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They sure don't make them like this any more!
Blessed with a touch of genius...
Alfred Hitchcock once said that you need three things in order to make a good movie : good script, good script and good script! This is a perfect example of that statement. It is as simple as that! This movie is made in 1949 and today,almost 55 years later, it still holds up and is up there with the best gangster dramas of all time. Many would disagree but frankly who cares? None of the modern gangster flicks would be the same without existence of this movie, thats for sure. The script is just great,the score is excellent and dialog is amazing!!! (try comparing it with the standards of today) Every third sentence coming out of Cody Jarretts mouth is endlessly quotable, this movie is Scarface of its time. Cagneys character in this movie is larger than life, one of the greatest gangster characters of all time... James Cagney - perhaps his greatest performance ever! I see that some fools criticize his performance,saying that it isn't great at all. My question to you is : How many movies from '40s have you seen? How wooden was the acting in those days? The answer - extremely. There were few great actors in those days, whose genius could hold up against the acting giants of today and one of them is surely James Cagney!
One of top 10-15 gangster movies of all time!
The old saying, "They don't make 'em like they used to" fits this film to a T. Every other crazed-killer-goes-on-a-rampage movie ever made pales next to it. This is the best performance of Cagney's career (although, astoundingly enough, he didn't think much of the picture or his work in it, dismissing it as "just another gangster flicker"). Only Cagney could take a character like Cody Jarrett, a snarling, murderous monster with a mother fixation--someone you KNOW is going to get his at the end--and still almost make you wish he gets away. The film is one taut nerve from beginning to end. There's not a wasted moment in it; it starts out at full blast with the daring robbery of a mail train barreling through a mountain pass and doesn't let up. Performances are universally top-notch, from the stars on down to the extras. Far and away the finest film of director Raoul Walsh's long and distinguished career, this movie can take its place as not only the best gangster film ever made, but as one of the best films ever made, period.
If you like James Cagney and you like the film noirs of the late 1940s,
well, it doesn't get much better than this.
Cagney, who was always great at playing wild gangsters, makes this film interesting all the way through its two hours. Despite being a half-century old, he was still not far from being at the top of his game. His character, Cody Jarrett, is one of the most famous of the many he portrayed on film, which is saying a lot.
Who could sit on his mother's lap and still look like a tough guy? Not many, but Cagney pulled it off here with his tough mama, played really well by Margaret Wycherly. This was a new type of role for Wycherly, who was used to doing Shakespeare. You wouldn't know it from this "Ma Jarrett" role!
The "hoods" in here are all realistic tough guys and gals. Cagney's two-faced wife is played well by Virginia Mayo, who plays the typical (for this genre) floozy blonde whom you can trust about as far as you can throw.
The final scene - "Top Of World, Ma!" - is one of the most famous in all of film history. It's nice to see a nice print of this out on DVD now and some of the features are very informative. Included is an interview with Mayo, who still looks pretty good for an old lady!
WHITE HEAT is the ultimate gangster melodrama with the great James Cagney at
the peak of his powers. No one else in the cast is a slouch either--Virginia
Mayo convinces me that Bette Davis was right when she suggested Mayo should
have played Rosa Moline in BEYOND THE FOREST.
Edmond O'Brien as a doggedly determined cop pretending to be a prisoner to get close to Cagney, is excellent, as he always is in these kind of roles. Steve Cochran's dirty lowdown heel is a standout as the darkly handsome actor makes the most of every line, especially in his scenes opposite Virginia Mayo.
Director Raoul Walsh keeps the film spinning along at a fast clip, never once letting the rather uncomplicated plot lose any of its tension as he underscores the pathology of Cody Jarrett's character, a man obsessed by his conniving mother (Margaret Wycherly). Cagney's prison breakup scene is masterfully handled by the actor and staged for maximum effect. A rousing score by Max Steiner underlines all of the suspenseful action and there's an electrifying climax with Cagney's famous "Top of the world, ma!" before he meets his end.
James Cagney has never had a better gangster role and he's given brilliant support by an outstanding cast. By all means, worth viewing as one of the great Warner crime melodramas of the late '40s.
James Cagney lights up the screen in all respects in this violent and
hard-driving film. There's nary a dull moment with Jimmy on hand, whether
having his mother ease his migraine tantrums by rubbing his head or shooting
a fellow gang member through the trunk of his car in order to give him a
little air. Raoul Walsh vigorously directs this movie with remarkable gusto
given that he was over sixty at the time and at at this point in his career
had nothing to prove.
