Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

The Roaring Twenties (1939)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The Roaring Twenties (1939)

In director Raoul Walsh's semi-documentary styled action and dramatic crime-gangster film - it told a fatalistic story, spanning the years from 1919 to 1933 (the End of Prohibition), about the rise and fall of a rough gangster who was bound to die a self-sacrificial, bloody death - memorably, this film marked the third and final screen pairing of Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney - two quintessential gangster characters:

  • in an early sequence during WWI ("The Great War"), during the US' entrance into the European war in 1918, three GIs happened to meet in a fox-hole trench in 'no-man's land' during a shelling: Eddie Bartlett (James Cagney), George Hally (Humphrey Bogart), and a very scared Lloyd Hart (Jeffrey Lynn); George complained: "There's ten thousand shellholes around here and everybody's got to come divin' into this one"
  • in the foxhole during combat, each of the three expressed their aspirations if they ever returned home; Lloyd expressed his desire to set up a law office, while George would return to the saloon business (and soon enter into bootlegging when Prohibition passed), and Eddie was hoping to return to his pre-war job as an auto-mechanic in a garage and eventually own a shop of his own: ("That's my idea of heaven, boys. A grease bucket, a wrench, and a cracked cylinder")
  • a voice-over narration (by John Deering) accompanied footage of the GIs returning home in 1919: "...Finally, late in the year, the last detachments of the American Expeditionary Forces come back from policing the Rhine, almost forgotten by all but their relatives and friends"
  • upon his arrival back home, Eddie was informed by his old boss that: "Times have changed, Eddie" and was not rehired; the desperate, grim-faced Eddie claimed he was "tired of being pushed around. Tired of having doors slammed in my face, tired of being just another guy back from France"; he was forced to take an off-hours job as a cab driver
  • a post-war Prohibition montage included the narrator's voice-over account of the homefront faced by returning GI's: "Back in this country, the boys who had returned from overseas begin to find out that the world has moved on during the time they spent in France...Everywhere, things have changed but particularly in New York. The old Broadway is only a memory. Gone are many of the famous landmarks, for already, America is feeling the effects of Prohibition. There is a concentrated effort at readjustment to normal peacetime activities, but unemployment coming in the wake of the wartime boom is beginning to grip the country and the soldiers find their return to face - on a different front - the same old struggle, the struggle to survive"
  • Eddie visited his pen-pal during the war - an "American gal" from Mineola, Long Island; there, he discovered that young Jean Sherman (Priscilla Lane) lived with her mother (Elisabeth Risdon) and "goes to school, sings, and dances"; when she skipped into the room, she was revealed to be a pretty, sweet, and naive high-school girl who glowingly admired him as her 'dream soldier': "Oh, Mr. Bartlett, you look just like I pictured you. Brave, strong, romantic, and handsome"; he advised that he would be in touch with her - but in a few years: "Oh, in about two or three years when you get to be a great big girl"
  • Eddie slowly eased his way into becoming a career gangster, when as a cab driver, he was asked by a mobster to deliver a brown paper bag (containing a gin bottle) to tough-talking flapper and matronly speakeasy hostess-owner Panama Smith (Gladys George) in the Henderson Club; he found himself arrested by two undercover agents for violating the Volstead Act (enforcing the 18th Amendment); he was found guilty and sentenced to sixty days in jail and fined $100; Panama bailed him out (and paid the fine) - and soon, she enticed him (calling him a "decent guy") to join her and become successful in the bootlegging/racketeering business: "Now the liquor business is gonna grow big and it's gonna grow fast. So get in line, buster. Hack drivers are a dime a dozen"

Eddie Delivering Illegal Booze to Panama Smith (Gladys George)

