Roaring Twenties, The (1939)

The Roaring Twenties (1939), directed by Raoul Walsh.

Two Americans meet while being shelled in WW1. Years later they will meet again back home. James Cagney is affable, as tough as he needs to be but not cruel. Humphrey Bogart is darker: he likes the killing.

Back home Cagney can't get his old job back so he gets into bootlegging and hijacking. In a funny segment he looks up a woman who wrote to him while he was at war, only to discover she is still in high school. Goodbye to her until a few years later when she is singing in nightclubs and he takes an intense interest in her career.

This is Priscilla Lane, doing her own singing. She had a girl-next-door appeal and I remember her best from Hitchcock's Saboteur (1942) and Capra's Arsenic and Old Lace (1944).

Shady as he is, Bogart tries to give Cagney good advice about the young woman: she has eyes for the bland, straight-arrow lawyer. Not that his advice does any good.

Times are pretty exciting in the Prohibition liquor trade until the Crash and Great Depression when no one can afford to go out anymore. Cagney hits the skids, but still has to look out for his girl, even if she is married to a district attorney.

WW1 and the Twenties were recent history in 1939, but perhaps seemed like another world at the end of the Depression. The nostalgia rush must have been strong in this one.

What a treasure Cagney was, that sparkling intensity. He was tired of gangster films and this was his last until White Heat (1949) ten years later.

When watching Night Train to Munich (1940) I noticed Hitler in some archival footage, his 19th credit in the IMDB (out of over 1000). Beating that score: this film, his 15th credit. The only earlier sighting I am likely to have is Anatole Litvak's Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939) at #11.

Finally: the soldiers joke about body lice: "cooties". Had that been done before?

Available on DVD.