Wednesday, October 19, 2011

White Heat

Cody Jarrett and his gang have just robbed a locomotive, leaving four dead in their wake, and are now holed up in a cabin in the mountains, with one of their own suffering from very serious burns. Now while dealing with dissension in the ranks and the looming threat of the police, the psychotic mama's boy is devising a plan which will help him beat the rap for the current job, as well as looking towards the future for his next heist. Raoul Walsh's "White Heat" was one of the late Warner Brothers gangster pictures and featured James Cagney, one of their signature stars from that era. As Jarrett, Cagney delivers one of the fiercest, funniest, and most magnetic performances of his career, alternately offering laughs and shock to the crowd both with his wisecracks and fits of sudden rage and violence. Margaret Wycherly is similarly sinister as a Ma Barker type, doing whatever is necessary to aid her dear son. Regarding the film itself, I was surprised by how tedious it became during scenes Cagney wasn't in, most notably technical, procedural ones involving the police and the manhunt (I did enjoy passages where unfaithful Virginia Mayo and Steve Cochran stew while waiting for Cagney's return). Still, this is highly energetic and enjoyable work from Cagney, and the closing scene where he goes out quite literally in a blaze of glory, is one of the most iconic ever filmed.