THE ROARING TWENTIES. Warner Brothers, 1939. James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, Priscilla Lane, Gladys George, Jeffrey Lynn, Frank McHugh, Paul Kelly, Joe Sawyer, and Abner Biberman. Written by Jerry Wald, Richard Macaulay, Robert Rossen, Mark Hellinger, Earl Baldwin, Frank Donoghue, and John Wexley. Directed by Raoul Walsh.

   Not so much a roar as a whimper. Warners obviously lavished a lot of care on this one (Just look at all those writers.) and the result was a lot of tedium.

   Note that The Roaring Twenties was made in 1939. Everyone who worked on it, and most of the audience, would have remembered the era in a glow of youthful reminiscence, and the film became less a gangster picture than an exercise in nostalgia. So in place of fast-moving action, we get lengthy and rather pedestrian musical productions of the golden oldies of yesteryear.

   The story (WARNING!) starts with three doughboys (Cagney, Bogart & Lynn) who meet in the trenches of The Great War and strike up a tentative friendship. Back at home, Lynn becomes a lawyer, and Cagney a bootlegger who runs an honest racket, while Bogart tends toward the seamier side of law-breaking. Cagney takes a shine to young songstress Priscilla Lane, and invests in a nightclub to showcase her talents, but she falls for Lynn, and when they run off and get married, Jimmy takes to drink.

   Come the Great Depression — seems like everything was “the Great” back then — Cagney loses everything and ends up a lowly cab driver, whenever he’s sober enough to drive. Chantoosie Gladys George has stuck with him through all this, with patience that outlasted mine by at least a half hour of running time, but he still burns his torch for Priscilla.

   If all this seems a bit staid, that’s because it is. And as I say, it’s not helped any at all by musical interpolations that stop the story quite dead in its proverbial tracks. Compare this with Edward G. Robinson’s similar arc in The Hatchet Man, a fast-paced half-hour shorter, and you’ll see what I mean.

   But then there’s the ending.

   If you’ve never seen The Roaring Twenties, I won’t spoil it for you. Suffice it to say that Lynn and Bogart end up on opposite sides, and when Bogie gets menacing, Ms Lane turns to Cagney for help. The scene where he confronts Bogart is perfectly choreographed and effectively played: seedy cabbie vs big-shot gangster, with Jimmy at first humble, and Bogart dismissive.

   The knowing, defeated look in Cagney’s eyes when Bogart says, “It’s cold out, Eddie. I think I’ll have the boys give you a ride home.” Is almost worth sitting through the preceding ninety minutes. And Bogie’s cowardice when things go bad is just as convincing. The burst of action that follows is beautifully done by Raoul Walsh, a master stylist whose elegance was never fully appreciated.

   I just wish the ending had come a bit earlier in the film. As it is, it makes the movie memorable. Watch it, but keep a finger poised on the Fast Forward button.