The Roaring Twenties is a mid period James Cagney gangster picture which co-stars Humphrey Bogart in the third and final film in which the two screen legends shared billing. The film takes on the epic task of depicting the rise and fall of a big shot gangster from his humble beginnings in the trenches of The First World War, through the heights of the prohibition era, the crippling Stock Market Crash and the subsequent repealing of the Volstead Act. This is a film which never feels epic in scale and instead closely follows its protagonists within their ever changing world. It’s also a film which has few standout moments and although considered a classic of the genre, dragged and felt much longer than it truly is.
The romantic elements of the story felt forced and the film was on more solid ground during the rat-tat-tat-tat, fast talking, “What’s the big idea” back and forth of the scenes set in the underworld speakeasies or liquor distilleries. Pricilla Lane is excellent in her early scenes as a wide eyed, inexperienced girl next door but suddenly seems swamped when placed inside the illegal world of the bootlegger. Her voice is sweet sounding and she can certainly hold a tune but she’s at sea when unaccompanied by an orchestra.