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Who But Cagney Could Pull This Off?
ccthemovieman-117 December 2005
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!
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A Mother's Son
nycritic18 December 2005
Warning: 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.
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Made it Ma... Top of the world!
Tito3210 November 2004
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!
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They don't make 'em like this anymore
BrianV12 September 1998
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.
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I told you to keep away from that radio. If that battery is dead it'll have company.
Spikeopath4 March 2008
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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Cagney's last great gangster film was his best...
Neil Doyle15 June 2002
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.
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a boy's best friend is his mother
telegonus15 August 2001
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.
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Bridges the gap between film noir and WB's classic gangster flicks.
Ham_and_Egger9 June 2005
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 back.

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.
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James Cagney loves his mommie
MarioB28 August 2000
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!
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Intelligent Thriller
Theo Robertson12 August 2002
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
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A classic drama and a classic psychological study
nickjg25 January 2004
Cagney's ability to shock is constant and each new gangster he creates shows a new facet of the psychopathic mind. White heat is the perfect antidote to the earlier movies- the structure where good triumphs in the last reel is still there but the killer, out of control is far less romanticised- if only current directors could develop this message. Cody Jarrett is the product of an over protective mother and thug father in the classic pattern. His whole view of the world is simplistic without subtlety or shade. Like all people of his type his self-confidence betrays him because he sees other people as stereotypes and while he has insight into the sorts of people who form his support network, he, very unwisely, dismisses the intelligence of the opposition. Like all gangsters, he has very little grasp of the outside world- throughout the film he is trapped in boxes, just like the man he kills in the boot of his car. Cagney's portrayal is his greatest role- his avoidance of pathos and his refusal to bend emotionally mean that we are never invited to pity him- wherever there seems to be a point of access for the audience he delivers the lines with a flatness which denies us sympathy. His maudlin obsession with his mother invites us to loathe his infantile mental paralysis.

Not enough comments praise the real co-star: Margaret Wycherley. She is a sinister mother who can handle the police and the gang and Cody's wife. Her world-weary cynicism, her obsession with her son delivered in the same dead-pan style is such a total antithesis to the usual hollywood 'caring parent' model that she raises the character to the level of an Empress Livia or an Agrippina. The final scene works on multiple levels- the good-guy cannot easily destroy the villain- does the world blow up in Cody's face or are we being told that the Jarretts of the world will dominate until they bring the universe to destruction? A film which still demands analysis and does more to reveal the nature of criminal amorality than anything Tarrantino or Scorsese could produce- The latter types of director are too caught up in the 'romance' of the villainous life- they need to develop Raoul Walsh's objectivity and Cagney's penetration. It is Cagney's unequivocal hatred of the character he's portraying and the personal honesty which allows him to objectify both the character he is playing and himself as an actor that makes the whole thing work. The crude method actors we're stuck with today could learn a lot from his Cody Jarrett!
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The Best Gangsters Have Mommy Issues
GRWeston30 March 2011
Warning: Spoilers
An elaborate, bloody and very exciting heist of treasury bonds from a train kicks off White Heat, a movie I had been wanting to see for a long time, and my expectations were met and then some. The heist's mastermind is Cody Jarrett (James Cagney), a leader of a band of thieves who is the strangest, yet most entertaining gangster I've seen in a movie: he's a man prone to random crushing headaches and who is hopelessly devoted to his co-conspiring mother, much to the chagrin of both his second-in-command and his neglected wife. Unfortunately for Cody, he does not get away clean, but he has a card up his sleeve: do time for another, lesser crime he had committed earlier so that he can avoid the severe punishment of this one. While unable to step in, the treasury responds by having an agent assume the alias of Vic Pardo and pose as an inmate and befriend Cody so that the law can bring him and gang to justice. Meanwhile, his wife and his former right-hand man make plans of their own: move the organization forward, and without Cody - literally. Pardo inadvertently foils their assassination attempt, a move which makes his bond with Jarrett even stronger. The two eventually get out of jail, and while Cody quickly regains control and even lines up his next heist, the payroll of a major chemical plant, he remains unaware of Pardo's real intentions. Cody's gang and the law both converge on the plant, which becomes the set piece for a (literally) explosive conclusion.

