Friday, 12 September 2008

No.68 : White Heat

IMDb Link :

James Cagney stars in this 1949 gangster classic as psychotic con Cody Jarrett. The film opens with the Jarrett gang robbing a train and netting a cool $300,000. The blood thirsty raid leaves four dead and the treasury department has had enough. When a nicer member of the gang disobeys Cody’s order to kill an injured comrade the police find the man and a clue. With the net tightening and the gas chamber looming Cody decides to claim responsibility for a lesser robbery, knowing he’ll get two years maximum and beat the train robbery rap.

He thinks he’s smart when the plan works but unknown to him the treasury department agreed the deal with the judge so that they could plant a man in Cody’s cell to trace the stolen cash and other gang members. Things go well at first with the agent, Vic Pardo, winning the con’s trust by saving his neck when a hit from an ambitious member of the gang goes down.

Pardo convinces Cody to agree to his escape plan but things go wrong when Cody hears that his beloved mother has been killed and goes mental. When in the prison hospital Cody forges his own plan and breaks out a group of cons, including Pardo who no longer holds all the cards. Now on the outside Cody decides to settle some scores and arranges a big robbery at a petrol refinery. Can Pardo get a message out to his colleagues or will his cover be blown by a new gang member that the erstwhile cop put away 4 years before?

This is a cracker of a film that is held together by Cagney’s outstanding performance. He genuinely seems evil and unhinged and the scenes he shares with his overbearing mother are classic. Despite his small stature he is a real presence and you can tell the other actors aren’t feigning their fear when he kicks off.

The investigation side of things is well handled by the inside man and there are real scenes of tension as he infiltrates his way into Cagney’s affections. Less good are the treasury men who spend too long explaining their fancy triangulation device that helps track the felons down.

For its era the film is very violent, with gangsters and cops alike being killed by the cartload. There is also some fruity dialogue and wife slapping going on, as well as a few cold bloodied murders. Despite him being a classic screen bad guy Cagney does well to gain a bit of sympathy for his headaches and slutty wife. We’re not very sad when he gets his comeuppance (as he really had to) but we do mourn the passing of a great character.

If you’ve never seen ‘White Heat’ give it a look, it’s easily one of the best gangster/prison break movies ever. Top of the list Ma!

Best Bit : The train raid sets the brutal agenda

‘W’ Score 20/23

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