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I have a different opinion of this highly rated crime/drama film
Ed-Shullivan11 February 2018
Warning: Spoilers
I think James Cagney's body of work is something to be very proud of and his loyal fans like myself are glad he made so many great films. Having said that I have watched this film three (3) times now and I just never got that good feeling that sometimes comes over me after watching a great crime film classic like (1972) The Godfather, (2015) Black Mass, (2012) The Iceman, and/or (1993) A Bronx Tale.

I realize that I may be in the minority with my opinion but the film left me looking for quite a bit more in Cagney's mob boss character Cody Jarrett. The fixation with his "ma" was creative but for example, the scene in which Cody is in prison and whispers at the prison meal table to the guy sitting next to him who just got outside news that Cody's "ma" is dead was just so over the top that I found it to be too comical. I just could not see a mob boss after finding out his adorable "ma" is dead would scream out loud and literally crawl across the prison dinner table without anyone trying to stop him for acting like a big baby.

I loved Virginia Mayo's portrayal as the selfish and beautiful blonde gun moll Virginia, wife of Cody Jarrett whose facial expressions when she observes the interactions between Cody and his mom provide us with her disdain for their relationship.

No doubt, the film ending is a classic and extremely well done. I just was not so impressed with the other 110 minutes of the film.
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Super Awesome!!
Richard Chatten12 January 2018
Warning: Spoilers
Jimmy Cagney was in his fiftieth year when he made this return to the gangster genre, and looks it. But age has neither mellowed him nor slowed him down in this consummate star vehicle with all the trimmings (including a haunting score by Max Steiner - who gets a separate title card all to himself).

'White Heat' is inconceivable without Cagney, but he's surrounded by a top supporting cast, most of whom aren't even named in the credits (I particularly liked G.Pat Collins as the old lag with the hearing aid), with Margaret Wycherley unforgettable as the meanest mama since Ma Barker.

'White Heat' begins by showing it means business with an incredibly violent train hold-up; after which Cagney continues to display a wanton lack of respect for human life right up to the end. But being Cagney you can't help rooting for him, and he and Edmond O'Brien (usually unfairly overlooked in discussions of this film) are both such charismatic presences that it's almost heartbreaking to see them bond while knowing all along that O'Brien is simply a police plant. Although we're told well before the end that Cagney is by now hopelessly insane with only brief periods of lucidity, he still seems perfectly functional until the very, very end. (His retelling of the story of the Trojan Horse is particularly cherishable).

For a late forties thriller much of the film actually takes place in the Southern California sun; and the use of locations throughout is exemplary, culminating in the oil refinery on 198th Street and Figueroa, near Torrance, which provides Cagney with a suitably imposing backdrop for his big scene at the end.
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made it ma! top of the world!
leisurelyfilm5 January 2018
Hands down the best crime/gangster film in history. Cagney has cemented himself as my favorite actor after seeing this and The Public Enemy. White Heat is a staple film that constitutes a 10/10. I'm just happy to have viewed this in my lifetime.
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A gangster film that has it all
Antonius Block29 November 2017
This gangster film has it all – well-planned heists, cold-blooded murders, fast cars, double-crosses, snappy dialog, sophisticated criminals, and just as sophisticated cops. It's very smart, and Director Raoul Walsh keeps us on our toes without wasting a single moment in telling this story. Most of all, it has James Cagney, who is just fantastic. The film is both dark both in how it's shot, a classic film noir, and in its tone, as Cagney's character is sociopathic, wracked by migraines, and possibly insane. He is supported by a great cast, including Margaret Wycherly in the memorable role as his mother, whose toughness and depravity is gradually revealed. Edmond O'Brien is also strong in the role of the undercover G-man.

One theme in the film is how easily (and violently) criminals will betray one another. Another is how advanced forensic and crime-fighting technology was in 1949, which is both impressive and may make you smile. The two of those put together serve as a strong anti-crime message, likely influenced by the production code, and yet, the film is gritty and pushes boundaries, so that it doesn't feel like a morality tale. Character motivations feel authentic. There are several iconic moments, the ending of course, but also Cagney returning and surprising his wife (Virginia Mayo) in the garage, and later staring at a rival (Steve Cochran) through the crack of a door. He is absolutely chilling when angry, and one can't help but be impressed by the great range he showed over his career. If you're in the mood for action and a dark crime film, 'White Heat' is very satisfying.
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Even at 50 Cagney is a force of nature here
calvinnme2 March 2017
White Heat" shows the influence of film noir that was so popular in the 40's an 50's. Here, Cagney's gangster persona has come full circle back to the viciousness of Tom Powers in "Public Enemy". The big difference is that in this film Cagney's mother is no cream puff. She is, in fact, probably a bigger criminal in thought if not in deed than Cagney's Cody Jarrett.

