Friday, July 5, 2024


This classic Warner Brothers picture was directed by Rauol Walsh, and stars James Cagney, Virginia Mayo, Edmund O'Brien, Steve Cochran, Margaret Wycherly, John Archer and Fred Clark. One of the greatest gangster pictures ever made, WHITE HEAT showcases Jimmy Cagney is what is undoubtedly the most complex role of his career. As Cody Jarrett, he is so thoroughly flawed, he is practically a textbook case of criminal psychosis. Cruel and violent to the extreme, Cody is also unwholesomely attached to his mother and in mortal fear of ending up like his father, who died in an asylum.

Cody and his gang rob a mail train and kill several men. One of the gang members is seriously injured. They return to their hideout where Ma Jarrett (Wycherly) and Cody's wife, Verna (Mayo) await. Cody leaves his injured man to die while the rest of them take off. When the police catch up to Cody, he decides to confess to a lesser crime that was actually committed by a henchman at the same time as the train robbery. That way, Cody will serve a lighter prison sentence and establish an alibi as well. An undercover officer (O'Brien) is planted as Cody's cell mate in order to get evidence tying him to the train robbery. The plot, as they say, thickens. Considerably. There is enough double crossing going on with these characters to confuse Raymond Chandler. And the "white heat" of the title will become spectacularly evident in the film's final moments.

Cagney is well supported by stage actress Wycherly as the cold, tough-as-nails Ma Jarrett who, in the perverse universe of this movie is the true femme fatale, not Verna. While Verna is a duplicitous wife, it is Ma who has control over Cody's life and criminal activities. Sexy Virginia Mayo is perfectly matched by sly, seductive Steve Cochran, one of the gang members, who takes over Cody's wife and then tries to take over the business while Cody is in prison.

WHITE HEAT is a perfect example of Film Noir, not just for the cinematography, but for the psychological turmoil of the characters, primarily Cody and Ma. There is also a lot of location footage shot in and around Los Angeles that adds much realism and excitement to the film. 

Essential viewing for the student of Film Noir! Don't pass this one up!

"Made it, Ma! Top of the world!"



  1. I've honestly always thought of this as a gangster movie instead of a film noir.

  2. Well, a lot of gangster movies and crime movies also qualify as Noir. It usually depends on the psychological issues of the characters. There's plenty of "psycho" going on in this movie.

  3. I have never seen a James Cagney picture, but this is the one I always thought I should check out. Your review has convinced me it's a must see!

    1. Ahh...a Cagney virgin! Well, WHITE HEAT is a very good place to start. I would also recommend: THE PUBLIC ENEMY (1931), ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES (1938) and THE ROARING TWENTIES (1939) to get the Cagney gangster experience. He's also great fun in two films with Bette Davis: JIMMY THE GENT (1934) and THE BRIDE CAME C.O.D. (1941). One of my personal favorites is THE MAYOR OF HELL (1933), a rather obscure movie that also stars my all-time favorite kid actor, Frankie Darro. Of course, you have to see Cagney in his Oscar-winning film YANKEE DOODLE DANDY (1942). And you can see him dance in THE WEST POINT STORY (1950). I think once you've seen Jimmy, you'll become a fan. The guy was just amazing. Thanks for reading my post!