Bullets and Big Shots in Roaring Twenties

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By the 1930s, James Cagney was the second highest paid actor in Hollywood, just behind Gary Cooper.

The Roaring Twenties, originally entitled The World Moves On,  represents what audiences had come to love about the movie star – his tough on-screen persona coming to life. The film’s success even prompted the studio to pursue a sequel entitled The Fabulous Thirties, which would have reunited director Raoul Walsh, Cagney, and Bogart.

Learn more about the film below!

1. It was a last team-up.

Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney starred in three films together: Angels with Dirty Faces (1938), The Oklahoma Kid (1939), and The Roaring Twenties (1939). While they didn’t become friends, they remained cordial. Cagney once caught his co-star at a traffic light picking his nose in his car and jokingly sent him this poem: “In this silly town of ours/One sees odd primps and poses/But movie stars in fancy cars/Shouldn’t pick their fancy noses.”

2. The script changed a lot.

Originally, director Raoul Walsh tried to talk Jimmy out of making the film because the script was in poor shape; he called it a “potboiler”. But Cagney didn’t give up on the project and even helped improvise changes to scenes. For instance, Cagney came up with the gag of knocking out two guys with one punch. The scene where it takes a moment for Frank McHugh to recognize Cagney was also improvised. Producer Hal B. Wallis didn’t appreciate the changes, and attempts were made to have the director stay on script.

3. The director helped both actors.

Raoul Walsh proved to be a fantastic director for both Cagney and Bogart. After this film, Walsh directed James in three more films, including the critically acclaimed White Heat – a return to playing a gangster after about ten years. Walsh also brought Bogart his break-out role with High Sierra. Walsh said, "I never had much trouble with any of them. If they got rough, I got rough. But Jimmy never got rough. He was always a gentleman."

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