This late entry into Cagney's gangster filmology shows technology and thus the law gaining on the criminal, with electronic gadgets and undercover lawmen with college degrees in psychology replacing the determined hard-boiled detectives and beat cops of the past. It very much looks forward to the Dragnet series that is to emerge in the 50's.

Virginia Mayo plays Verna, the fur coat loving unfaithful wife to Cagney's psychopathic criminal character Cody Jarrett. She has the hots for a member of Cody's gang, Big Ed (Steve Cochran). Even with his dark menacing presence, Cochran acts like a scared rabbit at the idea of dealing with Cody's wrath - Cagney has that much screen presence here. Edmund O'Brien is great as the undercover cop who has to stay on his toes to keep Cody believing he is on his side and win his confidence. Anything less than a convincing performance would be deadly. O'Brien always impressed me as someone who, like Cagney, could play either a guy with a white or black hat, depending on what the role called for.

Best scene without giving away the ending. Cody chewing on a chicken leg asking a guy in the trunk of the car how he's doing. When he complains it is stuffy Cody pumps the trunk full of lead. He now has the air he needs, not that he is in any condition to breathe anymore.
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The real story
NewtonFigg6 February 2017
D'Autremonts' bungled train robbery in 1923 left 4 dead

By Paul Fattig Copyright © interRogue & The Mail Tribune 1998, Medford, Oregon USA oct11,1998

ASHLAND -- An old wreath over the north portal of Tunnel No. 13 at the Siskiyou Summit is the only visible reminder of the deadly crime. Three railroad employees and a mail clerk were killed when the Southern Pacific's "Gold Special" was held up by the D'Autremont brothers 75 years ago today.

One of those who died shortly after noon on Oct. 11, 1923, was Ashland resident Elvyn Dougherty, the mail clerk. "It was a terrible thing," said Eagle Point resident Nancy Rinabarger, 70, whose mother, Blanche Dougherty, was left a widow with a young son. "He wasn't supposed to work that day. He was subbing for someone else. "I wasn't born then, but I know she had a lot of hardships," she said of her mother, who later remarried. "Since the case wasn't solved right away, they (detectives) even followed her for some time. That was hard on her."

Her half-brother, Raymond Dougherty of Redding, the boy left fatherless by the dynamite blast, will be 80 next month. But he declined to comment about the trauma caused by the 1923 incident, saying it was "personal."

After all these years, what has become popularly known as the West's "Last Great Train Robbery" is still remembered with pain by those whose families lost loved ones. "Four lives were lost and three lives were changed so they that were never the same," said Salem resident Mike Yoakum, a former Rogue Valley resident. "It was a compound tragedy."

The D'Autremonts included twins Ray and Roy, both 23 at the time of the crime, and their teenage brother, Hugh. Before the crime, Ray served time in a Washington state prison for labor union activity. During that time, he came up with a plan to make his family rich.

"Hatred ate away at my compassion as I saw how the people in power cheated and stole from the masses," he told author Larry Sturholm for the book, "All for Nothing." "Thousands of women and children were starving and dying, thousands more, honest working men, were receiving less than half of what they should," he added.

But Ray's action indicated he wasn't interested in honest work. After his release from prison, he and his twin brother traveled to Chicago where they hoped to join big-time gangsters during the Roaring '20s. Unsuccessful, they returned to Southern Oregon where they began studying shipments on Southern Pacific trains. After all, the train through the Rogue Valley still carried the nickname of the "Gold Special" because it once hauled large quantities of gold from the mines.

They had heard rumors that it would be hauling up to a half million dollars in gold as well as a shipment of cash on Oct. 11.

The twins, who recruited their younger brother, picked the 3,107-foot-long Tunnel No. 13 because it would be easy to hop aboard the train as it labored slowly to reach the crest of the summit. Railway regulations required the engineer to test the brakes at the top of the pass by bringing the southbound train to a near stop just north of the tunnel.

