White Heat [VHS]
Raoul Walsh's classic gangster film starring James Cagney. Cody Jarrett (Cagney) leads his gang to a mountain hideaway after a mail coach robbery ends with four men dead. The T-men are on his trail, mob cohort Big Ed (Steve Cochran) is after control of the gang and the affections of his wife (Virginia Mayo), but Cody remains fixated on the well-being of his beloved mother (Margaret Wycherly). The film's climax, set at the top of a gas storage tank, is one of the most famous in Hollywood history.
This superb 1949 crime drama takes elements of plot, character and theme familiar from 30s melodramas and orchestrates them as an existential tragedy noir. James Cagney, in a towering performance, is Cody Jarrett, a transparently psychotic robber with a molten temper, feral cunning, and mercurial charm that are finely calibrated extensions of the doomed gangsters he played a decade before, this time coiled not around a Depression-era impetus of greed or class rivalry, but an Oedipal bond. Cody's beloved, calculating "Ma" (Margaret Wycherly) is the compass for his every move, her iron will and long shadow acknowledged not only by Cody but by his gang, his bored, restless wife (Virginia Mayo, radiating sensuality and guile), and the undercover cop (Edmond O'Brien) planted in Jarrett's path.
Director Raoul Walsh propels the story from a rolling start, a tautly paced train robbery that goes awry, culminating in the leader's capture. An ambitious henchman (Steve Cochran) plots a behind-bars hit foiled by O'Brien, who's infiltrated the prison to befriend Jarrett, a goal handily accomplished with the rescue. Jarrett's paranoia, murderous anger, and longing for his mother are interwoven with intermittent, incapacitating headaches that underline and amplify his core of inner rage; Cagney makes these seizures harrowing, revealing purely animal pain and terror at once frightening and pathetic.
Jarrett's escape, the gang's reunion with fellow escapee O'Brien aboard, trusted by Jarrett but not his partners, and the big score that unravels in a climactic gun battle in an oil refinery are conducted with a gritty economy, and Walsh and his cast evoke a criminal life devoid of glamour, noteworthy for the undercurrents of distrust that keep tempers flaring. The final showdown, and Jarrett's crazed, taunting battle cry in the face of death ("Top of the world, Ma!"), achieve a sense of tragic inevitability that deservedly make this a defining moment in Cagney's screen career. --Sam Sutherland, Amazon.com
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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Loved it, will be starting my James cagney collection soon I expect!!Published 7 months ago by linda smith
This is a superb film - I don't care how many times I've seen it. James Cagney at his very best.
Gripping,exciting,tense, it's got everything.