It’s time again for another James Cagney movie as we continue to celebrate him as the Star Of The Month! This time, it’s his 1949 classic White Heat, also starring Virginia Mayo!
Coming Up Shorts! with… So You Think You’re Not Guilty (1950)
(available as an extra on the White Heat Blu-ray from Warner Home Video)
(Length: 10 minutes, 31 seconds)
Joe McDoakes is fined for going through a (malfunctioning) traffic signal, but, in his stubbornness to admit to his guilt, that small fine quickly turns into a stretch in prison! This was a fun one, with the increasing ridiculousness as everything snowballs! Of course, being directed by Richard Bare (who later directed the TV series Green Acres), I’m not surprised about that! This one may not be realistic on a number of levels, but it’s certainly a funny short!
Coming Up Shorts! with… Homeless Hare (1950)
(available as an extra on the White Heat Blu-ray from Warner Home Video)
(Length: 7 minutes, 6 seconds)
When a construction worker destroys Bugs’ home, he vows revenge. Another type of Bugs cartoon in which he is wronged, and decides to fight back. You just know that construction worker won’t know what hit him. Of course, I was surprised to see him get one good shot in on Bugs partway through, but at least that allows for some variety. Still worth a few good laughs! (Compared to the previously reviewed version included as an extra on Young Man With A Horn, this one is not restored in any way).
And Now For The Main Feature…
Cody Jarrett (James Cagney) and his gang rob a train of nearly $300,000. The engineers are killed when they accidentally learn Cody’s name, but, when one of them is shot, they accidentally release a steam valve, scalding one of Cody’s men. Cody and his crew go to a mountain hideout, where his mother (Margaret Wycherly) and his wife Verna (Virginia Mayo) are hiding out. One of his men, Big Ed Somers (Steve Cochran), wants to take over the gang and have Verna to himself, but he is just afraid enough of Cody to avoid doing anything. When a big storm comes, they make their move and leave behind the scalded man. Later, some members of the Treasury Department discover the (now dead) scalded man, and are able to learn about Cody and his associates. They almost catch up to Cody, but his mother warns him in time, and Cody, along with his mother and wife, manage to get away. They split up, and Cody decides to turn himself in for another, lesser robbery committed at the same time they robbed the train. Unable to trap him for the train robbery, the feds decide to send in an undercover man, Hank Fallon (Edmund O’Brien), under the alias Vic Pardo, to find out more. Outside the prison, Ma runs the gang, with Big Ed going along with her. In prison, Hank tries to get in Cody’s good graces, but has no luck. That is, until a friend of Big Ed’s tries to bump off Cody, and Hank manages to save him. Cody’s mother comes in to see him right after, and, realizing Big Ed had tried to off her son, she tells Cody that she will deal with him personally. Less than thrilled with this development, Cody turns to Hank for help in breaking out of prison. Hank makes plans with another agent acting as his wife on visiting day, but, before they can follow through on their plans, Cody learns from a new inmate that his mother is dead. He suffers a breakdown, and is taken to the doctor. Another inmate smuggles a gun in to him, and they, along with Hank and a few others, successfully escape from the prison. Meanwhile, Verna is getting nervous about Cody coming after her and Big Ed (since she had killed Cody’s mother), but when she tries to escape Big Ed, Cody catches her. Thinking quickly, she accuses Big Ed of shooting Cody’s mother in the back, and helps him past Big Ed’s defenses, so that he can shoot Big Ed. Under the advice of his fence, Daniel “The Trader” Winston (Fred Clark), Cody and his crew decide to rob a payroll. Hank tries to get word out to the police, who tip the feds. At the place they are robbing, Hank is recognized by another con brought in to help them (whom he had arrested years earlier), but they are quickly surrounded by the feds. Will Cody finally be brought to justice, or will he evade the authorities again?
After Yankee Doodle Dandy, James Cagney had once again ended his contract at Warner Brothers. With his brother William, he had formed his own production company. However, they only made a handful of films, and they weren’t very successful. So, Cagney once again returned to Warner Brother, although this time with a little more freedom, since he still retained his production company. He returned to the gangster genre (which he had tried to leave behind, with his last one being the 1939 film The Roaring Twenties) with the film White Heat. At first, he wasn’t thrilled with the script, and made some suggestions to the writers about making Jarrett and his mother more like the outlaws Ma Barker and her family (and making Jarrett himself psychotic). His suggestions worked, as the film turned out to be a hit with audiences and the critics, and it is considered one of Cagney’s best roles.
To say that Cagney is good in this role is an understatement! As Cody Jarrett, he takes things even further than he had as Tom Powers in The Public Enemy. Once again, he only cares for his mother (but, this time, she knows about his life of crime and very actively encourages him in it). While Cody is a married man, he doesn’t really trust his wife that much and can be cruel to her (but certainly doesn’t want anybody else to have her, either). He suffers from headaches that really lay him low, but, with his mother’s help, he recovers from them and maintains his image as a tough guy. And we can see from Cagney’s performance that it is when he suffers a headache in prison and Edmund O’Brien’s Hank Fallon helps him out like his mother (with similar encouragement) that he finds himself trusting Hank more. But he is indeed a very tough guy! At one point, we see his wife worrying that he will just keep coming even if he is shot, which we see she is right to be afraid about (although when in the story is for you to see for yourself)!
I’m coming off my first time seeing this movie, and I would definitely go so far as to say that I liked it! James Cagney was the main appeal of The Public Enemy, and he was again here (although, compared to that film, he was supported much better by the other actors and actresses here). Virginia Mayo as his wife Verna is also good as a woman who wants riches and is constantly playing angles to survive and get what she wants from whomever she is dealing with (although with mixed success). As Cody’s mother, Margaret Wycherly is almost as tough as her son, and served by a sixth sense that is able to help keep them out of trouble (but, as we find out, even she can’t predict everything). But, again, Cagney is what makes this movie, as a psychotic man who seemingly can’t be killed by anybody else, and is therefore a big threat to everybody. I was fascinated by the whole movie, and I have no problem whatsoever in giving this movie a very high recommendation!
This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Warner Home Video, either individually or as part of the four film Ultimate Gangsters Collection: Classics.
Film Length: 1 hour, 53 minutes
My Rating: 9/10
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List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections
Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) – James Cagney – Love Me Or Leave Me (1955)
Out Of The Blue (1947) – Virginia Mayo – Great Day In The Morning (1956)