Usually recognized as Hollywood’s resident tough guy in the 30s and early 40s, one could argue that seeing a 50-year-old Cagney, “yucking it up” in a throwback gangster flick from his early days could get a little old. But in James Cagney‘s chase, he aged as well as a fine wine.
White Heat, directed by Raoul Walsh and considered one of the “best gangster movies of all time,” is a gritty film noir about one man and his apparent mother issues. Now, having a problem with a parent doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll turn into a vindictive, sadistic killer, but in “Cody” Jarret’s case, it was bound to happen.
The film follow “Cody” and his goal to ,well, just cause havoc.
Aided by wife, cohorts and importantly his mother, “Cody” and company botch a train robbery which sees the tyrant accidentally shoot an investigator. Knowing this madman needs to be stopped (or else,) the authorities send in an undercover plant to ‘catch Cody’s hand in the cookie jar,’ so to speak.
Luckily, and fortunately, “Cody” turns himself in for a lesser crime that sees his prison shortened.
That doesn’t leave him off the hook, though.
Throughout the rest of the film, we see “Cody” get sent to jail, punch a prison guard, and cause general havoc during his jail time. Eventually cavalierly hurting everyone around you won’t get you anywhere, and ultimately, “Cody” gets cornered.
The finale…oh boy, where does one begin?
The ending of the film is perhaps the most memorable thing (aside from Cagney‘s acting) in the entire movie.
Not only do we see Cagney at his best, but we also get to see a piece of classic Hollywood history. With all of its fire, angst, and drama, in 2003 White Heat was added to the National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
Meticulously crafted, and incredibly acted, the ending was inevitable.
Cody Jarret went out the same way he lived: slightly mad, crying for his mother, and surrounded by fire.