Cagney's character of Cody Jarrett is shown to be a madman at the start of the film. There's no need for his confederates to engage in a little is-he-or-isn't-he chitchat regarding his sanity a la The Caine Mutiny. They know he's mad. Even his mother knows he's mad. No matter. Cody continues on his crime spree, and his gang stays loyal to him, if only for the consequences of leaving him being to frightening to contemplate. He has a girl, who two-times him with another gang member. A federal agent who infiltrates the gang and becomes a surrogate mother by easing his headaches in the same manner, also betrays him, though it's his job to do so. Only Ma Jarrett, it seems, could be trusted.
One of the many charms of this film is its absolute refusal to make a statement, which wasn't Raoul Walsh's bag anyway; and screenwriters Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts, though they delve into Freud a bit, don't get too heavy over Cagney's psychopathology. They just accept it, show us its various sides, and leave it at that. This movie is a far cry from other films made around the same time, was highly popular when first released, and remains so to this day. It is not quite film noir, being too bright and rational. Nor is it a study in perverse psychology, despite its main character. For all the location filming it is no semi-documentary in the manner of House On 92nd Street. It is basically a lively action picture whose makers, taking a cue from Hiroshima bomb, decided to end their movie with a bang, making their show a fine example of good, clean apocalyptic fun.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
No one but James Cagney could play infamous gangsters like he could.
Already famous for smashing a half-grapefruit on Mae Clarke's face in
THE PUBLIC ENEMY, he had an appropriate bracket as another low-life in
Raoul Walsh's ultra-gritty crime caper WHITE HEAT.
Breaking ground for even more creepy criminals, Cagney plays Cody Jarrett, a man who wants to be on 'top of the world' and is dominated to incestuous excess by his she-wolf of a mother, Ma Jarrett (modeled on Ma Barker and played to excellence by Margaret Wycherly). These two are not people you would want to cross: Cody is capable of acts of extreme violence, and Ma Jarrett will go to great lengths to protect her son. She has even less fear then he. Both are the equivalent of Bonny and Clyde without the romantic liaison.
Such so that the Feds decide to keep an intense eye on them by sending one of theirs, Hank Fallon, disguised as a common crook Vic Pardo. Both land in jail and an uneasy but increasingly dependent friendship develops, one that gets closer when Ma Jarrett dies and Cody simply goes bonkers -- in losing her, he has lost himself and this now bumps Fallon a notch closer to Cody who turns the tables of trust on him. Both bust out of prison to perform another money-making heist that has quite a different outcome than originally planned.
The power of WHITE HEAT lies less on duplicities and double-crosses: other than the revelation that Cody's own wife Verna (Virginia Mayo, electrifying) was the person who offed his mother (off-screen), what matters if the relationship that the two men develop. Ed O'Brien as Fallon/Pardo seems slimier at times than James Cagney's Cody Jarrett -- his character is used to this sort of thing, living among criminals, playing the undercover cop -- and he knows all the stops to trump Cagney when the time comes. His role is actually more difficult than Cagney's because he has to underplay his part and walk on eggshells while around him, and we know that ultimately it will be revealed who he is and that Cagney will not be a happy camper at realizing this overwhelming betrayal. Featuring one of the best endings (and most quoted movie lines in film history), WHITE HEAT has gone to universal acclaim and has been referenced in its template when tackling crime dramas.
An extraordinary performance from James Cagney turns what might have
been a by-the-numbers movie into a masterpiece. Everything revolves
around Cagney. Edmond O'Brien, Virginia Mayo, and Margaret Wycherly are
all superb, but when Cagney is off the screen you wait for him to come
Cody Jarrett (Cagney) is a desperate gangster, standing on the ledge at the end of the Public Enemy era. But 'White Heat' gives us a much more intricate psychological portrait of it's anti-hero protagonist than earlier gangster movies. Cody's dependence on his "Ma" is at the crux of the story; there is no finer example of the corrupted mother in film history, even Mrs. Bates takes a backseat to Ma Jarrett.
Throughout the film, events, and characters, conspire against Cody all leading to his delivering of one of most iconic lines ever concocted by Hollywood. I won't repeat it, you know what it is even if you've never seen the movie, but even with prior knowledge it's still an extraordinarily moving moment given the context in which it's delivered.
Well... O.K.! I'm gonna say the same things than the other IMDB users! After some fine films as an actor producer in the 1940's, great James Cagney returns to the type of role he doesn't want to be anymore : a gangster! Perhaps he was knowing that this time should be the last time, because he's adding and adding some meaness to his character. Cagney, as a gangster, was never so great in a movie! He's mad, dangerous, he's everything - and more! - we want to see from a Hollywood gangster! Adding to that a very good cast, with superb Virginia Mayo in one of the best women's gangster movie role. Add some solid and masculine work by director Raoul Walsh and we have perhaps the best gangster movie of all time. And of course, there's the finale nobody wants to forget... Did I say the same things? Yes? That's one more good reason to see this film!
