on 28 September 2008
This,without doubt,is an outstanding film, for it draws together several complex issues. Right from the start, when we are introduced to Cody Jarrett (James Cagney) Verna (Virginia Mayo) & "Big Ed" (Steve Cochran) we learn several things. Cody is subject to fits & has a mother fixation; also, "Big Ed" is his rival for gang leadership & for Cody`s wife, Verna. The U.S. law enters the story in the person of Officer Hank Fallon (Edmund O`Brien) masquerading as gang member Vic Pardoe, whose object is to obtain enough information to ensure the capture of Jarrett.
There is one sequence in which the viewer is made aware of the link between Cody & his mother. In the prison cell Jarret remarks that Ma always sees to it that he gets his full share of any robbery, & immediately the scene dissolves from Cody`s image directly onto Ma, thus emphasising their emotional bond, especially when she declares: "Get one thing clear...anything we get, Cody`s in for his full share" There is one visual point to note: all the gang members are dressed in light suits, with the exception of "Big Ed" who always seems "odd man out" these are things which are subconciously registered by the viewer.When Ma takes a vote on Cody`s share, she queries "Big Ed`s" willingness to agree, in fact it is so out of character that it arouses her suspicions & leads to Ed`s subsequent downfall.
Perhaps the most outstanding scene in the movie takes place in the prison canteen when Cody receives news of his mother`s death. He goes hysterical, & is carried out shrieking. It is a great tribute to Cagney that in a scene that might have become unintentionally funny, Cagney plays the part so perfectly, that when this film is shown commercially, the reaction of the audience is the same as the convicts on the screen: stunned silence.
We also find, to our surprise, that we are made to feel some compassion for Jarrett. When he confides to Vic that: "My old lady never had anything...always trying to put me on top `Top of the world!` she used to say" And later, when Pardoe`s true identity is revealed Cody describes how he..."treated him like a kid brother, & I was going to split fifty-fifty with a copper!, adding, "maybe they`re waiting to pin a medal on him!" and somehow, even granting that Jarrett is a madman, fully deserving to be brought to justice, one`s sympathies - for a moment - side with him, for nobody likes a Judas!
An outstanding picture.
on 17 November 2000
To put it simply James Cagney is Cody Jarrett, a mama obsessed psychopath.Cagney is at his brilliant best as the leader of a gang of crooks who first rob a train and then when the heat from the Feds starts to burn sets himself up to go down for a crime commited on the same day as the train robbery.This is just a trumped up charge to act as an alibi so he can't be charged for the train job.The story revolves around a Fed agent being placed in with Cody to befriend him and to join his gang and be in on the setting up of the gangs next heist.James Cagney made this film to starve of money problems for his own production company, he also felt typecast as a villian and crook, but if anybody can show me a better gangster than Cagney i'll eat my hat.Cagney was brilliant at improvisation just adding little things to each scene to make his character more real and frightening.One of the best of these improvisation is when after a seizure(Cody is an epileptic even though the caracters never say so) Cagney is comforted by his mother and he sits on her lap!!Another is the seizure scene in prison when Cagney finds out his mother has died he rolls over tables, punches the lights out of about three guards , he based that scene on when he was younger visiting a relation in an insane asylum. One thousand words are not enough to do this film justice I haven't even mentioned the attempts on Codys life, the betrayal of his gang, the plan the Feds have to catch Cody, the dramatic realisation when Cody finds its a set-up, and that final scene which is one of the most classic scences in movie history.This is one of the top five gangster movies of all time and that includes The Usual Suspects and Resivour Dogs.Simply put if you have a few spare pound buy it!!!
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 din'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
on 4 October 2006
a true classic gangster film and one of james cagney's best, it doesn't get any better than "white heat."
cagney plays the psychotic robber cody jarrett with relish and a burning intensity which truly shows his acting skills at their best. his famous line at the end: "made it ma, top of the world!" has gone down as one of the most famous quotes in film history and rightly so.
this is quite a brutal film for the times; one of jarrett's men gets disfigured, people are killed without mercy and jarrett is rather rough in his treatment of his cheating wife.
one highlight in my opinion, is the scene in the prison where jarrett hears the news of his mother's death. cagney's immediate reaction plus his ranting and raving makes for gripping and quite unnerving viewing.