What surprised me the most about White Heat is its energy and speed. Instead of having the careful, measured pace typical of 40's film noir, it resembles what a feature-length episode of 24 would be like, and given the volatility of the Jarrett character, this is entirely appropriate. Cagney definitely sunk his teeth into the role: his creepy behavior, especially his relationship with his mother, really gets under your skin, and when he's violent, he makes even Joe Pesci in Goodfellas seem tame. The violence in general is very shocking: there are many shootings, and each one hasn't a shred of regret or remorse. As for the movie's two major heists, both are simply thrilling to watch, not to mention interesting in how they reveal how criminals operated during that era. Still, what is even more interesting is how the law uses technology to chase down Jarrett and his gang. There is heavy and seemingly accurate use of car phones, radar detection and other techniques I had no idea were in use at the time. I will admit, however, that the movie did not leave me with a whole lot to think about afterward, which is disappointing given Jarrett's strange quirks which, while unique, only seemed to be there for the plot's sake rather than examine of the burdens of having an Oedipus complex. Still, I will not deny that I was entertained, and I would be hard pressed to find a better example of noir and action done right.
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It ain't subtle, but it's highly entertaining.
MartinHafer2 August 2009
After a long absence from gangster films, Jimmy Cagney returned in WHITE HEAT. However, it's not just a typical gangster film as Cagney plays one of the craziest killers in film history--and the final product is incredibly entertaining.

Cagney plays a combination momma's boy and antisocial killing machine. What makes this more interesting is his unusually close relationship with his mother--who follows him as he goes on bank jobs around the country. While he has a girlfriend (Virginia Mayo), he's so attached to Mom that he cannot live without her. Heck, I almost expected to see him in bed with her--they were that close and it was very creepy. It was like Freud's idea of the Oedipal Complex except Cagney DID succeed in seducing and capturing his mother! Later in the film, Cagney's mother is killed--after which, Cagney becomes a lot more imbalanced. In addition to this, he has periodic blinding headaches and it's almost comical to see him writhing in pain one minute and blasting some guy for practically no reason the next!

After this gang evades the police for some time, a special agent (Edmund O'Brien) insinuates himself into the gang--becoming a trusted friend of Cagney in the process. Eventually, of course, the gang is captured and Cagney is confronted by a bazillion law enforcement officers in the most spectacular ending of any film noir picture in history. You just have to see it to believe it!

Overall, a great script with lots of interesting psychological components. While Cagney's performance isn't the lest bit subtle, it certainly is very entertaining. For any lover of noir, this is a must-see and one of the most memorable films in movie history.
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A Certain Insane Grandeur
James Hitchcock31 July 2006
Warning: Spoilers
"White Heat" has a complex if ingenious plot. Arthur Cody Jarrett is the leader of a gang of criminals who have carried out a train robbery during which four men were shot dead. It becomes clear, however, to Jarrett that the police suspect him of this crime, so in order to throw them off the scent he flies to Illinois where he confesses to a quite different robbery in which he had no involvement at all. The two robberies took place on the same day, so Jarrett believes he has the perfect alibi. If he was robbing a hotel in Illinois, he could not have been robbing a train in California. The Illinois robbery involved no killings, so only carries a relatively light sentence.

The police, however, are aware that Jarrett's guilty plea to the Illinois robbery is not genuine, and infiltrate an agent, posing as a convict under the assumed name "Vic Pardo", into the prison where Jarrett is serving his sentence. The idea is that Pardo will be placed into the same cell as Jarrett to see if he will talk about the California robbery. Events then take an unexpected turn. Unknown to Jarrett his lieutenant Big Ed is also the lover of his beautiful young wife, Verna, and has ambitions to take control of the gang. Ed has an associate inside the prison, whom he orders to kill Jarrett. Jarrett's life is saved, however, by Pardo's intervention. Jarrett's elderly mother, to whom he is very close, finds out about the attempt on her son's life and swears to get revenge, although he begs her not to. The old lady confronts Big Ed and Verna but is shot dead by them. Jarrett, maddened by grief at his mother's death, escapes from prison, taking Pardo with him as a hostage. Jarrett resumes his career as a criminal, leading to a final showdown with the police.

