David Janssen is hardly perfect casting for the role of 1920s gambling king Arnold Rothstein (Rod Steiger or Gene Barry may have been better choices), but the sure-handed direction of Joseph Newman smooths over all the rough spots in this fanciful biopic. Set up in the gambling business by crooked politico Jack Carson, Rothstein cheats his partner Mickey Shaughnessy, cheats on his lovely wife Dianne Foster, and does his best to discredit his bitterest enemy, on-the-take police detective Dan O'Herlihy. When O'Herlihy engineers the death of Rothstein's pal Mickey Rooney, Rothstein pulls strings in the New York judicial system, assuring the conviction and execution of the rogue cop. As quickly as he rises to the top of the dung-heap, Rothstein falls with equal rapidity, and ends up riddled with mob bullets. Curiously, King of the Roaring Twenties bypasses Rothstein's involvement in the "Black Sox" baseball scandal of 1919, perhaps because too many participants in that debacle were still alive in 1960 (this incident would later be covered in toto in the 1988 film Eight Men Out, which co-starred Michael Lerner as Rothstein). While King of the Roaring Twenties ignores the facts, for the most part the film is to be treasured if for no other reason than the fact that director Newman managed to draw uncharacteristically subtle performances from Mickey Rooney and Jack Carson.
by Hal Erickson synopsis