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White Heat (DVD)
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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
I purchased this DVD after seeing it on TCM. I am a newcomer to the older film genre, but as a fan of the good guys vs. Read morePublished on Sept. 24 2009 by Shawn Mccuaig
Well, the opinions are uniformal.This is one one of the most enjoyable gangster flicks of all times.Cagneys performance is more than just memorable. Read morePublished on Jan. 18 2004
One has to wonder what the AFI was thinking when they made up their "100 Movies" lists. It's bad enough that they ignored "White Heat" on their greatest movies, but it's a crime... Read morePublished on Jan. 19 2002
This is a great 40s gangster movie! I watched all of it in one sitting! However, this site forgot some great quotes... Read morePublished on Oct. 24 2001 by Deirdre
"One day he's gonna get a big one...about me, and it'll be his last", as Cagney falls to the floor in another series of headaches. This is a truly wonderful movie. Read morePublished on Aug. 30 2000 by Jeremy Caskey
"White Heat" is just another one of those gangster films of the thirties and forties.Some of them are really impressive with the wisdom that they put on society, but this... Read morePublished on June 26 2000 by Michel Pilon