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Film / The Roaring Twenties (1939)

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"Today, while the earth shakes beneath the heels of marching troops, while a great portion of the world trembles before the threats of acquisitive power-mad men, we of America have little time to remember an astounding era in our own recent history. An era which will grow more and more incredible with each passing generation until someday people will say it never could have happened at all."

The Roaring Twenties is a 1939 Warner Bros. gangster movie directed by Raoul Walsh and starring James Cagney, Priscilla Lane, Humphrey Bogart, and Gladys George.

It opens during World War I, where three very different soldiers meet in a foxhole. One of them is Eddie Bartlett (Cagney), a simple garage mechanic from a city that is probably New York. He returns home only to find that his job has been given away. As he struggles to earn money as a cab driver, a mix up results in his arrest. To thank him for keeping his mouth shut, speakeasy owner Panama Smith (George) bails him out of jail, and the two go into business with each other.

Considered by many to be the definitive gangster picture. Not to be confused with the era of the same name (in which most of the film is set though).

This film contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Adaptation Title Change: The Roaring '20s was based on the short story "The World Moves On".
  • The Alcoholic: What Eddie becomes after losing all his money and empire.
  • All Love Is Unrequited: Panama is in love with Eddie, Eddie is in love with Jean, Jean is in love with Lloyd.
  • Androcles' Lion: Panama bails Eddie out of jail after his testimony keeps her out of jail. Unfortunately, she then advised him to get rich by going into the rum-running racket.
  • Anti-Villain: Eddie is one the more sympathetic crooks that James Cagney played.
  • Big Bad: Nick Brown becomes the antagonist midway through, then after his demise, George takes the role.
  • Badass in a Nice Suit: This being a gangster film, Eddie sports one.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality: Make no mistake, George is a complete villain but Eddie, Lloyd, Panama, and Jean are all part of a criminal enterprise, [though Lloyd and Jean leave when things go too far.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: George disappears after the Armistice, and doesn't reappear in his capacity as a rumrunner until nearly fifty minutes later (although Bogart's name being placed so high in the credits made this a Foregone Conclusion) after which he remains a major player.
  • Cruel Mercy: Eddie sells George his entire cab empire (cabs used to distribute the alcohol) in order to cover up his debts after the stock market crash, but George allows him to keep one cab.
  • Deuteragonist: Panama. George is the Tritagonist and Lloyd is the Tetragonist.
  • Dirty Coward: George is reduced to a sniveling wreck once Eddie is holding a gun on him
  • Disproportionate Retribution: George kills the guard after he realizes that he was the drill sergeant who gave him so much trouble during the war.
  • Dude, Where's My Respect?: Invoked. Even though he fought in the war, no one will give him a job, not even the guy who promised him one when he got back. This, along with his stint in prison due to a misconception, leads him to a life of crime.
  • Dying Moment of Awesome: Eddie goes out in a blaze of glory having taken on George's gang.
  • Faux Affably Evil: George pretends to be on Eddie's side the whole time, even though he tries to have him killed.
  • Freudian Trio: In the traditional sense. The characters of Eddie, Lloyd, and George were constructed to this way, according to Word of God. Lloyd is upright and rational, George is rash and violent, and Eddie is stuck between the two.
  • From Camouflage to Criminal: The three main characters meet during World War I and later form a bootlegging business together.
  • Gold Digger: Jean is heavily implied to be one. She doesn't love Eddie as much as Eddie thinks she does but she has no problem with him using his influence to getting her the singing job at the club where he runs his operations. The club owner and, later Eddie, even lampshades this.
  • Jailbait Wait: During the war, Eddie got letters from Jean, so he decided to meet her when he shipped back. She was still in high school. He half-jokingly said he'd come back in a few years, but they do eventually end up together.
  • Jerkass: George. Without Bogart's charms, he'd easily be Hate Sink.
    • The man who took Eddie's job and his buddy are no peaches either. While it is natural to want to keep a job, they way they sneer about the soldiers (who died by thousands in the trenches) having had it easy while they were working, then laugh nastily after Eddie didn't get his job back (which he'd taken gracefully after being reminded that the other man had been doing the job well for two years). Eddie decking them isn't exactly unjustified.
    • George's gang have become this by the final scene, mocking Eddie for his decrepit state. He guns down several of them after George.
  • Love Triangle: Eddie, Jean and Lloyd. Jean and Lloyd end up getting married during a Time Skip.
  • Miscarriage of Justice: Eddie gets in trouble for delivering a package full of booze, even though he didn't know what was in it.
  • Miss Kitty: Panama is an urban version. She runs the speakeasy.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Panama Smith is based on Real Life famous nightclub owner Texas Guinan.
  • Pietà Plagiarism: Eddie dies in Panama's arms adopting this pose.
  • Returning War Vet: Eddie has trouble adjusting to life back home.
  • "Rise and Fall" Gangster Arc: The film follows Eddie as he rises in the bootlegging racket, losing everything in the '29 stock market crash. When he dies at the end, a police officer asks Panama who he was. She sobs "He used to be a big shot."
  • The Roaring '20s: The movie starts in 1918, but covers most of the decade, with the partying, rum-running and gangsters all accounted for.
  • Self-Made Man: Eddie builds himself a criminal empire. Eventually subverted, because he loses everything.
  • The Teetotaler: Eddie doesn't drink alcohol, even though he sells it. [He starts drinking after he loses his empire, though.

Alternative Title(s): The Roaring Twenties