White Heat

12 May

We were channel flipping with the idiot box remote a couple nights ago, and we came across a movie that compelled us to watch it. The film was “White Heat” (1949) starring James Cagney and directed by Raoul Walsh. We hadn’t intended to watch a movie, but this one just pulled us in.

We’ve read that Cagney always considered himself a song and dance man, though audiences liked him best in gangster roles. No surprise there – he makes an awfully convincing gangster as Cody Jarrett, a mother-obsessed, crazy-as-a-bedbug sociopath.

The film’s scenes alternate between the exploits of the Jarrett gang and the police as they attempt to shut down the gang for good. This is not a film with a message; it makes no statements about mental illness or the criminal justice system; the film is content to give us a good yarn and leave it at that.  Interestingly, the film wants to be sure we understand the technology that the police use to track Jarrett, making much of the fact that a reconfigured radio placed in a vehicle can be used as a primitive homing device.

Raoul Walsh is a competent director who has a story to tell and delivers the goods in a workmanlike fashion. He is assisted in that goal by his cast. In addition to Cagney, Edmond O’Brien and Margaret Wycherly deliver strong performances.

James Cagney in White Heat

Sure, he’s a bad guy, but he loves his mum.


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