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The Roaring Twenties

For the time period, see Roaring Twenties and 1920s.
The Roaring Twenties
theatrical poster
Directed by Raoul Walsh
Produced by Hal B. Wallis
Samuel Bischoff
Written by Jerry Wald
Richard Macaulay
Robert Rossen
Based on The World Moves On (1938) 
by Mark Hellinger
Starring James Cagney
Priscilla Lane
Humphrey Bogart
Gladys George
Music by Ray Heindorf
Heinz Roemheld
(both uncredited)
Cinematography Ernest Haller
Edited by Jack Killifer
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release dates
  • October 23, 1939 (1939-10-23)
Running time
104 minutes
Country United States
Language English

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 based on "The World Moves On," a short story by Mark Hellinger, a columnist who had been hired by Jack Warner to write screenplays.[1] The movie is hailed as a classic in the gangster movie genre,[2][3] and considered an homage to the classic gangster movie of the early 1930s.[4]

The Roaring Twenties was the third and last film that Cagney and Bogart made together. The other two were Angels with Dirty Faces (1938) and The Oklahoma Kid (1939).


Three men meet in a foxhole during the waning days of World War I: Eddie Bartlett (James Cagney), George Hally (Humphrey Bogart) and Lloyd Hart (Jeffrey Lynn), 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 returns to a precarious 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 (Frank McHugh), Eddie becomes a cab driver. He is a naïve person who orders milk at a speakeasy. While unknowingly delivering a package of liquor to Panama Smith (Gladys George), he is arrested. Panama pays his fine, 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 (Priscilla Lane), who is now an adult - a girl he formerly corresponded with during the war while she was in high school - working at a nightclub. Eddie gives her a job singing in Henderson's cabaret, where Panama is hostess. Eddie wants Jean as his wife, but she does not return his affections.

Eddie and his henchmen hijack a shipload of liquor belonging to fellow bootlegger Nick Brown (Paul Kelly) who had refused to cooperate with him. In charge of the liquor shipment on board is George who proposes to Eddie to bring him in as a partner. Eddie agrees, and back home they tip off the Feds of a liquor shipment of Brown's that is then confiscated. Eddie, George, and their henchmen raid the Fed's warehouse stealing the liquor. 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 while being threatened by George. In time, as the bootlegging rackets prosper, Eddie sends Danny to arrange a truce between him and Brown, but Danny's life-less body is dropped off in front of Henderson's. Eddie and his henchmen plan a surprise visit to Brown's establishment, but George, uncomfortable with Eddie's increasing authoritarian manners, tips off Brown, who sets a trap. A gunfight ensues, and Eddie kills Brown while escaping. Figuring out George's duplicity, he dissolves their partnership.

While being in love with Jean, Eddie is surprised when she tells him of her plans to marry Lloyd. Subsequently, after speculating in the stock market, Eddie's bootlegging empire crumbles in the 1929 crash. He sells his fleet of cabs to George, who mockingly leaves Eddie one to drive, like the cab he drove at the end of the Great War after losing his job at the garage. As by chance one day, Jean steps into Eddie's cab. Eddie is upset at her for leaving him for Lloyd, so he's standoffish. Jean invites him back to her house to help Lloyd with a problem that he has with George. Now in the District Attorney's office, Lloyd has received a death threat from George unless he stops working on the case in which George murdered his former sergeant. Eddie is introduced to their 4 year-old son, but he refuses to help Lloyd, and he agrees to be friends with them and leave it at that.

Jean tries a second time to ask Eddie for help. She locates him at a bar with Panama. After appealing to a drunken Eddie, he agrees to go to George's house. While there, Eddie is mocked again by George for his shabby looks and cannot convince him to lay off Lloyd. This results in a shootout in which Eddie kills George ("Here's one rap ya' won't beat...") and some of his men, redeeming himself. After running outside, he is shot in the back by another cohort, and collapses on the steps of a nearby church. As the police arrest the remainder of George's gang, Panama runs to Eddie, and being interviewed by a cop while she cradles Eddie's lifeless body, she informs the officer, "He used to be a big shot."



Gladys George had replaced Ann Sheridan who had replaced Lee Patrick who had replaced Glenda Farrell for the character of Panama Smith.

Anatole Litvak was the original director.[5]


In 2008, the film was nominated for AFI's Top 10 Gangster Films list.[6]

In 2009 Empire Magazine named it #1 in a poll of the 20 Greatest Gangster Movies You've Never Seen* (*Probably)[citation needed]


  1. ^ Sperber, Ann M.; Eric Lax (1997). Bogart. William Morrow. p. 119. ISBN 978-0-688-07539-2. 
  2. ^ Shaw, Andrea (1996). Seen that, now what?: the ultimate guide to finding the video you really want to watch. Simon and Schuster. pp. 10–11. ISBN 978-0-684-80011-0. 
  3. ^ Schatz, Thomas (1999). Boom and bust: American cinema in the 1940s. U of California P. p. 112. ISBN 978-0-520-22130-7. 
  4. ^ Hughes, Howard; Eric Lax (2006). Crime wave: the filmgoers' guide to the great crime movies. I.B. Tauris. p. 30. ISBN 978-1-84511-219-6. 
  5. ^ Dickens, Homer (1989). The complete films of James Cagney. Secaucus, N.J.: Carol Pub. ISBN 0-8065-1152-4. 
  6. ^ AFI's 10 Top 10 Ballot

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