"White Heat" is sometimes characterised as a film noir, although I prefer to think of it, and other similar gangster films, as "not quite noir". Although its subject-matter is crime, and it uses the dramatic lighting effects and photography that were characteristic of film noir, it lacks another typical noir characteristic, an atmosphere of moral ambiguity. It is a cops-and-robbers thriller with the moral boundaries very clearly defined; the cops are good and the robbers are bad. Those parts of the film which deal with the FBI could almost have been written by J. Edgar Hoover himself. The government agents are clean-cut, brave, honourable, incorruptible and a good deal smarter and more resourceful than the likes of Jarrett give them credit for.

That does not, however, make "White Heat" an inferior film. Today, a film with such clear-cut moral distinctions would be regarded at best naïve as and simplistic and at worst as disguised government propaganda, so used have we become to films which portray the police either as corrupt (e.g. "L.A. Confidential") or as hilariously incompetent (e.g. the "Police Academy" series) or as brutal and heavy-handed (numerous examples from "Dirty Harry" onwards). A crime film, however, which expresses a moral preference for law enforcers over law breakers is not necessarily suspect, any more than is a war film which shows the Allies as being morally better than the Nazis.

Although the film's sympathies are very much with the forces of law and order, it is the villainous characters rather than the virtuous ones that stand out- Virginia Mayo's Verna, Margaret Wycherly's Ma and, most of all, James Cagney's superb performance as Jarrett. He is a psychopathic criminal who will kill without remorse anyone who gets in his way, be they policemen or innocent bystanders, or even members of his own gang. (He leaves to die one of the gang who was injured during the train robbery). He has no feelings for Verna and treats her coldly and callously, doubtless the reason why she turned to Big Ed for comfort. His one good quality is his deep love for his mother, yet even this can often seem suspect. A word frequently used about it is "oedipal", which implies that it is not so much a redeeming virtue as a symptom of his underlying psychiatric illness. There are two particularly memorable scenes in the film. The first is the one where he learns of his mother's death while in prison. Cagney brings an intensity to this scene that makes Jarrett's rage seem particularly frightening. The second is the famous "top of the world" scene, the final shoot-out with the police in the chemical plant, in which Jarrett, despite his vicious character, achieves a certain insane grandeur. In Jarrett's disordered mind he really is "top of the world".

When I reviewed the original version of "Get Carter" on this website, I stated that I had never seen another film which better reveals the sterility and futility of the criminal lifestyle. Having now seen "White Heat", I can say that "Get Carter" now has a rival in this regard. 9/10
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On top of the world ma!!!
thekyles9920 December 2010
Finally got a copy of this sent to me and man! I don't usually like old black and white films as they bore the hell outta me but this was really good. I have seen many impresiions of James Cagney and now that i actually got to see the man himself, i can see what the impressionists were doing. A lot of them that i saw were dead on! Cagney delivers a riveting performance of gangster boss Cody Jarrett. Jarrett is a psychopathic mama's boy who while in the pen plans a heist of an oil refinery unbeknown st to him that his new cell mate is a plant by the police. A great film that if anyone knows of other classics i might enjoy such as this please share!! Renewed my faith in the era of black and white film. ON TOP OF THE WORLD MA!!!
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Cagney as caged animal
gleywong13 March 2003
This classic was offered as part of Turner's crime week "behind bars" series, and to be honest, I didn't expect much, not being a fan of gangster flicks. But the fast-paced no-holds barred direction didn't let up, a tribute to the director R. Walsh.

The movie seems to avoid the cliches of shoot'em ups because it defines them. It's a straight tale, told with no irony. While all the supporting characters are good, including Ma Garrett, what holds the picture together is Cagney's charisma. From his opening scene, jumping onto the train, to the chase at the end leading to the conflagration, I had the feeling that I was watching a desperate caged animal. When policemen refer to a face as a "mug," they were probably thinking of Cagney. What a mug! -- and when he pulled the trigger, all the venom in his veins came shooting out.