even though james cagney had been away from warner brothers for a number of years, he proves with this one film that he is more than capable of being a top box office draw at his old studio.
on 3 September 2013
James Cagney (Cody) heads a group of gangsters. He's a psychopath who loves his mother, Margaret Wycherly (Ma). Virgina Mayo (Verna) is his wife but she definitely plays second fiddle to Wycherly when it comes to who Cagney respects more. Steve Cochran (Big Ed) is Cagney's number 2 who decides to take matters into his own hands when Cagney is sent to prison for a couple of years. Taking matters into his own hands means taking on Cagney's leadership......uh oh....not a good move. John Archer (Evans) plans to bring Cagney down with the help of inside man Edmond O'Brien (Fallon). Can they succeed?
Wow! Great film. At just under 2 hours the film still manages to move swiftly as we progress through several episodes that all lead us to a memorable explosive ending with those famous last words - "Made it ma! Top of the world!" The dialogue is excellent in this film as is the acting. A mention must be made to Margaret Wycherly. She is very good as a gangster mother and her acting is a million miles from the sanctimonious nonsense that was her effort in the vastly over-rated Gary Cooper film "Sergeant Yawn" (1941).
An added interest throughout the film is learning the police procedures of the time, eg, following a suspect using the "car A, car B, car C" strategy. Don't think that'll work on Ma Wycherly, though. However, the oscillator (radio technology) is the device that may just bag things for the good guys.
My wife's summary of the film was "....a boys film. And it's too long". Yep, it's a boy's film, I guess, and it's excellent entertainment. So, time to plan my next heist.......however, I won't re-kindle my mother fixation as I think we should move on in life.
This review refers to the 2011 Warner Bros Gangsters release, ASIN: B000MXZQB8.
White Heat is a tense, gripping and generally well put together gangster film, starring James Cagney in the role he will probably always be best remembered for. And with good reason. It had been nearly 10 years since Cagney had last appeared as a gangster (a character and genre that made him famous through the `30s) but he had lost none of the menace and simmering intensity that made him a household name in 1931's Public Enemy.
Cagney stars as Cody Jarrett, a ruthless gang leader. He's tough, intelligent, devoted to his mother and just a little bit nuts. The character has massive mood swings, going from jovial to psycho in the flip of a switch. It's a complex character, and Cagney portrays it excellently.
Coming from an age where film makers relied on good stories and plots to thrill the audience, rather than endless stunts, this film has got a complex plot involving the treasury men's attempts to nail Cody for a train robbery and to find the man who launders his money. It twists and turns through a manhunt, jail stint, jail break and final showdown. There are plenty of ancillary plots with a member of Cody's gang getting to big for his boots, and Cody's relationships with the women in his life, his neglected wife and devoted Ma.
It is the interplay between Cody and his Ma that lifts this film to a new height. Cagney portrays Cody's utter devotion convincingly, making his character seem a human being and giving us something to sympathise with him about when he learns of her fate.
The climax of the film, with Cody screaming to his Ma `I did it Ma, I'm on top of the world', is one of Cagney's best known screen moments.
This DVD boasts an excellent transfer, with a really crisp picture and a clean soundtrack. The picture has been cleaned up and there are no visible scratches or other defects. It's excellent.
This is an excellent presentation of a truly great gangster film. 5 stars.
on 5 May 2014
Cody, a villain with a rather erratic temperament shall we say, along with his gang, carry out the daring armed robbery of a train carrying US mail, killing several witnesses along the way and finally escaping rich men.
However the police are quickly on their tail, and so, in order to avoid a longer sentence, Cody takes the fall for another crime he didn't commit and goes to jail for a relatively small stint...
The police meanwhile are no dummies, and aware of Cody's ruse, put a man on the inside to befriend him. But In prison Cody is a suspicious man, and choosy who he lets near him. But when an attempt on his life and some shocking news mean that he has some scores to settle on the outside, he finds himself having to rely on those around him for help to bust out and get revenge...
A really super little gangster thriller this, with some excellent, endlessly quotable dialogue and a great performance by Cagney as the mother obsessed psycho, Cody Jarrett. I love the way in this film, that neither the cops, nor the villains, and as a result, the audience neither, are treated like idiots. With sympathy and disgust running likewise on both sides of the fence, with O Brien almost stealing the show as the sneaky under cover cop Fallon. Smart, action packed, tense and well made, a film that one would struggle believing (apart from all the highly technical equipment!) is 65 years old!! Perhaps if anything, being let down slightly by it's rather infamous ending.
