The year is 1939. The Second World War has just begun, and America has gone through an awful lot in the roughly twenty years since the First World War ended. This film attempts to distill the essence of that time period in America and show it to the audience through the lens of lead character Eddie Bartlett (James Cagney), a WWI vet who comes home to find a disconcerting lack of work and respect from those who’ve spent the last few years working hard back home. After struggling to find his footing in his post-war life, one thing leads to another and Eddie finds himself the kingpin of an underground booze business during Prohibition.
The Roaring Twenties shows us just how easy is it is for a stand-up guy like Eddie to fall into a life of crime when the system fails him, and it plays as more of a cautionary tale than something like Scarface (1932), if only because of its rather disheartening third act and the ramifications it presents beyond just an explosive ending to a reign of terror. It is this sensitivity than sets this gangster film apart from many others in the genre, and no leading man could better convey that sensitivity than James Cagney. Cagney leads the film with an effortless smoothness, much like his co-star Humphrey Bogart. However, where Bogey tends to display a machismo that exudes from every pore, in this film Cagney displays a much softer kind of ‘cool’. Think more “Love Me Tender” than “Blue Suede Shoes”…
If The Roaring Twenties was a warning to its audience in 1939, it is one that should still be heeded today – monsters, gangsters, criminals, etc. aren’t often brought into the world fully formed, it is the world that brings out the evil in them. Especially in the year 2016, which seems to be globally one of the most disconcerting and fear-stricken years in recent memory, it is important that we remind ourselves that greed corrupts, money spoils and sometimes we’d be better off if we just stick to drinking milk.
The Podfather Score – 7.45/10