Only a few actors in the history of cinema give so much of themselves, and when they do, we recognize them as stars. I think the reason "White Heat" gets such a high score from reviewers is that few of us (actors or audience) have the guts to show this kind of evil or all-out desperation, in an otherwise tame movie, and to recognize it as part of one's nature, not as part of an "act," which is how most actors would do the hoodlum or bad guy in other run of the mill films.

One difference between the film noir of the forties, is how this evil is conceived by the writer(s). In "White Heat," while Cagney doesn't torture anyone, he gets his kicks from shooting them, or allowing them to be steamed to death. short and sweet. Later, post-WW II movies would place evil in the form of a Nazi, with torture, and then, by the nineties, we have psychological evil in the form of Hannibal Lecter and the very slow roast, where noone can outwit him. Anthony Hopkins' genius was to grasp the psychopathic side of himself and allow it to be revealed on screen.

Cagney had courage to let out unbridled badness. This affected his co-star, bringing out Mayo's terror in one scene, so she didn't have to "act" either, according to a recent interview describing their working together. It's a pity to learn from the other reviews that this movie hit the top of Cagney's career and that it was downhill after that.
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James Cagney's performance is amazing
bregund3 August 2005
Though the acting in this film is excellent all around, Cagney steals the show. His performance is good not just because he was an excellent actor, but because he knew just how far to take the role of Cody without appearing cartoonish. He spends much of the film stomping around like a petulant, angry little boy, but then he surprises with a few moments of gentle reminiscing about his mother. His command of the role is remarkable because he seems to know the character so well that he becomes Cody; I think this is the ultimate statement about an actor's skills because you forget that he's acting. His every expression, roll of his eyes, sneer, maniacal laugh, howl of anger or glee, these things came from his heart. The scene where Cagney walks out of the house eating a drumstick and casually ventilating the trunk of the car with his gun is something that Tarentino might have used fifty years later. And I doubt that anyone could fail to see how deeply he loved his mother after his wail of despair when he learns of her death. His stunned disbelief at learning Fallon is a cop practically leaps off the screen: "I treated him like a kid brother." It's a wretched scene. It's hard to believe this is the same actor who made such impossible dance moves in "Yankee Doodle Dandy". James Cagney was a remarkable actor. I doubt that any contemporary actor ever possessed the same kind of intensity. James Caan was once this intense a long time ago.

Virginia Mayo is radiant, whether being treacherous or purring like a kitten as it suits her plans. Cody doesn't really care for her, even when he's carrying her piggyback around the house. It seems warm and light-hearted, but she'll never take the place of dear old mom, and she knows it. Her best line is delivered at the end of the movie when she's trying to save her own neck: "you dirty copper." The way she says it always makes me laugh. But don't turn your back on her, if you know what I mean.

Raoul Walsh's tight direction doesn't let you stop for a moment. Something is always happening in the movie, even at the very end, where the alien landscape is dominated by gigantic refinery spheres. This is postwar U.S. prosperity, where Cody's old-fashioned gangster world doesn't belong, and the results are predictably abrupt and terrifying. They even use a primitive form of GPS to catch him, and walk around with walkie-talkies, technology that Cody couldn't begin to understand. Out with the old world, in with the new.

Edmond O'Brien is good too, but he's no match against Cagney and knows it, so he plays it really straight and low-key. You can see the desperation in his face. I think Walsh was ahead of his time when he played the truck driver (I forget his name) against Fallon, where they constantly kept missing each other's faces by a split second; it's really clever the way Walsh does this, and you find yourself saying "oh no" several times as they just miss each other. It's almost humorous the way Walsh does this. Only at the end do their eyes finally meet, and there's the spark of recognition.

This movie is fantastic, and every bit as groundbreaking as "Citizen Kane" or "Sunset Boulevard". At least watch it for James Cagney, there will never be another actor like him.
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White Heat
oOoBarracuda14 September 2016
The quintessential tough guy, James Cagney is always a joy to watch on film. Possibly his most famous film, White Heat, a Raoul Walsh feature from 1949, Cagney stars as a cold seemingly heartless criminal who reserves a soft spot for only one person, his mother. Also starring Virginia Mayo and Edmond O'Brien, White Heat has become a seminal crime drama and film noir classic, and for good reason. A reinvention of his tough-guy characters of years past, James Cagney seamlessly reintroduces the audience to his unique brand of Hollywood tough guy.