Eddie Arrested and Sentenced by Judge

Eddie Bailed Out by Panama

Going into Business With Panama
  • Eddie turned to lucrative bootlegging, first delivering the contraband in his own taxicab, and then becoming a better-dressed, full-time entrepreneur as he cashed in on the illegal profits and manufactured his own illegal bathtub gin
  • the narrator in voice-over explained during a montage: "And so, the Eddie of this story joins the thousands and thousands of other Eddies throughout America. He becomes a part of a criminal army - an army that was born of a marriage between an unpopular law and an unwilling public. Liquor is the password in this army. And it's a magic password that spells the dollar sign as it spreads from city to city, from state to state. The public is beginning to look upon the bootlegger as something of an adventuresome hero, a modern crusader who deals in bottles instead of battles"
  • Eddie's profits led him to build a fleet of cabs (The Red & Blue Cab Co.) for his bootlegged liquor deliveries, and to hire Lloyd as his lawyer
  • while backstage collecting on a $700 booze debt from Masters (George Meeker), a promoter of a musical comedy entitled Pretty Baby, Eddie - by chance he spotted a pretty chorus girl dancer ("a cute bundle") in the show, and recognized her as a grown-up Jean - he greeted her: "Hi, Mineola...A few years make a big difference" and showed an immediate romantic interest in her; after an initial rebuffing, and realizing that she would be looking for a full-time job soon, he arranged for her to audition at the Henderson Club (Panama's speak-easy) with a rendition of Melancholy Baby

Young Schoolgirl Jean Sherman (Priscilla Lane)

A Few Years Later: Jean as a Chorus Girl

Auditioning: 'My Melancholy Baby'
  • just before Jean's opening night performance at the speakeasy club, Eddie boasted of his starlet: "Is this kid a draw or isn't she?", and then took offense at owner Pete Henderson (Ed Keane) for calling him a "sucker" for loving a woman who didn't return his affection; Eddie stuffed Henderson's cigar into his face: "Don't you ever say that to me again, do ya hear? Never!"

