Tuesday, August 14, 2012

White Heat (1949).

White Heat(1949). Film Noir. Cast: James Cagney, Virginia Mayo and Edmond O'Brien, Margaret Wycherly and Steve Cochran. Directed by Raoul Walsh from the Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts screenplay based on a story by Virginia Kellogg.

While Cody Jarrett and his ruthless gang robs a train, Cody kills the engineers and as one of them falls, it hits a steam valve, scalding bad guy, Zuckie Hommell.

 Along with Cody's mother and his wife Verna, the gang hides out in the mountains. Ma, is the only one who knows what to do to help him though his migraine headaches. She also helps him fight off Big Ed Somers, who wants to take over the gang and get Verna for himself.

During a thunderstorm, Cody decides to leave the hideout with his gang. He tells Zuchie that he will send a doctor back to take care of him, but.. orders Cotton Valleti to kill him. Instead Cotton, pretends to kill him and leaves a pack of cigarettes behind.

After Zuckie's body, is found along with Cotton's prints on the cigarettes, the Treasury Department has enough evidence to link the train robbery to Cody's gang. Agent Philip Evans and his men come close to catching Cody, but.. thanks to Ma, the gang escapes.

Cody, comes up with an alibi for the murderous train robbery, by confessing to a smaller robbery in Illinois that took place at the same time. Evans, knows that Cody is lying, but.. cannot prove it. He sends undercover agent Hank Fallon. Under the name Vic Pardo, Hank to jail, where he plans to befriend Cody.

Meanwhile.. Big Ed, takes over the gang.

At the prison, Hank saves Cody's life when Roy Parker, one of Big Ed's thugs, try to kill him. After Ma hears about the attack, she promises Cody that she will take care of Big Ed. Back in his cell Cody, has one of his headaches and Hank helps Cody, the way his mother did. Later that night, Cody shares his plans to escape. Hank, passes on the escape plans to an agent who is pretending to be his wife, but.. on the day of the planned escape, a newly arrived prisoner tells him that Ma is dead.

Cody, loses it in the prison mess hall and is taken to the dispensary. There, he uses a smuggled gun to take the doctor hostage and along with Hank, Parker and two other in-mates, makes his escape. Outside, Cody kills Parker and then heads for Bakersfield to avenge Ma's death.

Even though it was Verna, who killed Ma, she tells Cody that Big Ed shot her in the back. Cody kills Big Ed and then joins the rest of the gang. Cody, plans to rob a payroll by sneaking the gang into a company inside an oil tanker. Will Hank, be able to tip off the police in time, before any one else is hurt?.

Fun Facts:

If the surprise expressed by James Cagney's fellow inmates during "the telephone game" scene in the prison dining room appears real, it's because it is. Director Raoul Walsh didn't tell the rest of the cast what was about to happen, so Cagney's outburst caught them by surprise. In fact, Walsh himself didn't know what Cagney had planned; the scene as written wasn't working, and Cagney had an idea. He told Walsh to put the two biggest extras playing cons in the mess-hall next to him on the bench (he used their shoulders to boost himself onto the table) and to keep the cameras rolling no matter what.

The unusually close relationship between Cody Jarrett and his domineering mother was inspired by real life bank robbers Kate Barker (aka "Ma Barker") and her sons.

I' m not really a James Cagney fan but, I did enjoy him in this film His character, Cody Jarrett, is one of the best classic movie bad guys you will find on film. Cagney's wife, is played very well, by one of my favorite actress Virginia Mayo. The final scene of White Heat, is one you will not soon forget.

Margaret Wycherly (26 October 1881 – 6 June 1956), was primarily a stage actress, appearing in one silent film. In 1929 at the advent of sound pictures she appeared in her second film, but first talkie, The Thirteenth Chair, based on the 1916 play by her husband in which she had starred. The film was directed by Tod Browning and was in the genre of mystery-old house melodrama.

Twelve years later, Wycherley appeared in Sergeant York in 1941. She was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for the role of Mother York, though perhaps her best remembered screen role was as "Ma Jarrett", the mother of the psychopathic gangster Cody Jarrett, in White Heat (1949), which famously starred James Cagney.

Wycherly starred in several popular Broadway plays, including Tobacco Road, Random Harvest, Liliom, Six Characters in Search of an Author and The Thirteenth Chair (which role she reprised in the film of the same name). Her other films include Keeper of the Flame, The Yearling, Forever Amber, The Man with a Cloak and Johnny Angel starring George Raft.


  1. James Cagney is my favorite actor and this movie stands as one of his best. The final scene and the outburst in the dining room are just brilliant. I really didn't recognized Ma Jarret as Mother York!
    If Jimmy is not one of your favorites, check in my blog 10 reasons to pay more attention to him! :)

  2. As you already know, I completely adore James Cagney and really think he was probably the most fantastic actor there has ever been. He was completely brilliant in every role he ever took on. His performance as Cody Jarrett was sensational...definitely Oscar worthy...and to think he didn't even receive a nomination!! That was definitely an oversight on the part of the Academy.

    The other film he did with Virginia Mayo (The West Point Story) sees the two of them having a bit more functional of a relationship than the one they have as Mr. and Mrs. Jarrett.

  3. Le, I did see and enjoyed very much your 10 reasons of why you like Jimmy.. I do try to watch more of his films, to see why so many classic movie fans love his performances.

    Patti, I totally agree that his performance as Cody Jarrett, was Oscar worthy...

    I will check out the film, The West Point Story, next time I see it on TCM.

  4. Dawn, I remember the first time I saw this as a young teenager I freaked out. Why? Because I knew where the "plant" was/ It was the Shell plant that ran between Fig and Vermont next to the Harbor freeway in Torrance. it was still there in the late 50's through the late 60's. If you know the area it's where Alpine Village and a large block of Condos are now. This is one of my all time favorite Raoul Walsh films. He did such great work with Boggie , Cagney and Flynn

  5. Dawn, what I like about James is his RANGE. If you only know the gangster films there is so much more. Some of my non gang favorites in no order : The Bride Came COD with Bette Davis, One Two Three, Love Me Or Leave Me, with Doris Day, City for Conquest, (he'll break your heart ) 13 Rue Madaline, Shake Hands With The Devil, The Lady Killer, and Mr Roberts. Foot Light and Yankee Doodle Dandy, are in a league of their own.

  6. Paul, I'm not familiar with the Alpine Village area. But, I do enjoy reading about the "fun facts". It is always fun to see a place that you know in films..

    I have seen the classic Cagney films: Love Me Or Leave Me and Yankee Doodle Dandy. I will add the others to my list.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.