Saturday, November 6, 2010

219. White Heat (1949)

Running Time: 113 minutes
Directed By: Raoul Walsh
Written By: Virginia Kellogg, Ivan Goff, Ben Roberts
Main Cast: James Cagney, Virginia Mayo, Edmond O'Brien, Margaret Wycherly, Steve Cochran


Took a little bit of a hiatus while I got caught up on my Pixar movies, but now I'm back and ready to leap back into the pages of the "1001". Kicked off my return with a movie that I ordered a couple of weeks, due to the onset of a James Cagney kick, "White Heat". In buying "White Heat" before seeing it, I made one of the best blind buys ever, as I did not regret the purchase in the least.

Cody Jarrett (Cagney) and his gang of criminals are set to rob a train as "White Heat" opens. Jarrett is immediately established as a ruthless individual when the film opens, as four people are killed during the robbery and one of Jarrett's gang is critically wounded. With the robbery a success, the gang holes up in the mountains, where they plan to hide out until things blow over. It is at the cabin that we learn of Cody's attachment to his mother (Wycherly) and blinding headaches that leave him temporarily crippled. The gang eventually moves out and takes refuge in a hotel, leaving the critically wounded member of their gang behind. Later, the wounded man is found dead by the police, and using every clue possible, they track the man (who had a package of cigarettes in his pockets with fingerprints all over them) to the Jarrett gang. Upon arriving at the hotel to bust Jarrett, U.S. Treasury investigator Evans is shot by Cody, in the arm and Cody gets away with his mother and his wife, Verna (Mayo). Jarrett gets wind of another robbery in Illinois that took place on the same day as the train robbery, and decides to turn himself over for that crime, a crime that would hold a maximum two year sentence and allow him to escape the gas chamber for the four murders during the train robbery. Once in the pen, the U.S. Treasury take it one step further, by sending in one of their men, Hank Fallon (O'Brien), disguised as a prisoner, to get information out of Jarrett. Meanwhile, the second notch member of the Jarrett gang, Big Ed (Cochran), is wanting to step up in the world, already taking advantage of Jarrett's lonely wife, Big Ed has a pair of hands on the inside of the prison, and plans to have them kill Jarrett.


Much like the train that was robbed in the opening of the film, this movie kind of resembled a steam train, as it just kept coming and coming and piling on the intensity, until we were bound to have a blow-up at the end. Who doesn't love James Cagney? I know I do and he has quickly become a favorite actor of mine, just from the films I've watched out of the "1001" book. In my view, James Cagney wasn't afraid to let his characters go a little over the top, and Cody Jarrett was the most over the top character that Cagney has played. Take for instance the scene where Jarrett learns of his mother's death (a well put together scene where the information is passed from ear to ear of every prisoner, sitting in Cody's row in the lunch room). When the information finally gets to Jarrett's ear, we see an absolutely priceless expression and then a complete breakdown of the character of Cody Jarrett. In my view, (and remember I'm not an old movie I could be wrong) you just didn't see that kind of over the top acting back in the 1940s. Most of the actors back then seemed to play it pretty cool. It was the era of guys like Bogart and Grant, who didn't have complete breakdowns, which resulted in the "hissy fit to end all hissy fits". Cagney was confident enough with himself and his acting abilities to go for it and go all the way and really show us what kind of nut case we were dealing with, when we got mixed up with Cody Jarrett.

The plot is so good and just keeps coming and coming. First you have a train robbery, then Jarrett goes to prison, then the U.S. Treasury decides to put one of their men on the inside with Jarrett, then Big Ed gets in the ear of a man on the inside, then Jarrett escapes, concocts a new plan (taking the undercover with him, because he's now attached to him) and we cap it all off with one last big caper, which involves cops and criminals. Another priceless Jarrett expression, is when he finds out that Vic Pardo is actually Hank Fallon. Virginia Mayo was quite radiant, I thought, as I had my first experiences seeing her act in "White Heat". Another stand-out element to this film was the police/investigators. Usually in crime films back then (this is considered a film-noir, but I honestly didn't see it as that) the "good guys" were throw away characters who got knocked off when they got in the way. In "White Heat" the good guys have personalities and I even resorted to yelling at the screen a few times when "Vic Pardo" almost got found out.

The bottom line is that "White Heat" is a great film that deserves it's place in the "1001" book and I'm very satisfied with my purchase. Long live Jimmy Cagney!

RATING: 8.5/10 I'm sure that rating will rise, but for now that's my initial impression. I'll probably be reviewing "Yankee Doodle Dandy" before the weekend is over.


November 6, 2010 12:53pm

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