The brothers studied the site, and established a hideout a couple of miles from the tunnel. They also stole explosives from a construction site in northern Oregon.

On the day of the crime, Roy and Hugh jumped on the train. Ray waited at the other end of the tunnel with the dynamite. After scrambling up on the baggage car, the two brothers climbed over the tender and jumped down into the engine cab. Hugh ordered engineer Sidney Bates to stop the train near the south end of the tunnel.

The twins packed the dynamite against one end of the mail car containing the mail clerk. The blast ripped open the entire end of the car, killing the clerk and setting fire to the railroad car. The brothers couldn't see into the car because of the smoke and dust. And they couldn't get the train moved out of the tunnel because of the mangled car.

The second man to die was brakeman Coyle Johnson, who had walked through the thick smoke in the tunnel, startling the brothers. Ray, carrying a shotgun, and Hugh, armed with a .45 semiautomatic, shot Johnson. Perhaps angry over not finding any money or gold, perhaps afraid of leaving witnesses, the brothers then shot to death railroad fireman Marvin Seng and engineer Bates.

They fled into the woods, prompting a massive manhunt that included the federal government, Oregon National Guard troops, local posses and angry railroad workers. But the brothers laid low, then slipped through the dragnet.

It wouldn't be until 1927 that Hugh was caught while serving in the Far East in the military. An Army buddy recognized his face on a wanted poster and turned him in for the reward. The twins were arrested a short time later in Ohio.
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Cagney's Best
Hitchcoc18 December 2016
This a portrait of a psychotic. James Cagney plays an ugly, amoral gangster, who is fixated on his mother. She is his foundation, his go to, but their relationship is sick. It is a classic Oedipus complex. Cagney's Jody is about as dangerous as one gets because when cornered, he will attack. When crossed, he will kill. The movie involves the infiltration of his gang by someone with his own agenda. When Jody's mother dies, he seems to embrace a death wish. This movie has one of the most famous final scenes in cinema history. Watch the film for that very reason. This is probably the performance of a lifetime by one of America's greatest actors. While type cast as a gangster, he was a man of incredible talents.
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One of James Cagney's best performances returns this versatile actor to type
jacobs-greenwood6 December 2016
Warning: Spoilers
It's hard to say what the best acting performance (captured on film) by James Cagney was. Initially typecast as a tough little "bad" guy from the streets of New York (e.g. Angels with Dirty Faces (1938)) with something to prove, he exhibited terrific range, particularly later in his career, from his Best Actor Oscar winning portrayal of George M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) to another biographical performance as Lon Chaney in Man of a Thousand Faces (1957), and even in more sophisticated comedies like Billy Wilder's One, Two, Three (1961).

But I believe two of Cagney's best performances were captured in films released after he'd turned 50, even though both were roles in which he returned to that original type, because he showed us something more each time. One was opposite Doris Day's portrayal of Ruth Etting in Love Me or Leave Me (1955), and the other was in this picture.

Cagney's portrayal of 'Cody' Jarrett allows him to play a particularly nasty gang leader, utilizing his many physical gifts, whose character is actually a "Momma's boy" who's mentally unbalanced. Given an Oscar nominated story (by Virginia Kellogg, her first of two Academy Award nominations) to work with, the actor gives us a convincing psychopath in his best of four collaborations with action director Raoul Walsh. Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts wrote the screenplay.

Margaret Wycherly plays Ma Jarrett while Virginia Mayo plays his beautiful dumb blonde wife. Edmond O'Brien is given the only other meaty role, as a government agent who's put in the same prison as Jarrett, in on a minor charge, to befriend Cody and catch him doing something that would mean "the chair". Once O'Brien's character earns Cody's trust, they're able to escape together.

Besides the famous "top of the world" ending, two other memorable scenes occur when Jarrett learns of his mother's death while in prison, and the act (once they've escaped) which gives O'Brien's character what he needs.

