WHITE HEAT (1949) B/W 114m dir: Raoul Walsh
w/James Cagney, Edmond O'Brien, Virginia Mayo, Steve Cochran, Margaret Wycherly, John Archer, Wally Cassell, Fred Clark, Ford Rainey, Fred Coby
Brutal, brilliant gangster saga with Cagney in his most flamboyant role. "Top of the world, Ma!"
From The Movie Guide: "Ten years later, a flaming farewell to the 30s gangster picture, scripted like a Greek tragedy on speed. Raoul Walsh supplies the Freudian direction, Cagney the daring action and sizzling star power. WHITE HEAT is primal, flamboyant stuff --- close your eyes and you could be watching a 30s picture. But don't close them more than momentarily; the film's visuals make it linger in the mind's eye.
"Cagney plays psychopathic gangster Cody Jarrett, Margaret Wycherly the mother who drives him to crime and whose death makes him go literally berserk, Virginia Mayo is Jarrett's wife, who has a hankering for gang member Big Ed (Steve Cochran), Edmund O'Brien plays a police informant who shares a cell with Jarrett, and John Archer is the FBI agent on the madman's tail.
"One of the toughest and most brilliant crime films ever made, WHITE HEAT marked a breakthrough in the explicitly psychological depiction of screen bad guys. Cagney's character was based on notorious real-life gangster Arthur 'Doc' Barker, Wycherly's on the equally famous 'Ma' Barker, the alleged catalyst for his criminal exploits. Cagney graphically demonstrates Jarrett's mother fixation when the actor, following one of his epileptic-style seizures, allows her to sit him in her lap and soothe him. This startling scene, like many in this classic film noir, was Cagney's own idea. The prison mess hall sequence, where Jarrett hears of his mother's murder, is the most charged moment in Cagney's outstanding career. The final image, shot atop an actual oil refinery in Torrance, CA, in which Jarrett calls out his warped triumph to his dead mother before blowing himself skyward, is one of the best-known scenes of film history."
WHITE HEAT received an Oscar nomination for Best Story (Virginia Kellogg).