Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Revisit: White Heat

A Warner Brothers release 1949

Directed by
Raoul Walsh

Writing credits
Virginia Kellogg (story)
Ivan Goff (screenplay)
Ben Roberts (screenplay)

Cody Jarrett (James Cagney) is a sadistic gang leader afflicted by terrible headaches and fiercely devoted to his 'Ma'(Margaret Wycherly). When his top henchman attempts to have him killed while in jail, Cody is saved by an undercover cop (Edmond O'Brien), who befriends him and infiltrates his gang.

In his last gangster flick, James Cagney gives one of the greatest performances of his career as a crime boss who is double-crossed by basically everyone he knows. White Heat is a genuinely exciting caper-film, one that is carried not only by the strength of it's lead actor, but by it's pacing and script. While perhaps not as brutual and linguistically clever as something like Pickup on South Street, the film casts a great dynamic between Cagney's psychologically deranged gangster and O'Brien's nervous wreck of an undercover agent. The last scene, involving large gas tanks and Cagney screaming "Made it, Ma! Top of the world!" is an absolute classic. Worth a look.

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