This movie was added to the National Film Registry in 2003. "Made it, Ma! Top of the world!" is #18 on AFI's 100 Greatest Movie Quotes list.
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Yes Ma, He Made It
Richard Dominguez2 December 2016
White Heat The Godfather Of Gangster Movies ... James Cagney As The Gangster Cody Jarrett Set The Mold For All Gangsters That Came After Him And In Comparison Have Yet To Measure Up (Keyser Soze, Coming The Closest And He Didn't Even Exist) ... Edmond O'Brien Is Excellent As The Undercover Agent Sent To Befriend Cody ... Virginia Mayo's Performance As Cody's Moll Is Convincing ... And Margaret Wycherly As Cody's Mom (The Only Person Cody Trust) Is Brilliant As The Loving "Ma Parker" Type ... The Movie Keeps An Excellent Pace And Has No Down Time ... Direction By Raoul Walsh Was Tight And Well Planned ... Well Written Script Rounds Out This Spectacular Story And Big Screen Blockbuster ...
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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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White Heat is 10 out of 10
kathied-8739523 August 2016
James Cagney is my favorite actor and White Heat is his best performance. Cody Jarrett is a cold blooded ruthless gangster but you seem to root for him anyway. Cody Jarrett is always in control of the gang. The scene with the guy in the trunk of the car really explains a lot about his character. Margaret Wycherly is excellent as Ma Jarrett. You can feel the great chemistry between them. Their scenes together are amazing. Edmond O'Brien and Virginia Mayo give excellent performances. The movies keeps you riveted from the first scene to the last. This is one of my favorite movies from all time and I highly recommend it. Excellent.
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A fun romp but not a classic.
allyatherton24 February 2016
A cop goes undercover to bring down the mob.

Starring James Cagney and Virginia Mayo.

Written by Ivan Goff, Ben Roberts and suggested by a story by Virginia Kellogg.

Directed by Raoul Walsh.

This is the third mob movie I've watched in a row and probably my least favourite.

I know it's supposed to be a classic but I don't get it. If I'd have watched it when it first came out I may have appreciated a bit more but for me it was just an okay, fun romp of a movie.

It's got practically the same plot as Donnie Brasco but of course came out many years earlier. I'd go as far as to say it's like Donnie Brasco with action scenes added. The action scenes are pretty good and the film kept my interest all the way even though it's quite a long one. But it is very dated and doesn't really stand the test of time that well. Not for me anyway. The acting is dated and so is the whole production.

I wasn't too impressed with James Cagney's performance. I found him quite wooden and hammy. The scene where he loses it in the prison dining hall just made me giggle it was so bad. I'm sure I'm on my own here because reading some of the reviews on IMDb it's heralded as the the finest mob movie ever made. But that's just the way I feel. It was an okay movie but nothing special. I'd be interested in watching some of Cagney's over stuff though.

And why was it called White Heat? Can anybody tell me?

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What's not to like....??
deepakahlu24 January 2016
Some films age well, some don't. Bit like people I guess.

This one from 1949 is still a beauty --- racy, witty, edgy.

The screenplay alone, I reckon, would give any of the thrillers doing the rounds today a run for their money.

Okay, its black and white and the technology is not what we are used to today, but after a while you stop caring because you want to see who says what next, does what next, who double crosses whom.....the pace is relentless

Cagney as a psychotic gang leader with a mother complex, what's not to like...??
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punishmentpark21 October 2015
Warning: Spoilers
A terrific crime flick with a great performance by James Cagney, even if over-acting is lurking in almost every corner. The same thing goes for the soundtrack by Max Steiner; most of the time it's great and exhilarating, but at some moments it's simply a little too much. These minor points hardly bothered me, though. The story - which is on the one hand a little too convenient at times but also pretty creative at other moments - is fast-paced and the movie is over before you know it.

The other supporting roles are pretty good, too, but the beauty and presence of Virginia Mayo is really something else. Margaret Wycherly is also great as the dominant mother; she and this film múst have been some inspiration for Alfred Hitchcock's 'Psycho' (check some shots of the buildings in the beginning and that part of the line when they chase her, "dead ahead", it just keeps ringing), though I have no proof.

The direction is quite good, with some wonderful cinematography here and there (the finale, for instance). As far as I'm aware, this is only the second Raoul Walsh film that I've seen ('High Sierra' is the other one, which is maybe even better), and so far he's turned out to be a terrific storyteller.

9 out of 10.

P.s.: was Cagney's voice an inspiration for the duck voice in Lucio Fulci's 'Lo squartatore di New York'? Sure sounded like it at times.
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Cagney's tour de force
Leofwine_draca25 September 2015
WHITE HEAT is the last of the great crime/gangster movies starring James Cagney. This one was made a decade after the likes of ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES and THE ROARING TWENTIES and stars the noticeably aged star as a small-time criminal who ends up doing time in jail after a robbery goes awry.

