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JAMES CAGNEY CAGED UP IN 'WHITE HEAT' WITH ROBERT OSTERLOH

Japanese poster for WHITE HEAT Year of imprisonment and release: 1949 Sentence: ****1/2

At the peak of the 1940's, no one but James Cagney could play the toughest guy in crime who remains the world's toughest criminal even after suffering random massive headaches where he's basically screaming and crying for his mommy, either in front of his own gang or an entire prison population...

Simply because no one dare call him on it, making WHITE HEAT not only Cagney's greatest Classic Gangster flick but an otherwise bonafide Monster Movie within the Action-Crime arena (in one spooky sequence of lurking, vengeful menace in a rural country house, Cagney's Cody Jarrett is a "not human" Horror genre killer)...

James Cagney with Robert Osterloh in WHITE HEAT with G. Pat Collins

Yet WHITE HEAT truly embodies the Prison sub-genre as Jarrett spends most of the runtime there: Having taken the wrap for another criminal's innocuous out-of-state score after killing two men during the rudimentary train heist, Cody's bunked with inside-partner Robert Osterloh as Tommy Riley, the studio's replacement denying Cagney's request to have his ROARING TWENTIES comic relief Frank McHugh return as sidekick...

But there's simply no time for endearing crooks here: Jarrett's pre-prison gang includes a doomed Ford Rainey and Steve Cochran as handsome backstabber Big Ed, with a penchant for Cody's gorgeous spunky-tough wife Virginia Mayo, and they're all as deadly earnest/wholly uncompromising as the gritty direction by Cagney's 1930's ROARING and CITY OF CONQUEST auteur Raoul Walsh...

Margaret Wycherly with Steve Cochran in WHITE HEAT

Yet with his proverbial warts and all... and how the picture, flawed only for having been made when cinematic crime could never pay... Cagney's Cody Jarrett remains a folk hero beloved by audiences, then and now, maybe for the famous "Top of the World Ma" exploding finale, or the fact he really has a soft-side albeit only shown to Margaret Wycherly as the tough-as-nails, bitterly experienced Ma Jarrett...

In actuality (countering BREAKING BAD crooked lawyer Saul Goodman's advice that Walter White marry a Gangster's Moll like Virginia Mayo in this very film), Ma Jarrett is actually, and technically, Cody's Gangster's Moll while Mayo's as much a villain-to-the-leading-villain as Cochran... who she'd previously cheated with against husband Dana Andrews in THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES before they'd bicker endlessly in SHE'S BACK ON BROADWAY...

Edmond O'Brien courts James Cagney in WHITE HEAT

Meanwhile, adding to the titular HEAT is epic composer Max Steiner, surpassing his formidable KING KONG theme... Cody's even more unpredictable and dangerous while, if anyone's the token protagonist it's Edmond O'Brien in a thankless co-leading role as G-MAN Hank Fallon... 

A professional undercover convict, here named Vic Pardo (backed by steely yet patient head cop John Archer), who, like those who caused King Kong's building top demise, you'll probably find yourself inevitably rooting against after all the time gaining Cody's trust since, when all's said and done, the greatest cinematic monsters never go down easy and only die hard, and in this case, loud as hell.

Virginia O'Brien in WHITE HEAT
Steve Cochran in WHITE HEAT
James Cagney in WHITE HEAT
Margaret Wycherly with James Cagney in WHITE HEAT
Margaret Wycherly as Ma Jarrett in WHITE HEAT
Robert Osterloh in WHITE HEAT with G. Pat Collins
John Archer and Harry Lauter in WHITE HEAT
Opening Credits from Raoul Walsh's WHITE HEAT
Opening Credits from Raoul Walsh's WHITE HEAT
James Cagney pre-headache in WHITE HEAT
James Cagney and Margaret Wycherly in WHITE HEAT with Virginia Mayo & Steve Cochran
Virginia Mayo as Verna Jarrett in WHITE HEAT
Virginia Mayo with Steve Cochran in WHITE HEAT
Virginia Mayo with Steve Cochran in WHITE HEAT
Virginia Mayo with James Cagney in WHITE HEAT
Virginia Mayo with James Cagney in WHITE HEAT
Virginia Mayo with James Cagney in WHITE HEAT
Virginia Mayo with James Cagney in WHITE HEAT
Virginia Mayo with James Cagney in WHITE HEAT
Head cop John Archer in WHITE HEAT and Edmond O'Brien
James Cagney in WHITE HEAT and Edward O'Brien
James Cagney as Cody Jarrett serving in WHITE HEAT

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