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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, showcased the tough on-screen persona that audiences came to love about their movie star. 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.
1. It was the 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 make it better. For instance, Cagney came up with the idea of knocking two guys out with one punch. Not everyone liked the changes though. Producer Hal B. Wallis attempted to keep the cast from deviating from the 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 Cagney in three more films, including the critically acclaimed White Heat, which turned out to be the actor's return to playing a gangster after almost ten years. Walsh also gave Bogart his breakout 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."