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Roaring Twenties, The (reissue)


Stars: James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, Priscilla Lane, Gladys George, Jeffrey Lynn, Paul Kelly, Frank McHugh, Joe Sawyer

Director: Raoul Walsh

1939 was the banner year for the movies, giving us Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, La Grande Illusion, Goodbye, Mr Chips!, The Four Feathers, Mr Smith Goes to Washington and so many more. The Roaring Twenties, a worthy entry to the year's gems, is both a tribute to the Warner Brothers gangster film of the decade, and its summation.

Cagney and Bogart are buddies on the World War One front (satirised by Laurel & Hardy in Blockheads). Both drift into gangsterdom thereafter, with Cagney building up a taxi company on the side to disguise their less legitimate activities. Eventually of course, the two men clash, as their respective women despairingly look on.

Director Walsh vividly sets out a panorama not only of the violent decade under survey, but of the whole crime-film product of his studio. Cagney, Bogart, George and Lane all deliver, in their differing veins, what the American press of the time might have called 'socko' performances.

And who can forget the final tableau - a classic of Hollywood cinema. 'He used to be a big shot' - just watch the cop writing it down. If you can find this at some arthouse cinema, do see it.

David Quinlan

USA 1939. UK Distributor: Warner Brothers. Black and white.
106 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: PG.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 11 Mar 2024