hally turns to bootlegging, and out-of-work Eddie Bartlett becomes a cab driver. Eddie builds a fleet of cabs through delivery of bootleg liquor and hires Lloyd as his lawyer. George becomes Eddie's partner and the rackets flourish until love and rivalry interfere.Written by
Ed Stephan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Mark Hellinger was relatively new on staff at Warner Brothers and had been given various "B"-picture writing and producing assignments. According to "The Mark Hellinger Story" by Jim Bishop, after initially reading Hellinger's story for this film, studio boss Jack L. Warner and production chief Hal B. Wallis became so excited that they considered the project too good for Hellinger to produce. Wallis became Executive Producer and told Hellinger he would give him the title of Associate Producer. It wasn't until after the film was released that Hellinger saw that screen credit for Associate Producer had gone to Samuel Bischoff. It didn't matter to Hellinger, however, as the film was unanimously praised by critics and was a financial success. See more »
The head-shot photo of Eddie Bartlett shown in close-up on his New York City Taxi License card, seen by Jean when she gets into his cab, is obviously a still photo taken during the filming of that scene, with the card closeup edited in later. He is wearing not only the same cap in both the scene and the ID photo, but also the same crooked tie, the same facial expression, and a vertical seam from the back seat upholstery is visible behind him. See more »
It is not as centrally dynamic as THE PUBLIC ENEMY nor as Freudian as WHITE HEAT, but THE ROARING TWENTIES is a leading gangster film for Jimmy Cagney as it details the rise and fall of a gangster Eddie Bartlett. The product of World War I and Prohibition, Eddie rises to great power as the head of a gang, always trying to return to legitimate society, and then to fall again due to the Wall Street Crash and the machinations of his right-hand man George Hally (Humphrey Bogart).
Both men's characters are far more subtle as studies of success in criminal enterprise than the normal crime bosses of the 1930s. Eddie painstakingly builds up a taxicab corporation to gain legitimacy, as well as his stock acquisitions. Bogart, a bit more realistic on what types of businesses he understands, does not get involved in the stock market. But he enjoys the trappings of the upper class. Witness the scene when he is talking with his underling (Abner Biberman) and he is practicing his putting in his office. At the conclusion, Bogart is living in a townhouse (a sign of his financial success).
There is a tradition in the films of the depression that some gangsters are not as bad as others. This is not to be taken seriously in real life, but the idea is that certain people are driven to crime by economic circumstances (Cagney returning to no job at the end of World War I) and some are driven by pure evil (the sadistic side of Bogart's nature). Cagney, on his rise, gains the friendship of people like Gladys George (actually the unrequited love of Ms George) and tries to find room in his organization for people like Frank McHugh, a nice guy who really never fit in properly as a criminal - and dies as a result. Bogart gains the support of like villains (Bibberman, who shares Bogie's fate at the end), and keeps showing a contempt for human life in most of the film (witness how he kills a cop on one of the rum runners he and Cagney are on, because the cop was once his sergeant in the army who punished him for breaking the rules when he did). But Cagney turns out to have more guts in him than Bogie. At the end of the film the latter, facing his own demise, turns into a total coward.
The film has many touches to set the tone of the 21 years it covers (1918 - 1939). At the start newsreel footage takes the audience back to the end of World War I, showing Presidents and events up to Wilson (who, curiously enough, is shown by an actor playing the President, not as part of an old film). It has been noted that Gladys George's Panama is based on Texas Guinan, the speakeasy hostess. The death of Cagney on the steps of a church is based on the death of Hymie Weiss, a Chicago gangster rival of Capone who was killed that way in 1927. It was too good a death to not use in a gangster film, as it seems more symbolic than it was in real life (it does remind us of how Cagney, for all his good intentions, came up short due to his profession in violence).
I have not commented on the love triangles involving Cagney, Jeffrey Lynn, and Priscilla Lane (and Cagney, Lane, and Gladys George). The irony that Cagney never sees that George is more than just a good friend is rather poignant, for both of them. And it is George who cradles his dead body in the end and gives his epitaph. Perhaps today a director would allow Cagney to wise up and get away with George. But that would spoil the full effect of the film's conclusion.
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