Roaring Back


The roaring Twenties have come roaring back in a big way on the small screen. I’m pretty knowledgeable about the era but I learned a plethora of new details fromKen Burns’Prohibition. I knew how important women were in getting the damn thing passed but didn’t know how instrumental they were in its repeal. Let’s hoist one for the ladies. I already knew how muchAl Smith rocked before he became embittered by his defeat and FDR’s enacting his his Noo Yawk programs nationally without giving as much credit as Smith thought he was due.

I keep meaning to blog aboutBoardwalk Empire but the first episode of Season-2 left me uninspired except for the bits about Chalky White. Episode-2, on the other hand, was a grand slam and once again it was the mesmerizing Michael Kenneth Williams as Chalky who made the episode crackle with excitement. I fully expect Nucky Thompson to make a comeback aided by Chalky’s “colored” gang and the IRA, of all people.

Finally, I couldn’t write about the prohibition era without mentioning my favorite Jimmy Cagney movie, The Roaring Twenties. Cagney plays Eddie Bartlett, a basically decent guy who stumbles into bootlegging, becomes a big shot but his fortune craps out along with the stock market. It’s great stuff and features a fine supporting performance by Humphrey Bogart as Cagney’s sleazy, venal and vulpine partner.

If you’ve never see the movie, check it out. Here’s the trailer:

7 thoughts on “Roaring Back

  1. Prohibition as Class Warfare-two eye-openers.
    The Volstead Act did not make alcohol illegal as such, only its manufacture, transport, and sale. Meaning that if you were a millionaire who typically bought your Scotch and wine by the case and mostly served it to your guests you were home free once your bootlegger had it safely stowed away in your wine and spirits cellar or closet. By that same token I don’t think it was illegal to buy by the drink or the bottle, the crime was being knowingly present in a place of criminal activity. Municipalities could make being at a speak or in a gambling house or a whore house a crime in itself, but none of those were federal cases. Which taken together effectively immunized the upper and upper middle classes from the effects of Prohibition.
    On the other hand working men who typically bought their beer by the glass or the pail in a local tavern were out of luck, nor could they make up the difference with home-brew because that fell afoul of the ‘manufacture’ piece. And the result was a significant drop in actual consumption by your typical factory worker, which in turn served to increase productivity.
    Which was the point. The capitalist class saw Prohibition as the perfect vehicle for increasing productivity totally at the expense of the working class while not imposing any significant burden on themselves.
    Which is how a measure largely pushed by women (who didn’t then have the vote) and small town bluenoses sailed through the constitutional process in 1919-it also served the purposes of rich men who then as now controlled the federal and state legislative process.
    Almost the first act of the New Deal, which for the first time really in history represented political control by the working and middle classes, was the repeal of Prohibition. This by no means being a coincidence, you might say that beer drinkers are the most forgotten major component of the New Deal Coalition.

  2. it’s completely appropriate that during this “Great Depression Part II” this evil cabal’s lackeys in Hollywood now start pimping movies about the Roaring 20s which of course roared until the Great Depression I.
    Next up: movies glamorizing total human destruction in the upcoming WWIII!
    We are the 99%
    the middle class is too big to fail.

  3. I doubt that Burns went into the underside of how vice laws were used as means of social and political control (a lesson the U.S. learned very well in the occupied Philippines and imported into the U.S. during WWI).
    As for Al Smith, he was always a closet Republican. He was on the board of dozens of corporations, particularly the ones that contributed to his American Liberty League, a propaganda outlet for the wealthy that he used to try to completely blur the line between unions and communism. Smith was a dyed-in-the-woollaissez-faire capitalist right from the get-go.

  4. @montag: I don’t agree about Al Smith pre-1929. The New Deal was essentially borrowed from his Noo Yawk programs. He moved right after his very embittering loss to Hoover. He personally disliked FDR and joined the liberty league in reaction (pun intended) to the Roosevelt presidency.

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