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White Heat Movie Review

jarrett cody gang cagney

1949 – Raoul Walsh –

James Cagney was fifty years old when he played Cody Jarrett, one of the first screen psychopaths to seize the public's attention. Earlier misfits, like Humphrey Bogart's Duke Mantee in The Petrified Forest and Robert Montgomery in Night Must Fall, did not carry those films as Cagney's character does here. The twisted fun of White Heat is in the way it takes the audience deeper and deeper inside Cody Jarrett. At the start, when he and his gang rob a train, Jarrett seems like just another hood. But after he kills the conductor for hearing his name and later decides to kill one of his own injured gang members rather than have their escape slowed, Jarrett is defined by his ruthlessness. Cagney modeled his portrayal on real-life psychotic Arthur “Doc” Parker of the infamous Ma Barker Gang.

We soon see that this ruthlessness mixes with a deep mother fixation. Stricken with one of his paralyzing headaches, Cody is taken into the back room of the gang's hideout by his mother (Margaret Wycherly), who rubs his temples and makes sure the gang doesn't see their leader in his moment of weakness. It was reportedly Cagney's idea to climb onto Wycherly's lap, just as he also drew upon youthful memories of visits to a friend's uncle in a hospital for the insane, and all the accompanying sounds of the psych ward. To avoid capture for the murder of the train conductor, Cody decides to confess to a lesser crime and go to prison for a short time. He hears of the death of his mother in the prison mess room, when the whispered word is passed to him down a line of convicts. Cody's berserk scene is one of the movie's great moments. Against a backdrop of long rows of prisoners sitting quietly at their lunch, Jarrett rises with sobs and wails and eventually climbs onto the tabletop, where he staggers out of control and wallows in prison swill until three or four guards can subdue him.

His eventual jailbreak leads to the final insanities. In one scene he ambles alone out of the woods, explaining to Fallon (Edmond O'Brien) that he was just “talking to Ma. I liked it, liked it a lot.” The attempt to steal the payroll from an oil refinery brings an army of police with sharpshooters who surround the gang and pick them off one by one. Cody, standing atop an oil rig, is the last survivor. After he is wounded, with flames swirling around him, he screams out his final triumph: “Made it Ma! Top of the world!”

Cast: James Cagney (Cody Jarrett), Virginia Mayo (Verna Jarrett), Edmond O'Brien (Hank Fallon/Vic Pardo), Margaret Wycherly (Ma Jarrett), Steve Cochran (Big Ed Somers), John Archer (Phillip Evans), Wally Cassell (Giovanni Valetti), Fred Clark (Daniel Winston), Ford Rainey (Zuckie), Fred Coby (Happy), G. Pat Collins (Herbert), Mickey Knox (Het Kohler), Paul Guilfoyle (Roy Parker), Robert Osterloh (Tommy Ryley), Ian MacDonald (Bo Creel), Ray Montgomery (Ernie Trent), Jim Toney (the breakman), Milton Parsons (the stoolie), Marshall Bradford (the chief of police) Screenwriter: Ivan Goff, Ben Roberts Cinematographer: Sid Hickox Composer: Max Steiner Producer: Louis F. Edelman for Warner Bros. Running Time: 114 minutes Format: VHS, LV Awards: Academy Awards 1949: Nominations: Story.

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