|Margaret Wycherly and James Cagney|
Cody Jarrett (James Cagney) is head of a gang that robs a train, a robbery in which four people are murdered. Hiding out with his cronies, as well as his devoted mother, Ma Jarrett (Margaret Wycherly) -- who is nearly as tough as he is -- and not-so-devoted wife, Verna (Virginia Mayo), Cody conceives of a plot to keep him from being sent to death row by copping to a comparatively minor robbery that he didn't commit. In stir for two years, Cody meets a fellow prisoner, Vic Pardo (Edmond O'Brien), who is actually undercover cop Hank Fallon, and learns from his beloved Ma that Verna has run off with Big Ed Somers (Steve Cochran), who wants to take over Cody's gang. Cody makes up his mind to get out and take care of Big Ed and everyone else ... White Heat is a slick, well-directed, and fast-paced crime thriller that features excellent performances across the board, with Cagney charismatically playing a mentally-deranged killer who suffers debilitating attacks from time to time (these sequences are handled very well by Cagney). Wycherly [Keeper of the Flame] manages to etch a highly effective portrait of Cody's mother without descending into caricature, and Mayo offers one of her best performances as the duplicitous if clever Verna; Cochran also makes an impression as her easily-discarded lover. There's also nice work from John Archer [No Man's Woman] as the head cop on the case, and Fred Clark [Back from Eternity] as one of Cody's confederates. Sid Hickox' cinematography is first-rate, and Max Steiner, whose genius wasn't limited to romantic pictures, offers a memorably tense and very exciting score for the picture. This has a classic ending with Cagney hollering "Top of the World, Ma!" at the top of a refinery.
Verdict: Brisk, tense, entertaining crime picture with a powerful Cagney performance. ***.