The Roaring Twenties (1939)

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The Roaring Twenties charts the rise and fall of prohibition racketeer James Cagney from the trenches of the great war to the stock market crash of 1929.

It’s amazing that only eight short years separate The Roaring Twenties and the simplistic moralising and two dimensional characterisation of The Public Enemy. It is probably the blueprint for the modern gangster movie and is the equivalent of the likes of The Godfather or Goodfellas for its time. Cagney is at his very best as the morally grey but inherently decent mobster who finds himself caught up in the booze hungry fervour of the prohibition years after returning from fighting for his country as part of a forgotten generation, unable to find any other way to earn a living. Things take a sinister turn when he makes an uneasy partnership with a brilliant Humphrey Bogart who makes such a fantastic villain you inevitably wish he played the bad guy more often.

A rather bland Priscilla Lane aside the cast are all spot on, and with the addition of some energetic shoot outs and a brilliant climax when Cagney finally has his showdown with a sneering Bogart – all set in historical context of the America of the time – you have a timeless crime classic.

8/10

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