What follows is a thriller resplendent with solid performances, high drama, a great score, and some wonderfully enjoyable characterisations. Obviously the film belongs to Cagney, who relishes the part of the mother-fixated crime boss and rarely lets up from his on-screen intensity. The bit everyone remembers about WHITE HEAT is the climax, with one of the most famous scenes (and lines) in film history, and it really is perfection. But up until this point we get solid thrills, an interesting police procedural investigation, and some nice little set-pieces in a prison setting. It's all great stuff and one of the best of its era in my opinion.
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Red hot gangster
Prismark1017 July 2015
Raoul Walsh's film is bold with Freudian undertones with a staggering over the top performance from an ageing James Cagney as a ruthless and unhinged mama's boy

Watching this film again it is noticeable that Cagney is too old for the role. He was almost 50 years old. He plays Cody Jarrett mean, nasty and nutty. We see him and his gang rob a train and cold blooded kill the driver and his mate because they heard his name being called out. When one of the gang members is injured in the heist he is happy to have him whacked.

His beautiful blonde wife is treacherous and afraid of him. Its more than hinted he beats her up regularly. His right hand man wants him out of the way and wants his wife too. The only person he cares for his his mother. played by Margaret Wycherly. We never find out too much for the course of this close bond between mother and son. Jarret has one other problem, bouts of shooting pain in his head leading to blinding headaches.

Edmond O'Brien plays the undercover cop who befriends Jarrett in prison and becomes a member of his gang in order to catch him in the act and find other more secretive gangsters.

The film has a mix of noirish crime thriller with a documentary style of shooting and a deep cover genre film as O'Brien bonds with Jarrett in order to be trusted by him and then later betray him.

The film is a classic, I think the film suffers because so many aspects are left unexplored because of censorship laws of the time.
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A "Yankee Doodle Dandy" blows up . . .
Edgar Allan Pooh14 December 2014
Warning: Spoilers
. . . like the Fourth of July, as WHITE HEAT provides Leonardo Di Caprio's "I'm on top of the world!" TITANIC catch-phrase (which his character anachronistically steals 37 years too soon). James Cagney's "Cody Jarrett" keeps lamenting, "All I ever had was Ma," like a Helen Reddy tune on a skipping vinyl record. As always, Hollywood portrays American law enforcement as "Keystone Kops," here, playing around with ludicrously slow "tracking oscillators" (which take hours to do what a basic G.P.S. unit can accomplish instantaneously). As a result, the entire gasoline supply for the West Coast becomes collateral damage sacrificed to police ineptitude, no doubt resulting in scores of immediate civilian deaths, and hundreds--if not thousands--of cancer victims croaking days or decades down the road in one of the worst U.S. environmental catastrophes ever. Cagney's "Cody" has no luxuries apart from (most likely stolen) fast cars and his gun arsenal. Yet this self-proclaimed nut case is far more efficient and effective as a leader of men than anyone working for the government. He has the last laugh.
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Classic gangster-drama
grantss14 December 2014
Great gangster-drama - an absolute classic. Solid, tight plot. Good direction by Raoul Walsh. Though there are many twists and turns, it never feels contrived or overstays its welcome.

Undoubtedly the highlight of the movie, and what makes it a classic, is the performance of James Cagney. Starring as the psychotic head- gangster, Cody Jarrett, Cagney delivers an acting tour de force: powerful, searing, intense, layered, believable, brilliant.

Good support from Virginia Mayo, Edmond O'Brien, Steve Cochran, Margaret Wycherly and John Archer

Surely a movie which inspired generations of film-makers to come. A must-see.
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Get Up, Stand Tall, Put Your Back Up Against the Wall
mmallon413 November 2014
To date White Heat remains the only instance in which my first encounter with an actor instantly turned me into fan. Typically for me I become a fan of a performer over a period of time and after seeing a number of their films. Not James Cagney though. The scene early during White Heat in which Cody Jarrett gets a headache and needs to be comforted by his mother, my instant reaction was, "I need to watch any movie with this guy I can get my hands on". I have no hesitation putting Cagney's performance as Cody Jarrett in my ten favourite movie performance of all time. At this point in my movie watching life I had never seen an actor so on fire, so electrifying. His twitchy mannerisms, machine gun way of speaking his violence against women and possibly above all, his mother complex, exposing a unsettling, adorable side. Like wow, you do not want to be stuck in elevator with this guy. I would later discover White Heat came after the classic Warner Bros cycle of gangster movies, making White Heat a nostalgic revival of the genre, making Cody and his mother products of a different age. Margaret Wycherly as Ma Jarrett is the next great stand out performance for me, a character who appears as the stereotypical "aw shucks" mother common in classic Hollywood, but her attitude could not be more different.

