Today, while the earth shakes beneath the heels of marching troops, while a great portion of the world trembles before the threats of acquisitive power-mad men, we of America have little time to remember an astounding era in our own recent history. An era which will grow more and more incredible with each passing generation until someday people will say it never could have happened at all.
It opens during World War I, where three very different soldiers meet in a foxhole. One of them is Eddie Bartlett, a simple mechanic from a city that is probably New York. He returns home only to find that his job has been given away. As he struggles to earn money as a cab driver, a mix up results in his arrest. To thank him for keeping his mouth shut, speakeasy owner Panama Smith bails him out of jail, and the two go into business with each other.
Considered by many to be the definitive gangster picture. Not to be confused with the era of the same name.
This film contains examples of the following tropes:
- All Love Is Unrequited: Panama is in love with Eddie, Eddie is in love with Jean, Jean is in love with Lloyd
- All Girls Want Bad Boys: Subverted.
- Damn, It Feels Good to Be a Gangster!
- Deadpan Snarker: Panama Smith
- Disproportionate Retribution: George kills the guard after he realizes that he was the drill sergeant who gave him so much trouble during the war.
- Do Not Do This Cool Thing
- Dude, Where's My Respect?: Invoked. Even though he fought in the war, no one will give him a job, not even the guy who promised him one when he got back.
- Freudian Trio: In the traditional sense. The characters of Eddie, Lloyd, and George were constructed to this way, according to Word of God. Lloyd is upright and rational, George is rash and violent, and Eddie is stuck between the two.
- Faux Affably Evil: George pretends to be on Eddie's side the whole time, even though he tries to have him killed.
- Heroic Sacrifice
- Jail Bait Wait: During the war, Eddie got letters from Jean, so he decided to meet her when he shipped back. She was still in high school. He half-jokingly said he'd come back in a few years, but they do eventually end up together.
- Love Triangle
- Miscarriage of Justice: Eddie gets in trouble for delivering a package full of booze, even though he didn't know what was in it.
- Miss Kitty: Panama is an urban version. She runs the speakeasy.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: Panama Smith is based on Real Life famous nightclub owner Texas Guinan.
- Pieta Plagiarism: Eddie dies in Panama's arms.
- Returning War Vet: Eddie has trouble adjusting to life back home.
- Self-Made Man: Eddie builds himself a criminal empire. Eventually subverted, because he loses everything.
- The Roaring Twenties: Well, yeah.
- The Teetotaler: Eddie, even though he sells alcohol. He starts drinking after he loses all his money, though.
- World War One: It starts out with Eddie fighting the Germans in France.