Warner Brothers decided to kill off their cycle of gangster films with WHITE HEAT. A pity perhaps but what a film to end their success on . Cagney will always be remembered for playing gangsters and Cody Jarret is his most memorable performance , but Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts script is nearly as memorable as Cagney due to its high level of intelligence . I especially liked the way the gang tried to test Fallon by leaving the photograph of his wife on the table in the prison cell , little touches like that make WHITE HEAT a classic . If it was made nowadays we`d get bad language , graphic sex, bloodbaths and post modernist references to pop culture . Well you can keep all that Quentin Tarantino rubbish , this is how a good film should be made . Top of the world
White Heat is directed by Raoul Walsh and adapted by Ivan Goff & Ben
Roberts from a story suggested by Virginia Kellogg. It stars James
Cagney, Virginia Mayo, Edmond O'Brien, Steve Cochran & Margaret
Wycherly. Music is by Max Steiner and photography by Sidney Hickox.
Cody Jarrett (Cagney) is the sadistic leader of a violent and ruthless gang of thieves. Unnervingly devoted to his mother (Wycherly) and afflicted by terrible headaches since childhood, Cody is one bad day away from being a full blown psychotic. That day is coming soon, and everyone in his way is sure to pay.
Around the time of White Heat being released, two things were evident as regards its star and its themes. One is that it had been a long time since a gangster, and a truly vicious one at that, had thrilled or frightened a cinema audience. The Production Code and a change in emotional value due to World War II had seen the genuine career gangster all but disappear. Second thing of note is that Cagney was stung by the disappointing performance of Cagney Productions. So after having left Warner Brothers in 1942, the diminutive star re-signed for the studio and returned to the genre he had almost made his own in the 30s. He of course had some say in proceedings, such as urging the makers to ensure a crime does not pay motif, but all told he needed a hit and the fit with Raoul Walsh and the psychotic Jarrett was perfect. It may not be his best acting performance, but it's certainly his most potent and arguably it's the cream of the gangster genre crop.
The inspiration for the film is mostly agreed to be the real life criminals: Ma Barker, Arthur "Doc" Barker and Francis Crowley. A point of worth being that they were all 30s criminals since White Heat very much looks and feels like a 30s movie. Cagney for sure is older (he was 50 at the time) and more rotund, but he and the film have the presence and vibrancy respectively to keep it suitably in period and in the process becoming the last of its kind. White Heat is that rare old beast that manages to have a conventional action story at its core, yet still be unique in structure and portrayal of the lead character. Neatly crafted by Walsh around four Cody Jarrett "moments" of importance, the Oedipal tones playing out between Cody and his Ma make for an uneasy experience, but even then Walsh and the team pull a rabbit out the hat by still garnering sympathy for the crazed protagonist. It sounds nutty, but it really is one of the big reasons why White Heat is the great film that it is. Another reason of course is "those" special scenes, two of which are folklore cinematic legends now. Note legend number 1 as Cody, incarcerated, receives bad news, the reaction is at once terrifying and pitiful (note the extras reaction here since they didn't know what was coming). Legend number 2 comes with "that" ending, forever quotable and as octane ignited finale's go it takes some beating.
As brilliant and memorable as Cagney is, it's not, however, a one man show. He's superbly directed by Walsh, with the great director maintaining a pace and rhythm to match Cody Jarrett's state of mind. And with Steiner (Angels With Dirty Faces/Casablanca/Key Largo) scoring with eerie strands and strains, and Hickox (The Big Sleep/To Have and Have Not) adding noir flourishes for realism and atmosphere, it's technically a very smart picture. The supporting cast in the face of Cagney's barnstorming come up with sterling work. Wycherly is glorious as the tough and tetchy Ma Jarrett and O'Brien is needed to be spot on in the film's second most important role; a role that calls for him to not only be the first man Cody has ever trusted, but also as some sort of weird surrogate mother! Mayo isn't called on to do much, but she's gorgeous and sexy and fatalistic in sheen. While Cochran holds his end up well as the right hand man getting ideas above his station.
White Heat is as tough as they come, a gritty pulsating psycho drama that has many visual delights and scenes that are still as powerful and as shocking some 60 odd years since it first hit the silver screen. What is often forgotten, when yet another clip of the brilliant ending is shown on TV, is that it's also a weird and snarky piece of film. All told, it is blisteringly hot. 10/10
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