Boy is this movie fast paced. White Heat is one of the few times my heart my beating so much out of how exciting the movie was. When the film was over I had the closest I could fell to that sense you get after coming of a roller-coaster, expect getting it from watching a movie. I feel that's the best way to sum up White Heat, a roller-coaster of violence and emotions. Even the scenes of police officers discussing Cody's psychological tendencies and the examination of their late 1940's tracking techniques are riveting, but they do save the best for last. The Warner gangster movies ended with incredible final scenes with brilliant closing lines, White Heat's may be the best of them all. I question if I'll ever experience such a high level of movie watching euphoria on a first time viewing again.
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Fine violent gangster movie with some iconic scenes
SnoopyStyle12 November 2014
Cody Jarrett (James Cagney) is the sadistic leader of a ruthless gang. He is married to Verna (Virginia Mayo) and suffers from pounding migraines. He is violent and totally devoted to "Ma" Jarrett (Margaret Wycherly). The police are closing in on the gang after a deadly train robbery. Undercover agent Hank Fallon (Edmond O'Brien) is able to infiltrate the gang by being in the Illinois State Penitentiary.

There is a static procedural feel about some of the movie along with some fun gangster action. It is punctuated by Cagney's explosive performance and of course his climatic chemical plant shoot out. The line "Made it, Ma! Top of the world!" is iconic. It's a fine violent gangster movie underscored by some very memorable scenes.
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White Heat : from a burning rise 'to the top of the world' to an explosive descent into madness...
ElMaruecan825 November 2014
Warning: Spoilers
In 1941, Raoul Walsh forever changed the face of gangsters; they would stop being these big shots defying the Law to rule the street with smiles and machine guns, becoming multifaceted loners living their life to the fullest before surrendering, if not to cops, to fate.

It was the fate of "High Sierra", before World War II, to make the transition between gangster movies and film-noir turning Bogart, the 30's eternal outsider, into the new icon of the 40's. It also paved the way to a new generation of gangster-noir, a timely combination since noir has always been about disillusion and failure, embodying the condition of outlaws, who carelessly stole and killed to fulfill their instincts of greed, lust and power, yet ultimately failing.

And the pioneering noir-gangster movie was "White Heat", whose Oscar-nominated script was based on Virginia Kellogg's bestseller. And while the film took distanced itself from its glorious predecessors to better absorb the elements of film noir, it did keep one thing in place: the villain. His name is Arthur 'Cody' Jarrett, 26th villain in the AFI's Top 50, and Cagney's career-defining performance. Indeed, just like Walsh who both closed the first gangster era and started the new one, it's all the more fitting that he picked the seminal gangster actor to redefine the genre he previously defined.

Indeed, Cody is in a class of sadism and ruthlessness of its own. In the 30's, they were charismatic, then they became tragic like Rocky Sullivan in "Angels with Dirty Faces" or romantic like Bogart in "High Sierra", but Cody is beyond redemption. In the opening train robbery scene, coincidentally set in the same location "High Sierra" ended -as if the torch was definitely passed- Cody cold-bloodily kills a train engineer who remembered his name, then his partner. Later, he abandons one of his guys accidentally burnt during the robbery, Cody doesn't take any chance, he doesn't trust his men, and they don't trust him.

And neither does his wife, the treacherous Verna, played by Virginia Mayo, who spends time whining and flirting with 'Big Ed', Steve Cochran as Cody's right-hand man, a big man, with 'big' ideas, who wouldn't mind filling Cody with lead to take the lead. But Cody has a guardian angel, although angel isn't quite an appropriate word. It's Ma Jarrett, played by Margaret Wycherly, in a 180° turn from her Oscar-nominated role as Sergeant York's devoted mother. She's still a loving mother but wouldn't a monster mother love her own child, for Ma Jarrett, nothing is too bad if it can her son to "the top of the world", their mutual motto.