Eddie Insulted After Being Called a "Sucker" for Jean

Singing 'I'm Just Wild About Harry' in Panama's Speakeasy

Eddie's Spurned Offer of Marriage to Jean
  • after Jean crooned I'm Just Wild About Harry, Eddie - who was obsessively smitten and in love with her, offered to marry her and presented her with a huge engagement ring ("You want the Brooklyn Bridge, all you gotta do is ask for it. If I can't buy it, I'll steal it. Well?"); she was grateful to him, but stalled in answering and was obviously not romantically interested in him as a marital partner
  • during a foggy night, Eddie and his gang (posing as Coast Guard) conducted a hijacking-raid about 12 miles from shore on rival bootlegger-gangster Nick Brown's (Paul Kelly) boat; the rum-running boat was carrying a shipment of booze worth $100,000 - and to Eddie's surprise was captained by his own war buddy, now-gangster George Hally
  • after getting reacquainted over a drink, the scheming George was easily persuaded to become a partner with Eddie and double-cross Brown: "Between the two of us, we ought to do all right together...It ain't gonna be so easy the next time. Brown ain't gonna stand for you hijackin' his boats like this. The next time he'll be ready for ya. One fine night, a 5-inch shell is gonna blow the top of your head right off. You can't spend your profits at the bottom of the ocean....I got the organization to bring this stuff in and I know where to get it. You got the organization to peddle"; they both agreed that they were each a little untrustworthy - the basis for a partnership: "That sounds like a pretty good basis for a partnership"
  • during an ominously-narrated segment set in the year 1924, composed of a montage of violent scenes during increased gang warfare, a new weapon was showcased - the 'tommy-gun'
The Tommy-Gun
  • in one of the film's most tense sequences, Eddie's gang robbed a quarter of a million dollars worth of liquor in a shipment (belonging to fellow bootlegger Nick Brown) that had been confiscated by the government and stored in a guarded US government warehouse in New York City: (Eddie: "The government takes it from Nick Brown and we take it from the government. Pretty neat, huh?"); during the heist using three large transport trucks, Hally recognized one of two relief guards as Pete Jones (Joseph Sawyer) - his disliked "old sergeant" during the war, and unnecessarily and brutally murdered him in cold-blood (off-screen); Eddie expressed exasperation for the unnecessary killing, but Hally defended himself: "He had it coming to him."
  • later that night at Panama's speak-easy, Eddie's lawyer Lloyd (who was secretly dating the love of Eddie's life, Jean), refused to continue working for Eddie's deadly racket after he learned about the killing: "I'm not drawing up any more contracts for you...Eddie, you stuck up that warehouse tonight, didn't you?...You killed the watchman...You were responsible for it...No, Eddie, it won't work. This is where I draw the line. I said I'm through and I mean it"; George threatened to kill Lloyd but was prevented by Eddie's intervention
  • during gang warfare, Eddie attempted to set up a truce with Brown's gang, not realizing that Hally was intent on double-crossing him; Eddie sent his long-time cab driving friend/associate Danny Green (Frank McHugh) to Nick Brown's place, but it was a deadly trap; Danny's corpse was deposited at the front door of Eddie's new PANAMA CLUB; Eddie knelt down and sadly spoke: "Well Danny, I told you this wasn't your racket"
  • a gunfight in Brown's Italian restaurant led to Eddie's retaliatory murder of Nick Brown, and afterwards, Eddie broke up his association with his corrupt associate George Hally in his apartment: ("The only thing that's savin' your neck is I can't prove you dealt me a second. But if I ever find out, I got one in here with your name on it. Remember that"); he warned that if he had proof that Hally had betrayed him, he would return to kill him
  • in a short sequence outside his club, Eddie (although blind to the obvious fact of Jean's romance with Lloyd) was finally confronted by the truth; he punched his romantic competitor in the mouth, but with Jean standing loyally at Lloyd's side, Panama's advice rang true to Eddie and he apologized: "I'm sorry. Sorry"
  • soon after, Eddie's fortunes were wiped out with the 1929 Stock Market crash, and he was forced to sell all but one taxi-cab in his company to George for $250,000 to recoup all of his debts: ("I ain't gonna take all your cabs away...I'm gonna leave ya one, just one, cause you're gonna need it, pal"); now that Eddie's life was reduced back to what he had done years earlier, he often reminisced with Panama about the old days, and began to drink heavily
  • Eddie happened to pick up the married Jean as a cab passenger (earlier, she had been the love of his life, but was now married with a four year-old son); the earlier threat of Eddie's ex-colleague George Hally to kill her husband - now prosecuting DA Lloyd, was much more likely; in a scene of desperation while fearing for Lloyd's life, Jean begged a drunken, down-and-out Eddie in a third-rate saloon to help defend against George, but he initially refused, but then had a change of heart; he took a taxi with Panama to George's apartment as Panama waited outside
  • Eddie was facing a deadly confrontation and shoot-out with ex-colleague George Hally in his fancy upstairs bedroom on New Years' Eve; Hally was threatening to eliminate Lloyd - and Eddie too: "You got more on me than any guy in this town and I'll lay ya odds that the minute you get out of here, you're goin' straight to the cops and spill everything you know. Well, I'm just gonna beat ya to the finish. Goodbye, Eddie, and uh, Happy New Year" - a decrepit and ruined Eddie snarled at his sniveling and cowardly rival as he emptied his gun with three shots: "That's one rap you won't beat" - and as Eddie fled down the stairs and into the snowy street, he was lethally shot in the back by one of Hally's henchmen
Eddie's Violent Shoot-Out with Corrupt Ex-Associate George Hally
  • in his memorable, self-sacrificial, redemptive death scene (evoking Michelangelo's Pieta and other Christ imagery), the mortally wounded Eddie found sanctuary outside the nearby Community Church; there, he stumbled, climbed, wobbled, and then tumbled down the church's flight of snow-covered steps
  • weeping Panama Smith ran to him and cradled his head in her arms as he expired on the steps of the church; she answered a curious cop's inquiries about the deceased man's identity ("Who is this guy?") and laconically provided his epitaph and eulogy in the film's final poignant line: (Panama: This is Eddie Bartlett. Cop: Well, how are you hooked up with him? Panama: I could never figure it out. Cop: What was his business? Panama: He used to be a big shot.)
Eddie's Memorable Death Scene

Fox-Hole in Europe: Eddie, George and Lloyd

Expressing Their Aspirations For the Future After the War

1919: Return of the GIs

Eddie - Unable to Get His Old Job Back: "Times have changed, Eddie"

Returning Veteran Eddie Bartlett - Unemployed

Eddie - A Lowly Bootlegger

Eddie - A Rich Bootlegger

Nighttime Raid on Bootlegger's Boat - Eddie Again Met Up with George and They Became Partners

Warehouse Booze Heist

Hally's Vengeful (Off-Screen) Murder of Relief Watchman-Guard

Lloyd's Threat to Quit As Eddie's Lawyer

Hally's Threat to Knock Off Lloyd

Danny's Dumped Corpse and Eddie's Sad Tribute to His Pal

Eddie's Retaliatory Murder of Nick Brown in Restaurant

Eddie's Threatening Break-Up with George Hally

Jean's Secret Romance with Lloyd Revealed to Eddie

After the 1929 Crash, Eddie as a Lowly Cab Driver

Jean Begging Drunken Eddie to Help Defend Her Husband DA Lloyd Against George

Last Line - Panama's Ode to Eddie: "He used to be a big shot"


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