A private eye escapes his past to run a gas station in a small town, but his past catches up with him. Now he must return to the big city world of danger, corruption, double crosses and duplicitous dames.
Cody Jarrett is the sadistic leader of a ruthless gang of thieves. Afflicted by terrible headaches and fiercely devoted to his 'Ma,' Cody is a volatile, violent, and eccentric leader. Cody's top henchman wants to lead the gang and attempts to have an 'accident' happen to Cody, while he is running the gang from in jail. But Cody is saved by an undercover cop, who thereby befriends him and infiltrates the gang. Finally, the stage is set for Cody's ultimate betrayal and downfall, during a big heist at a chemical plant.Written by
Tad Dibbern <DIBBERN_D@a1.mscf.upenn.edu>
Edmond O'Brien was rather in awe of James Cagney. He found out how generous an actor and gentle a person Cagney could be. In a close-up the two were playing together, O'Brien felt Cagney standing with increasing pressure on the top of O'Brien's right foot, forcing the younger actor to move in that direction. O'Brien realized if he had not done so, he would have been out of frame and Cagney would have had the scene to himself. When the cameras were rolling, Cagney would look like "an angry tiger," but as soon as Raoul Walsh yelled cut, the star would quietly go up to O'Brien with a poem he had written and ask him in a whisper, "Would you mind telling me what you think of this?" When it came time to return to work, Cagney would plead, "Please, don't tell anyone about it." See more »
When Cody is ventilating the car trunk for Parker, he is using a Colt 1911A1 pistol. When he runs out of bullets, the gun clicks when he pulls the trigger -- on a 1911A1 when the magazine is empty, the slide locks back and pulling the trigger does nothing - that doesn't happen with Cody's gun. See more »
I told you to keep away from that radio. If that battery is dead it'll have company.
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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