Maniacal, intense, and frightening are just a few words one can use to describe Cody Jarrett (James Cagney) the ruthless leader of a gang of criminals. Despite his marriage to Verna Jarrett (Virginia Mayo), Cody is loyal to only one person, his mother. Ma Jarrett (Margaret Wycherly) is the epicenter of Cody Jarrett, she is his safe place; the only place he can escape the world and be shielded from all that triggers his neuroses. Cody suffers from bouts of erratic behaviors that begin as headaches and are thought to have been passed down to him from his father who passed away in a mental institution. These bouts of hysteria make the henchmen members of Cody's gang nervous, and they begin to plot for an "accident" to happen to Cody. After a messy yet successful robbery, they may get their chance. Cody's name is uttered in a train robbery resulting in many murders, including the one in his gang who revealed his name, and the Jarrett gang is having trouble escaping the police interest. Cody decides that the best way to avoid the police hunting for his gang is to confess to a crime committed in Illinois at the same time as the train robbery. This confession should be a win- win for Cody, he will only spend 2 years in jail, avoid a certain gas chamber death, and be able to build additional criminal contacts while in prison. Simultaneously police, unconvinced that Cody was actually responsible for the crime in Illinois, have arranged for an undercover officer to be bunked with Cody through his prison stay. Vic Pardo (Edmond O'Brien) is the name taken by the undercover officer whose sole purpose is to get close to Cody and get enough information to implicate Cody for the train robbery. Everything is going smoothly until Cody finds out his mother has been killed. The only person that could calm Cody Jarrett's demons is gone and Cody is set on seeking revenge for her death. Cody organizes a prison break-out, along with Vic Pardo, to avenge his mother's death, and execute one more great heist.

No review of White Heat would be complete without discussing the acting talent of its synonymous star. James Cagney was the perfect everyman tough guy; his stature was short and unopposing, meaning that all of the fear he would need to bring to the audience was reliant upon his acting. After about 10 minutes into the film, you definitely fear Cagney's Cody Jarrett. Cagney had an extremely facially expressive face, oftentimes, actors that rely on their facial expressions to carry their acting come off like they're just chewing the scenery. It can be distracting to watch an actor with an expressive face, but Cagney never falls into that trap, rather, the expressiveness of his face goes a long way to building who is character is. For instance, the best part of Cody Jarrett's character, a testament to the exceptional acting of James Cagney, is the controlled method he uses to keep his neuroses restrained. Cody knows he has a propensity toward psychotic episodes, he is not in denial about that, in order to keep his gang going, he must keep this psychosis under control. Without his mother, Cagney's security erodes and his psychosis is unable to be controlled bringing audiences the most thrilling decline of a man in cinema history, all thanks to Cagney's brilliant execution. Raoul Walsh is certainly responsible for much of what is great about White Heat, as well. The score was a fantastic selection, taking on a character of its own, accentuating the mental processes of Cagney's Cody Jarrett. The telephone scene and the following fit of grief in which Cody finds out about his mother's death was cinematic brilliance. When Cody surprises his gang after breaking out of prison and the light shines on his face upon opening the door and catching his wide with an associate of his is a scene that will stay with the audience long after the film ends. Nearly 70 years after its release, White Heat is in a class of its own, on top of the world.
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Made it, Ma! Top of the world!
elvircorhodzic31 August 2016
WHITE HEAT is a gangster movie, which is characterized by very attractive scenery and explosive dynamics. Noir in every sense of the word. Already washed model with femme fatale and deranged gangster does not cause major damage. Fans of thrillers can be satisfied also. The story is very cruel, but the emotions are strong and unstable. White Heat is simply the culmination of gangster films. At least in the forties of the last century. The film is full of complications and murder. The tension is constant.

