Title: White Heat (1949)
Director: Raoul Walsh
Stars: James Cagney, Edmond O’ Brien, Virginia Mayo & Margaret Wycherley
Cody Jarrett (Cagney) is a psychotic thief/murderer, who runs a gang that also comprises his wife Verna (Mayo), his doting Ma (Wycherley) and the troublesome Big Ed (Steve Cochran). After robbing a train, Cody leaves a disfigured accomplice behind, who puts the police on his tail. In order to side-step a longer stretch, he confesses to a lesser crime across country, of which he had no involvement. He goes to prison, where the FBI plant the highly experienced Hank Fallon (O’ Brien) to infiltrate his close knit group of friends. Fallon goes by the name ‘Vic Pardo’ and quickly rises to become Jarrett’s no.2. Upon hearing of his beloved mother’s surprising demise, Cody is devastated and escapes the prison. Pardo must now try and stop the unpredictable Jarrett, while trying to maintain his false identity.
James Cagney is simply immense as the short in stature, but large in personality, Cody Jarrett. He commands every scene he appears in with an animalistic intensity. He may have won an Oscar for his role in Yankee Doodle Dandy in 1943, but this performance is his pièce de résistance. He also spouts one of cinema’s greatest ever lines with “Made it Ma, top of the world!!!” This line ensured that White Heat had one of the most memorable endings of any motion picture.
Edmond O’ Brien, who turned in some great performances in the 1940s, such as in DOA and The Killers, shines here as Hank Fallon/Vic Pardo. He is debatably better known for the latter part of his career, where he entered some great character driven performances, but he shows here that he was just as capable as a younger actor. Margaret Wycherley is fabulous as Cody’s Ma, but unfortunately disappears about half way through the movie, and has no death scene.
White Heat will live on as one of the 1940s greatest films, one of Cagney’s best performances and for having one of the most bombastic endings of all time. Not many other films can claim to have those attributes. Featuring fantastic dialogue, highly vivid scenes and gritty realism, White Heat should have you compelled from beginning to end.