WHITE HEAT

(1949)
With James Cagney, Virginia Mayo, Edmond O'Brien, Steve Cochran, Margaret Wycherly
Directed by Raoul Walsh
Black and White
Reviewed by JL

White Heat    James Cagney plays Cody Jarrett, one of the cinema's most unbalanced criminals in Raoul Walsh's low-budget noir WHITE HEAT.  It's a relentlessly grim and pessimistic film, one that examines the amorality of criminal life without glamorizing its characters in the slightest.  To that end, Cagney's portrayal of mama's boy Cody is a study in depravity and brutality that doesn't compromise emotionally or invite audience sympathy.  And yet the sheer power and charisma of his performance somehow makes you want to root for him, even as you're disgusted with yourself for doing so.  In one of his later interviews, Cagney recalled that the original screenplay for WHITE HEAT was a routine gangster melodrama with yet another variation on the same character he'd played numerous times.  His simple suggestion to Walsh, "Let's make him nuts," was the seed from which a classic germinated.  It's top-of-the-world stuff.  - JL

Classic Gangsters     James Cagney     The Stuff You Gotta Watch


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