James Cagney as Arthur "Cody" Jarrett He is a ruthless gang leader. Maniac and a lunatic. Character full of rage, that at any moment looks scary. His job is violence, robbery and money. I think that Mr. Cagney is maybe a little too brutal in their roles. In this film, the brutality has reached a peak. Anything else, aloof murder. Certainly not common. Cagney's killing with style. This actor I really miss. I think he's the biggest gangster in the classic Hollywood. My inclination to the floor.

The acting is generally good. Virginia Mayo as Verna Jarrett is quite good in the role of unfair wife. Cheeky, horny and stupid. I think that no actress can not be achieved in the role of a femme fatale. Good examples are rare. Beauty generally becomes crucial. Edmond O'Brien as Hank Fallon AKA "Vic Pardo", It's nothing special. Simply good. Resourceful character. His performance has been shaken in the last third of the film.

At least likely fact is "mama's boy". This is the motivation main character. However operates unconvincing. If we talk about the disorder in character, he would have functioned perfectly irrespective of the element in the story.

Exciting, tense and entertaining thriller. Fans of the genre can enjoy. I've enjoyed.
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chaos-rampant8 September 2013
What is it to have an authentic thought? There is nothing mirrored and not even a mirror, it somehow gives the impression that it springs from air. Cagney was nothing if not an authentic guy; and there's no talking about this without Cagney. The film is perfectly tense and gripping in general, a brooding crime melodrama about a broken man who flings his pieces at the world.

But Cagney makes it matter.

Sure you'll see here in his last gangster role a set of mannerisms more psychotic than usual. Nicholson no doubt took note for his Joker. Alternately, you may think of him in this film as an early Pacino, creating gravitas out of nothing. Two things you should know here about Cagney; he was one of very few Hollywood stars who was committed to a long marriage; and he had a deep bonding to his mother.

So what powerful alignment here! In this role he is required as Cody Jarrett to face the possibilities of betrayal by his wife and that his relationship with his mother is deep down psychotic and even the cause of his wanting to be on the stage. Together, it means he must play someone who faces loneliness and age while plotting some crime story.

I hope I'm not presuming too much. But Cagney was an intelligent man and though he was never quite a Method actor, he couldn't fail to implicitly recognize the situation. In his big scene of the breakdown, the story goes that he told the filmmaker to keep the cameras rolling no matter what, meaning he knew he could find the place from which to throw himself.

So this inarticulate recognition creates all the tension. Methodists like Brando and Clift, knowing this is powerful, would try to mask the pain, artfully presenting sides to the camera so that we'd infer the rest. Cagney completely throws himself in the thing, holds and conceals nothing. This isn't masterful in the Method sense of consciously inhabiting a self, controlling; it's skiing on the tension. It cuts because you can tell that it cuts him to face what he must as the character. His anguished wails in that scene felt to me like genuinely some inner child being torn.

The climax is pretty great, what they pulled off from doing at the last moment in Angels 10 years before.

Noir Meter: 2/4
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"They think they've got Cody Jarrett."
bkoganbing16 December 2005
White Heat was something of a comeback for James Cagney. Curiously enough ever since his Oscar winning portrayal of George M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy, Cagney's films had either not been all that great or were getting critical kudos, but no box office. By reinventing himself in the gangster genre, Cagney bounced back to the top of film stardom.

Cody Jarrett is definitely the gangster redefined for Cagney. It's light years different from Tom Powers in Public Enemy. In those early Warner Brothers features, Cagney is a slum kid who's rising to the top through fists and brains, but he's not psychotic. Cody Jarrett gives us a whole new Cagney, a ruthless, incredibly shrewd head of a criminal gang with insanity galloping through his family.

The insanity comes from his father, the brains from his mother. Margaret Wycherly got her career role in White Heat as Ma Jarrett. Obviously modeled on Ma Barker, she's one tough woman. And street smart. One of my favorite scenes is how she shakes the treasury tail that was put on her. It's only dumb luck that John Bryant, the agent in charge finds the motel that Wycherly, Cagney, and Virginia Mayo are staying.

