White Heat
  • White Heat
  • White Heat

White Heat

4.5 6
Director: Raoul Walsh

Cast: James Cagney, Virginia Mayo, Edmond O'Brien


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In later years, James Cagney regarded White Heat with a combination of pride and regret; while satisfied with his own performance, he tended to dismiss the picture as a "cheap melodrama." Seen today, White Heat stands as one of the classic crime films of the 1940s, containing perhaps Cagney's best bad-guy portrayal. The star plays criminal mastermind…  See more details below


In later years, James Cagney regarded White Heat with a combination of pride and regret; while satisfied with his own performance, he tended to dismiss the picture as a "cheap melodrama." Seen today, White Heat stands as one of the classic crime films of the 1940s, containing perhaps Cagney's best bad-guy portrayal. The star plays criminal mastermind Cody Jarrett, a mother-dominated psychotic who dreams of being on "top of the world." Inadvertently leaving clues behind after a railroad heist, Jarrett becomes the target of the feds, who send an undercover agent (played by Edmond O'Brien) to infiltrate the Jarrett gang. While Jarrett sits in prison on a deliberately trumped-up charge (he confesses to one crime to provide himself an alibi for the railroad robbery), he befriends O'Brien, who poses as a hero-worshipping hood who's always wanted to work with Jarrett. Busting out of prison with O'Brien, Jarrett regroups his gang to mastermind a "Trojan horse" armored-car robbery.

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Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble - Amy Robinson
James Cagney's career was filled with largely indifferent films in which his incredible charisma and overwhelming acting ability enabled him to deliver unforgettable performances. In White Heat, however, he found a vehicle worthy of his talents. This potentially routine police procedural was elevated to the level of a cinematic classic by skillful direction, brilliant performances, and a story line built on fascinatingly perverse relationships between the characters. Psychotic mama's boy and gangster Cody Jarrett (Cagney) executes a daring train robbery, which sets off a chain of events that leads to his downfall at the hands of an undercover detective (Edmond O'Brien). Cagney had said "no more" to gangster films and left Warner Bros. years before, unhappy with the studio's exploitation of his familiar tough-guy screen persona. White Heat marked his triumphant return, and he pulls out all the stops -- his chilling prison breakdown was based on a childhood visit to an insane asylum. Director Raoul Walsh specialized in action films, creating efficiently told tales of masculine behavior and ambition, and this was one of his best.
All Movie Guide - Mark Deming
James Cagney made his name on screen as a criminal, and he gave his last truly great outlaw performance in White Heat, which may well be the most intelligent and striking work of his career. While Cagney always knew how to lend his characters a charismatic menace, his Cody Jarrett in White Heat is both menacing and uncomfortably bizarre. Given to strange semi-epileptic seizures, sudden bursts of horrible violence, and a bizarre attachment to his mother that stops just short of incest, Cody represents the criminal as head case, at once fascinating and disturbingly unstable. Cagney manages to lend Cody just enough of his traditional tough-talking, wise guy veneer that he seems like a conventional screen criminal at first, but it doesn't take long for Cody to reveal himself as a full-blown psychotic, and the perversely self-immolating "Made it, Ma! Top of the world!" finale is only the most spectacular symptom of his madness. Raoul Walsh's direction is hardly as audacious as Cagney's performance, but it is crisp, efficient, and briskly paced, and in a way Cagney's portrayal may well be all the more effective in this context. While White Heat's narrative often seems like the traditional story of a charismatic bad guy who will be forced to pay for his crimes in the last reel, it instead houses a different and most puzzling sort of villain, who paved the way for the stranger, more brutal outlaws who would dominate crime cinema in the 1960s and 1970s.

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Product Details

Release Date:
Original Release:
Warner Home Video
Region Code:
[Full Frame]
Sales rank:

Special Features

Closed Caption; Leonard Maltin hosts Warner Night at the Movies 1949 with newsreel, comedy short So You Think You're Not Guilty, cartoon Homeless Hare and theatrical trailers; New featurette White Heat: Top of the World; Commentary by film historian Dr. Drew Casper; Subtitles: English, Français & Español

Related Subjects

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
James Cagney Arthur Cody Jarrett
Virginia Mayo Verna Jarrett
Edmond O'Brien Hank Fallon/Vic Pardo
Steve Cochran Big Ed Sommers
Margaret Wycherly Ma Jarrett
John Archer Phillip Evans
Wally Cassell Giovanni Cotton Valetti
Mickey Knox Het Kohler
Ian MacDonald Bo Creel
Fred Clark Daniel Winston, the Trader
G. Pat Collins The Reader
Paul Guilfoyle Roy Parker
Fred Coby Happy Taylor
Ford Rainey Zuckie Hommell
Robert Osterloh Tommy Ryley
Hank Fallon Edmund O'Brien
Robert Foulk Guard at Plant
Carl Harbaugh Foreman
Harry Lauter Radio Patrolman, Car A
Nolan Leary Gas Station Owner
Jack Worth Actor
Arthur Miles Guard
Ray Montgomery Ernie Trent
Jim Toney Brakeman
Murray Leonard Engineer
Marshall Bradford Police Chief
George Taylor Police Surgeon
Milton Parsons Willie Rolf, the Stoolie
John M. Pickard Government Agent
Joel Allen Operative
Claudia Barrett Cashier
Lee Phelps Tower Guard
Buddy Gorman Popcorn Vendor
Garrett Craig Ted Clark
George Spaulding Judge
Sherry Hall Clerk
Ray Bennett Guard
Harry Strang Guard
Sid Melton Russell Hughes
Art Foster Guard
Jim Thorpe Guard
Fern Eggen Margaret Baxter
Eddie Foster Nat Lefeld
Perry Ivins Simpson, the Prison Doctor
Larry McGrath Clocker
Grandon Rhodes Psychiatrist
John McGuire Psychiatrist
Joey Ray Agent
Bob Carson Agent
John Butler Man
Leo Cleary Fireman
Eddie Phillips Government Agent

