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White Heat (film)

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White Heat (film)

For other uses, see White Heat (disambiguation).
White Heat
theatrical release poster
Directed by Raoul Walsh
Produced by Louis F. Edelman
Screenplay by Ivan Goff
Ben Roberts
Story by Virginia Kellogg
Starring James Cagney
Virginia Mayo
Edmond O'Brien
Music by Max Steiner
Cinematography Sidney Hickox
Editing by Owen Marks
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date(s)Template:Plainlist
Running time 114 minutes
Country United States
Language English

White Heat is a 1949 film noir starring James Cagney, Virginia Mayo and Edmond O'Brien and featuring Margaret Wycherly and Steve Cochran. Directed by Raoul Walsh from the Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts screenplay based on a story by Virginia Kellogg, it is considered one of the classic gangster films and was added to the National Film Registry in 2003 as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congress.


Arthur "Cody" Jarrett (James Cagney) is the ruthless, deranged criminal gang leader. Although married to Verna (Virginia Mayo), Cody is overly attached to his equally crooked and determined mother, "Ma" Jarrett (Margaret Wycherly), his only real confidante. Cody suffers from debilitating headaches, and Ma consoles him each time. Early in the film, she sits him on her lap and gives him a shot of whiskey with the toast, "Top of the world." It is later revealed that Cody's father died in an insane asylum.

Cody and his gang rob a train, resulting in the deaths of four members of the train crew as well as Cody's accomplice, Zuckie (Ford Rainey). With the help of informants, the police close in, and Cody shoots and injures US Treasury investigator Philip Evans (John Archer). Cody then confesses to a lesser crime, which an associate committed at the same time as the train robbery, thus providing Cody with an alibi, and he receives a one-to-three year sentence.

However, this does not deceive Philip. He plants undercover agent Hank Fallon (Edmond O'Brien) in Cody's cell, where Hank goes by the name Vic Pardo. His main task is to find the "Trader," a fence who launders stolen money for Cody.

On the outside, "Big Ed" Somers (Steve Cochran), Cody's ambitious right-hand man, has designs on both the leadership of Cody's gang and his treacherous wife Verna. He pays a convict, Roy Parker (Paul Guilfoyle), to kill Cody. In the prison workplace, Parker arranges to drop a heavy piece of machinery on Cody, but Hank pushes him out of the way, saving his life. Ma visits and vows to take care of Big Ed herself, despite Cody's attempts to dissuade her. He starts worrying and decides to break out. Before he can, Cody learns that Ma is dead and goes berserk in the mess hall, being dragged away to the infirmary and diagnosed with psychosis.

Cody then takes hostages and escapes, along with their cell mates, Hank and Parker. Parker is locked in the trunk of the getaway car. Later, when Parker complains, "It's stuffy, I need some air," Cody replies, "Oh, stuffy, huh? I'll give ya a little air." While calmly munching on a chicken leg, he empties his gun into the trunk.

On hearing of Cody's escape, Big Ed nervously waits for him to show up. Verna tries slipping away, but Cody catches her. She convinces him that Big Ed murdered Ma (though it was really Verna who shot her in the back), and Cody guns down Big Ed.

The gang welcomes the escapees, including Hank, for whom Cody has developed a genuine liking. Cody insists on sharing the proceeds from their robberies with him, stating, "I split even with Ma, didn't I?"

A stranger (Fred Clark) shows up at the gang's isolated country hideout, asking to use the phone. Everyone expects the stranger to be murdered ("Looks like Big Ed's gonna have company."). To Hank's surprise, a trusting Cody introduces him to the stranger, who is Daniel "The Trader" Winston, the fence whom Hank was to track down.

Cody intends to steal the payroll at a chemical plant in Long Beach, California by using a large tank truck as a Trojan Horse to hide inside. Hank manages to get a message to Philip, and an ambush is set up. The gang gets into the plant but the driver, "Bo" Creel (Ian MacDonald), recognizes Vic Pardo as Hank Fallon ("He pinched me four years ago.").

The police surround the building, and Philip calls on Cody to surrender, but Cody decides to fight it out. When the police fire tear gas into the office, Hank manages to escape. The police gun down most of Cody's henchmen, and Cody guns down those who try giving themselves up. The police take Verna, who tried to barter with Phillip for leniency. Cody then flees to the top of a gigantic, globe-shaped gas storage tank. When Hank shoots Cody several times with a rifle, Cody starts firing at the tank and shouts, "Made it, Ma! Top of the world!" The tank and several adjoining ones explode, killing Cody before the police's gunshots can.



The character of Cody Jarrett was based on New York murderer Francis Crowley,[1] who engaged in a pitched battle with police in the spring of 1931 at the age of 18. Executed on January 21, 1932, his last words were: "Send my love to my mother." Another inspiration may have been Arthur Barker, a gangster of the 1930s, and a son of Ma Barker.

The train robbery which opens the film appears to have been closely based on the robbery of Southern Pacific's "Gold Special" by the DeAutremont Brothers in 1923.


White Heat was filmed between May 5 and mid-June 1949.[2] Filming locations included the Southern Pacific railroad tunnel in the Santa Susana Mountains near Chatsworth, California, the now demolished San-Val Drive In Burbank, and the Shell Oil plant at 198th Street and Figueroa in Torrance, California, where the final climactic shoot-out was filmed.[3][4]


Critical reaction to the film was positive, and today it is considered a classic. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times called it "the acme of the gangster-prison film" and praised its "thermal intensity".[5] Tim Dirks on the website writes that the film may have also inspired many other successful films:[6]

This classic film anticipated the heist films of the early 50s (for example John Huston's 1950 The Asphalt Jungle and Stanley Kubrick's 1956 The Killing), accentuated the semi-documentary style of films of the period (the 1948 The Naked City), and contained film-noirish elements, including the shady black-and-white cinematography, the femme fatale character, and the twisted psyche of the criminal gangster.

White Heat was listed in Time magazine's top 100 films of all time. Based upon both contemporary and more recent film reviews, the film has a 100% "fresh" rating on film review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes.[7]

In June 2008, the American Film Institute released its "Ten Top Ten" list—the best ten films in ten "classic" American film genres—after polling over 1,500 people from the creative community. White Heat was acknowledged as the fourth best in the gangster film genre.[8] Also, the quote "Made it, Ma! Top of the world!" was number 18 on the American Film Institute's list of the greatest movie quotes.

Awards and honors

American Film Institute Lists

Cultural references

Several quotes from the film were used in the hip-hop single "Back In Business" by E-40 and produced by his son Droop-E, on this 2010 album Revenue Retrievin': Day Shift. Quotes from the film were also used in the album track "White Heat" by Madonna, on her third album True Blue; the song was also dedicated to Cagney.[10] Scenes with Cagney were used in the movie Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid putting Steve Martin to act with Cagney Scenes, as well as in the 1992 crime-drama film Juice. A short clip was also played in a scene from Hart to Hart, Season 3, Episode 21, titled "Hart and Sole", airing 6 April 1982. In 2013, Americana music artist Sam Baker included the song "White Heat" on his 2013 CD, "Say Grace." The song's lyrics include many references to action in the Cagney film.[11]


External links

Template:Commons Category

  • Internet Movie Database
  • TCM Movie Database
  • Template:Allmovie title
  • Rotten Tomatoes
  • Greatest Films Web Site
  • Crime Library
  • Literature on White Heat

Template:Raoul Walsh

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