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WHITE HEAT

title: WHITE HEAT
year: 1949
cast: James Cagney, Virginia Mayo, Edmund O'Brien
rating: ****1/2

Several stories here: and James Cagney stars in each as "Cody Jarrett," possibly the most sinister and at the same time, endearing gangsters to appear on the big screen One story centers on the leader of a group of thugs who rob a train and and hide out. One is about the demented son of a overbearing, meticulously wicked mother who will protect her boy till the bitter end. One is about the husband of a two-timing gun moll Virgina Mayo, holding out for a taller, handsome thug who wants Jarrett out of the way. One is about a prisoner slowly conned by an undercover cop in the big house. And that's the best story of all. Edmund O'Brien is the "narc" who eventually gains Cagney's trust. Their relationship, as the two bond behind bars, is the highlight. And although O'Brien, after a jailbreak, turns his back on Cody much too quickly during the famous "top of the world" climax, this perfectly solid classic gangster film... the peak of Cagney's tough guy career... is like reading a multilevel book you can't put down. Cagney performance is top-notch and not just when he's suffering from those horrible headaches, causing him to writhe on the ground like a poisoned viper. It's the subtle moments that count, because after all, it's his world we're in: and he's not going down without a fight. Thank God it's two hours in length, yet it could have been much longer.
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