And when Cody is struck by one of his first headaches and outbursts of dementia, a condition inherited from his father who ended in an institution, he takes refuge in his room where his Ma gives him a drink and tenderly massages his head before getting him up on his feet. Cody is a living paradox, ruthless in one side, vulnerable in another, a pathologic sociopath but a cunning individual. Later, Cody manages to outsmart the Police by confessing a lesser crime committed the same time than the crime robbery to avoid gas chamber.

This is where Inspector Fallon (Edmund O'Brien) intervenes; he must befriend his cell-mate Cody to track the mysterious 'trader' who makes business with him. From a study with Oedipal undertones, we get to the ancestor "Serpico", "Reservoir Dogs" and "Donnie Brasco". O'Brien delivers a fine acting-within-acting performance but the script leverages the actors' performances with so many subtle moments of tension where Fallon's credibility is challenged, like when he enters the cell and doesn't recognize his official wife's picture, officiously his intermediary. And we never know exactly if we want his cover to be blown or not.

This is how ethically challenging and thought-provoking "White Heat" is. Cody is a maniac, but these betrayals inevitably make him sympathetic, the same goes to Big Ed, we despise the traitor he is yet we feel sorry for the bullets he took that should've gone to Verna. And of course, we can't help but feel an immense sorrow during the infamous breakdown when he learns about his mother' death. Walsh' strike of genius was not to tell the extras and the crew what Cagney would do and let him implode his talent to their face and when you look at O'Brien's genuinely bewildered face, you know that trick worked.

Finally, as if it wasn't enough, another of "White Heat"'s remarkable aspects is the use of methodical police procedural and technology. Police isn't just a bunch of noble law enforcers, they're as methodical, rational and clever than their preys, whether for tailing Ma or tracking the gas truck used like a Trojan Horse to rob a chemical plant, never has shown them so efficient. All in all, "White Heat" carries a documentary-like realism, so needed in a genre that often requires suspension of disbelief. So this is where it goes: a psychological dilemma, an undercover story, a great robbery, a police procedural story of betrayal, cynicism and double-crossing, all that in one film.

And all that follows Cody's "rise to the top" before marking his descent into madness. When Cody learns that Fallon is a copper, he's almost crying at his own naivety and we almost feel for him, the rest is pure existential nihilism, he gets away, not in the mountains of Sierra Nevada, but in a gloomy and cold chemical tank with globe-like tanks. Times have changed, it's not the Sierra Nevada, but technology, cold and unpredictable, just like Cody who start shooting everywhere at the cops, the tanks and his surrendering friends, like modern-antiheroes, he wanted his blaze of glory to die in.

Cody's "Made it Ma! Top of the world" remains one of the most memorable exits of a character ever, the only possible one for such a spectacular gangster movie and multi-layered masterpiece
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A Pivotal Theme
dougdoepke4 May 2014
No need to recap the plot. The opening scene is a train roaring at us, and soon proves that it never stops roaring at us. Except its name is Cagney, and this is one of his riveting signature roles. His Cody Jarrett commands the screen as few others have, an unforgettable character who puts a whole new slant on mother love. However, the scene that unnerves me more than the seizures or cold- blooded killings is the quiet one in the forest with the escaping Pardo. There Cody mentions he's been in the woods talking with his dead mother, just another breakfast table topic. If I were Pardo, I'd run to the nearest mountain and let the cops find another stooge.

Actually, my purpose is to suggest why, despite his many cruelties, Jarrett comes off in an oddly sympathetic fashion. Not that he's admirable, but maybe as to why we exult along with him in that explosive final scene. Basically, I think, it's because the movie appears to be about betrayal. Now, if you think about it, Jarrett's the only main character who doesn't betray somebody else in treacherous fashion. Sure, Pardo's acting for law and order, but he still tricks Jarrett into thinking he's his friend, an act of deception, at best. And of course there's Big Ed and Verna, treacherous to the core. But not Cody. He stays true to what he told his beloved Ma, and by golly when he makes it to the top, he announces his pact with her to the world. Jarrett may be cruel, but he's also steadfastly honest in his own way. It's a brilliantly written, staged, and performed moment, carried out with the panache only Cagney could bring.

Anyhow, it's an easily overlooked aspect to an iconic film with a genuinely bizarre character. Kudoes to a production team that took a big risk with a movie that's still an oddball winner.
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