This was also a return to the slatternly roles for Virginia Mayo. She first was noticed in Samuel Goldwyn's The Best Years of Our Lives as Dana Andrews's trampy wife. After that she was playing good girls in lightweight stuff. Back as Cody's two timing wife, she gets the best role of her career as well.

As FBI informer, Edmond O'Brien has the unenviable job of getting close to Jarrett. The plot of the film has Cagney turning himself in on a minor robbery charge to avoid being tagged for the robbery at the beginning of the film of a U.S. mail train where four people are killed. The feds don't believe it so O'Brien who apparently specializes in going into prison to mix among the cons and gain information, gets the job of going undercover in Joliet prison in Illinois to get close to Cagney. He succeeds, but the plans take a different and sudden turn which you will have to see the film for.

Even in today's world which certainly has more explicit cinema violence than back in 1949. White Heat is not for the squeamish. But you will feel the tension every minute. And that climax.........

Well didn't he make it to the top of the gangster world. Ma was probably very proud.
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Go down in a Blaze of Glory, if you have too.
JFHunt24 March 2008
I tried to deny the hype. Convinced myself that "White Heat" wasn't really that good. I even went out of my way to avoid the film. I had nothing against the man, I just never saw any of Cagney's films. I made quite possibly the biggest mistake of my film buff career. I simply ignored this film as a defining picture.

That is until I caught a film called "Angels with Dirty Faces" on TCM late one night. Hey anything with Bogie it can't be bad, right? Than something surprised me, for the first time in my life I wasn't paying attention to Bogart. Considering how I regard Bogart as the greatest actor of all time, this isn't an easy task. The unbelievable happened, James Cagney stole the show. With that dangerous quality and infectious smile. The man has Character and knows how to use it.

In 1949 there was a change going on in Hollywood. An out with the old mentality, ushering in the Brando's and the Dean's. But WB and Cagney got together and said one more round. Slip the audience with "White Heat" as a convincer. And what they brought to the table was truly one of the greatest performances that I've ever seen. Cagney at his best and never a dull moment. And just when I think it can't get any better, they went and hit me with it. Quite possibly, the greatest ending ever.

When a man is put to the test. I mean really betrayed and at a loss. No east way out. No escape. Nothing is fair and everything is not what it seems. You either give up and go quietly or you simply just check out. What would you do? Go down in a blaze of fallen glory if you have too.
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A classic, one of the very best films I've ever seen - Cagney is a god!
MovieAddict20166 August 2005
"White Heat" may not be typical film noir in the literal sense, but the vibes are unmistakable. It's classic James Cagney noir, and he gives his best performance ever. It's the pinnacle for all future mobster movies - "Godfather," "Scarface" (the remake) and even "GoodFellas" all borrow styles or concepts from this. The ending is eerily similar to Pacino in "Scarface." Cagney stars as a mobster (giving one of his snarling performances). The plot basically follows his rise and fall. Throughout, he has a strange fascination / obsession with his mother. He loves her more than his girlfriend.

This is one element that really impressed me. For a film from 1949 it really handles some seedy elements rather well - this would still raise eyebrows if it were released over fifty years later! Cagney is absolutely terrific. The film is a huge tour de force, breathtaking and mesmerizing. One of my favorite films, I would write more about the plot but I've found I always end up ruining the movie for people! (I have to restrain myself from referencing the ending!) If you like film noir, mobster movies or James Cagney (or all of the above!) go buy this movie right now.
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Can Cagney Disappoint?
gavin694211 March 2011
Cody Jarrett (James Cagney) is the ruthless, deranged leader of a criminal gang. Although married to Verna (Virginia Mayo), Jarrett is overly attached to his equally crooked and determined mother, "Ma" Jarrett (Margaret Wycherly), his only real confidante.

Bosley Crowther of The New York Times called it "the acme of the gangster-prison film" and praised its "thermal intensity". Tim Dirks on the website Filmsite.org writes that the film may have also inspired many other successful films.

Bottom line: can James Cagney make a bad gangster film? I think not. The only way you can make a gangster film better than a Cagney film, is by having one with Cagney, Paul Muni and Edward G. Robinson. But that is just not going to happen.
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