Nice print, sound a bit quiet.
on 27 April 2008
White Heat (1949) - Directed by Raoul Walsh.
Cagney plays Cody Jarrett, the madcap leader of a criminal gang who have just robbed a train. Cody is married to Verna, played by Virginia Mayo, however, throughout the story, Jarrett only seems concerned with the welfare of his dear, lawless mother, 'Ma' Jarrett , a role played by Margaret Wycherly. Cody also experiences regular, insufferable headaches which make his gang wary of him but at the same time see it as a weakness, and an oppurtunity to rise to the top of the chain. It is said that Jarrett's father died in a pschyiatric institution. The story consists of Cody's run from the law, an alibi and the eventual demise of him, his beloved mother and his gang.
The character of Cody Jarrett is likely to have been based on New York murderer Francis Crowley who, in 1931 at the age of 19, engaged in a severe firefight with the NYPD. When executed in 1932, his last words were; "Send my love to my Mother."
The movie was nominated for the 'Best Written Motion Picture Story' at the Oscars in 1950.
on 2 June 2012
What can I say? This film is truly one of the best, if not THE best, gangster films ever made. James Cagney's performance is electric, you are glued to the screen from start to finish! I dare say cinema goers were back in 1949 when White Heat was released. This is not to say that the rest of the cast are no good, quite the opposite in fact. If you like old films or even just gangster films you will not be disappointed.
The dvd has some nice extras too. Not the usual '4 hours of bonus footage, interviews and behind the scenes' stuff you often get now that you might watch once and never again. This has a short program about the film and the actors in it but it also has the type of things that you would have seen in the cinema when it was released: A short 'B movie', in this case a comedy, a news reel (that seems to be cut short for some reason), a Bugs Bunny cartoon and then the main feature itself. Worth curling up in an armchair with some popcorn for!
Jimmy Cagney, always on top form, never better than here, gives the performance of his life as Cody Jarrett, a mother-fixated gangster with an impetuous, neglected wife and a bunch of disparate fellow hoods who are jostling for power within the organisation.
Edmund O'Brien (another actor who never gave less than good value) plays the cop who goes undercover as a con to try and get at Cody, who`s given himself up for a minor crime to deflect attention from a major one. (Well, he can't be in two places at once, can he?)
A flirty and flighty Virginia Mayo is wonderful, and sexily funny too, as Verna, Cody's wife - though you do wonder how this particular tortured Oedipus ever managed to marry - and proves that she wasn't only fit for period costume dramas or genteely flirting with Gregory Peck above-decks. Judging by the excellent extras that come with this fine DVD, she and Cagney got on like a house on fire, and it shows. She plays the trashy moll to perfection.
Margaret Wycherly, a classically trained veteran British-born actress, is as scary as anyone as Cody`s determined gimlet-eyed mom, who generally keeps order in the gang, and whose lap provides succour for her son`s many 'migraines'. (This was a film in some aspects way ahead of its time, though film noir tended to specialise in troubled souls.)
Cagney wasn't even nominated for an Oscar for his tremendous, utterly committed performance, yet further proof of the worthlessness of those awards. He's quite incredible. The scene in the prison canteen where he hears unwelcome news of his mother then goes berserk (the extras who fill the scene weren't told what was about to happen, and were duly, and rightly, astounded) is a dance of rapt rage and grief few actors could or would have been able to manage. But then, Cagney was a one-off. (He was also, lest we forget, a dancer with the grace of Astaire and the cockiness of Kelly, and I'm not sure I wouldn't rather watch Cagney dancing than either of them.)
His following scenes show him worryingly calm, which is when he is most dangerous. The explosive, cathartic climax is justly famous, and is the only way this film could have ended. 'Made it, ma - top of the world!'
Raoul Walsh, too often underrated even now, was one of cinema's great directors, and one of its best storytellers. His direction here is flawless, as is the black & white photography and the supporting performances, several of them by obscure actors.
This was a kind of last hurrah for the noir gangster movie. How appropriate that it was one of the very best - if twisted - of the genre.