(Raoul Walsh, USA, 1949) 114 minutes


Director: Raoul Walsh
Producer: Louis F Edelman
Screenplay: Ivan Goff, Ben Rioberts
From a story by Virginia Kellogg
Photography: Sid Hickox
Editor: Owen Marks
Music: Max Steiner
James Cagney (Cody Jarrett)
Virginia Mayo (Verna Jarrett)
Edmond O'Brien (Hank Fallon/Vic Pardo)
Margret Wycherly (Ma Jarrett)
Steve Cochran (Big Ed Somers)
John Archer (Philip Evans)

Reviews and notes

Returning to the studio after a five-year absence, during which time his films had been released by United Artists and produced by his brother William, James Cagney was given WHITE HEAT which turned out to be one of the great crime films, and the apotheosis of his dazzling career. He played Cody Jarrett, who, in the studio's words was a 'homicidal paranoiac with a mother fixation', and under Raoul Walsh's macho direction, played it brilliantly, always resisting the temptation to descend into glossy histrionics. A scene in prison in which he hears of the death of his mother {Margaret Wycherly) and goes berserk, was shattering in its intensity and totally convincing.

Basically the story of a ruthless killer who gets himself jailed on a minor charge to avoid a murder rap, it contained all the necessary ingredients of the genre, and quite a few more. Technically more proficient than the studio's raw but effective efforts of the early thirties, and with a screenplay (by Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts, based on a story by Virginia Kellogg) that catered as much for thrills as for character development, it was a solid winner. Its inferno-like climax In which Cagney bids the world adieu from the top of a blazing oil-tank with the words 'Made it, Ma! Top of the world!' gave the screen of the forties one of its most powerful images.

Virginia Mayo played Cagney's sluttish wife, Steve Cochran was his two-timing henchman and Edmond O'Brien the under-cover Treasury agent who deliberately sets out to win Cagney's confidence in prison, in order to betray him later. Others cast were John Archer, Wally Cassell, Mickey Knox and Fred Clark.
-Clive Hirschhorn, The Warner Bros. Story, 1979.

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