Technical Credits
Raoul Walsh Director
Edward Carrere Art Director
Murray Cutter Editor
Roy Davidson Special Effects
Louis Edelman Producer
Ivan Goff Screenwriter
Sidney Hickox Cinematographer
Virginia Kellogg Screenwriter
H.F. Koenekamp Special Effects
Fred MacLean Art Director,Set Decoration/Design
Owen Marks Editor
Leah Rhodes Costumes/Costume Designer
Ben Roberts Screenwriter
Russell Saunders Asst. Director
Max Steiner Score Composer
Perc Westmore Makeup

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Scene Index

Side #1 --
1. Credits [1:19]
2. Train Heist [4:07]
3. Red-Hot Buzzsaw [5:12]
4. Taking Care of Silky [4:22]
5. Tip-Off, Tip Over [3:12]
6. Tailing Ma [4:43]
7. The Lesser Rap [4:32]
8. Not Going Fishing [5:05]
9. Psychopath Profile [3:04]
10. Danger of Discovery [2:48]
11. Little Tricks [3:16]
12. Ma's Watchful Eye [2:16]
13. Metal Shop Accident [2:49]
14. Payback Vows [1:58]
15. Breakout Planning [3:23]
16. Ma's Dead [6:13]
17. Raving Maniac [2:47]
18. Taking a Little Trip [2:48]
19. Giving Him Some Air [4:40]
20. Cody Wouldn't Like It [1:48]
21. In the Back [2:47]
22. Big Ed's Fall [3:03]
23. Trojan Horse [3:03]
24. The Trader [3:45]
25. Maybe I Am Nuts [3:27]
26. Radio Fixer [3:17]
27. Mirror Message [3:27]
28. Catching the Signal [4:10]
29. Hank Fingered [2:30]
30. Cody Jarrett Talking [4:21]
31. Refinery Chase [2:31]
32. Come and Get Me [2:35]
33. Top of the World [2:00]

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White Heat 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The connection between real-life criminals and the movies goes back at least as far as the time Al Capone's henchmen went to question screenwriter Ben Hecht about the script for the original "Scarface" (1932). And it's no secret that some more recent films have had mob backing. But filmmakers who try to tell the story from the criminal's point of view run two risks. If they are too true to the vile, stupid, petty, boring, and squalid nature of most crime, they can turn off an audience. But if they put on too much gloss and glamour, they lose all credibility. Even by contemporary standards, "White Heat" is a shockingly brutal movie, but with one great scene following another, it builds tremendous momentum. James Cagney plays Cody Jarrett, a sociopathic train robber who gets terrible headaches, kills blithely, and loves his mother (who's also in his gang). While he is in prison, another member of the gang steals his wife and murders his mother, which tears him completely off his hinges. Cagney's "Ma's dead!" breakdown in the prison's dining room is a classic of Oedipal dementia. Edmond O'Brien gives a subtle performance as the dislikable heel of an undercover agent who helps Cagney out of prison to avenge his mother's death. His creepy blandness somehow makes Cagney's righteous madness seem noble by contrast. The tension builds inexorably down the stretch, and when Cagney explodes--literally--at the end, it is not just fitting, it is the logical conclusion. [filmfactsman]
tmbrat More than 1 year ago
White Heat is pretty good, but Cagney's best bad guy performance has to be as Rocky Sullivan in Angels with Dirty Faces. And if you like gangster movies, don't miss G-Men where Cagney gives an outstanding performance as a good guy.

You can't beat Cagney!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Guest More than 1 year ago
It just doesn't get any better than this folks. The 1940's had more than it's fair share of outstanding film noir and gangster performances, but it almost seems as if the whole decade of crime dramas were building up to this one from the beginning. It is the ultimate. Cagney is a phenomenon, and he makes the screen sizzle with intensity as he renders color, life, and realism to the character of Cody Jarrett. The action starts just after the opening credits and doesn't let up until the final explosive, white-knuckled climax. With the dawn of the 50's and the end of James Cagney's gangster roles, this is really the last great film of an era. There have continued to be bright spots in the crime drama genre, but nobody will ever recreate the era which produced this blinding, intense cinematic gem.