The Roaring Twenties
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRaoul Walsh
Written byJerry Wald
Richard Macaulay
Robert Rossen
Based onThe World Moves On (1938)
by Mark Hellinger
Produced byHal B. Wallis
Samuel Bischoff
StarringJames Cagney
Priscilla Lane
Humphrey Bogart
Gladys George
CinematographyErnest Haller
Edited byJack Killifer
Music byRay Heindorf
Heinz Roemheld
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • October 28, 1939 (1939-10-28)
Running time
107 minutes
CountryUnited States
James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart

The Roaring Twenties is a 1939 American crime thriller film directed by Raoul Walsh and starring James Cagney, Priscilla Lane, Humphrey Bogart, and Gladys George. The film, spanning the period from 1919 to 1933, was written by Jerry Wald, Richard Macaulay and Robert Rossen. The film follows three men and their experiences during major events in the 1920s, such as Prohibition era violence and the 1929 stock market crash.

The picture was based on "The World Moves On", a short story by Mark Hellinger, a columnist who had been hired by Jack L. 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).


Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney and Jeffrey Lynn
Lobby card with James Cagney

Eddie Bartlett, George Hally, and Lloyd Hart meet each other in a foxhole during the final days of World War I. Following the war's end, Lloyd starts his law practice, George becomes a bootlegger, and Eddie becomes a cab driver. While unknowingly delivering a package of liquor to Panama Smith, Eddie is arrested. Panama is acquitted 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 encounters Jean Sherman, a girl he formerly corresponded with during the war, and gets her a job singing in Panama's club. Eddie wants Jean as his wife, giving her an engagement ring that he asks her to hold until he's saved up enough money to quit the criminal rackets.

Eddie and his henchmen hijack a shipment of liquor belonging to fellow bootlegger Nick Brown who had refused to cooperate with him. In charge of the liquor shipment is George, who proposes that Eddie bring him in as a partner. Eddie agrees and back home they inform the authorities about one of Brown's liquor shipments. After the shipment is confiscated, Eddie and George raid the warehouse and steal it. 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 cuts ties with George, who then threatens to kill Lloyd if he informs on them. As the bootlegging rackets prosper, Eddie sends his friend Danny to arrange a truce with Brown, but Danny's corpse is dropped off in front of Panama's club. Eddie goes after Brown, but George, resentful of Eddie's increasing power, tips off Brown, who sets a trap. A gunfight ensues, and Eddie manages to kill Brown. Suspecting George's betrayal but unable to prove it, Eddie dissolves their partnership.

Eddie soon discovers that Jean has never really loved him, and is in fact in love with Lloyd. Subsequently, after investing in the stock market, Eddie's bootlegging empire crumbles in the 1929 crash, and he is forced to sell his cab company to George at a price far below its value. George mockingly leaves Eddie one cab for himself, stating that Eddie will soon be forced to go back to being a cab driver.

One day, Jean hails Eddie's cab and he renews his acquaintance with her and with Lloyd, meeting their young son. Lloyd now works at the district attorney's office and is preparing a case against George. The encounter leaves Eddie despondent as he still harbors feelings towards Jean, and he becomes an alcoholic.

When Jean discovers that George is planning to have Lloyd killed, she appeals to Eddie for help. He initially declines, but ultimately decides to go to George's house to ask him to have mercy on the couple. While there, Eddie is mocked again by George for his shabby looks. He then decides to have Eddie killed as he believes that Eddie will inform on him in order to help Jean, resulting in a shootout in which Eddie kills George and some of his men.

After running outside, Eddie is shot by one of George's men and collapses on the steps of a nearby church. As the police arrest the remainder of George's gang, Panama runs to Eddie and cradles his lifeless body. When a police officer begins inquiring about who Eddie was, she replies, "He used to be a big shot."



The film's trailer

Gladys George 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 American Film Institute nominated the film for its Top 10 Gangster Films list.[6]

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

The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 100% of critics have given the film a positive review, based on 14 reviews.[7]

In popular culture

The Carol Burnett Show parodied the movie as "The Boring Twenties", with Carol Burnett parodying the Panama Smith character as Havana Jones.


  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 Nominees" (PDF). Archived from the original on 2011-07-16. Retrieved 2016-08-19.((cite web)): CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  7. ^ "The Roaring Twenties (1939)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango.