White Heat


White Heat (1949)


Critic Consensus: Raoul Walsh's crime drama goes further into the psychology of a gangster than most fear to tread and James Cagney's portrayal of the tragic anti-hero is constantly volatile.


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Movie Info

This gangster movie centers on a psychotic, mother-obsessed thug.

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James Cagney
as Arthur Cody Jarrett
Virginia Mayo
as Verna Jarrett
Edmond O'Brien
as Hank Fallon/Vic Pardo
Steve Cochran
as Big Ed Somers
John Archer
as Phillip Evans
Wally Cassell
as Giovanni Cotton Valetti
Wally Cassel
as Giovanni Cotton Valetti
Fred Clark
as Daniel Winston
Ford Rainey
as Zuckie Hommell
Fred Coby
as Happy Taylor
G. Pat Collins
as Herbert, the Reader
Mickey Knox
as Het Kohler
Paul Guilfoyle
as Roy Parker
Robert Osterloh
as Tommy Ryley
Ian MacDonald
as Bo Creel
Ray Montgomery
as Ernie Trent
Hank Fallon
as Edmund O'Brien
Jim Toney
as Brakeman
Leo Cleary
as Fireman
Terry O'Sullivan
as Radio Announcer
Marshall Bradford
as Chief of Police
Milton Parsons
as Willie Rolf, the Stoolie
Eddie Phillips
as Government Agent
Robert Foulk
as Guard at Plant
Jim Thorpe
as Convict
Eddie Foster
as Nat Lefeld
Lee Phelps
as Tower Guard
John Pickard
as Government Agent
Perry Ivins
as Simpson, the Prison Doctor
Nolan Leary
as Gas Station Owner
Joel Allen
as Operative
Grandon Rhodes
as Psychiatrist
John McGuire
as Psychiatrist
Harry Lauter
as Radio Patrolman, Car A
Bob Fowke
as Guard
Sid Melton
as Russell Hughes
Fern Eggen
as Margaret Baxter
Garrett Craig
as Ted Clark
Buddy Gorman
as Popcorn Vendor
George Taylor
as Police Surgeon
Stanton Herzog
as Accountant
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Critic Reviews for White Heat

All Critics (30) | Top Critics (5)

Brilliantly directed by Raoul Walsh, an old master of cinema hoodlumism, it returns a more subtle James Cagney to the kind of thug role that made him famous.

Apr 27, 2009 | Full Review…
TIME Magazine
Top Critic

Cagney has an excellent supporting cast.

Apr 27, 2009 | Full Review…
Top Critic

Raoul Walsh's heroes had a knack for going too far, but none went further than James Cagney in this roaring 1949 gangster piece.

Apr 27, 2009 | Full Review…

Despite chronology (deranged by the censor's influence on the studios), this is really the fitting climax of the '30s gangster movie.

Jan 26, 2006 | Full Review…
Time Out
Top Critic

The simple fact is that Mr. Cagney has made his return to a gangster role in one of the most explosive pictures that he or anyone has ever played.

May 20, 2003 | Rating: 5/5 | Full Review…

Before White Heat, no gangster film had featured anybody like Cody Jarrett.

Nov 29, 2018 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for White Heat


Bridging the gap between the gangster era and film noir is this doozy of a crime epic. Cody Jarrett is a real piece of work, he's a determined criminal with a strong desire to be 'on top of the world'. He's neglectful of his sultry wife, feverishly devoted to his doting mother, and actually finds glee when it comes to dishing out acts of violence, even upon his own gang of thugs. He also suffers from crippling migraines, which really seem to have an effect of his already fractured psyche. After inadvertently leaving clues behind following a railroad heist, Jarrett becomes a target of the feds. In order to cover his tracks, he willingly goes to prison on a trumped up charge. While there, he befriends a mole placed by the G-Men to infiltrate his gang. Jarrett and the mole escape from jail, and once out, they regroup the gang in order to pull off another masterful caper, unaware of the plans of the feds. This is a really stunning film, and definitely high on the list of best ofs in the genre. Raoul Walsh provides some strong, briskly paced direction, there's great camera work, and a fair amount of character study, depth, and food for thought. The action set pieces, especially the finale are superb, and through it all we get some terrific performances, dominated by the always impressive Cagney. If you're a fan of gangster films, or just love a great crime yarn in general, then this is a must-see.

Chris Weber
Chris Weber

Super Reviewer

Someone on IMDB called "White Heat" the bridge "between film noir and WB's classic gangster flicks", and I think it's a pretty apt description. It's the story of Cody Jarrett, psychotic gangster feared by everyone, and yet constantly looking over his shoulder as conspirators lie in wait at every turn (whether it be his right hand man, Big Ed, or the undercover cop, Vic Pardo). Cody the crackpot, with his phantom headaches and his obsessive fixation on his mother, you get the sense of impending doom lingering about his head. So what makes this film so noir-ish? Well, there's a certain amount of lurid fascination we the audience are made to feel with Cody's world, be it with his sleezy, back-stabbing wife or his disturbingly ruthless mother, it's all gritty and seedy. Characters like Pardo or "The Trader" (Cody's "manager") feel like they're ahead of their time in some ways, and we can still see echoes of them in modern day crime films. But it's James Cagney's Cody that steals the show. He's intense, intelligent, but maybe a little too trusting of those around him. His character is kind of pitiful in that he never sees betrayal coming until it's too late. It's a great performance and a great, if quirky crime noir that's right up there with The Big Sleep and The Big Heat (and other "big" movies, for that matter- well, except for Tom Hanks' "Big", obviously).

Devon Bott
Devon Bott

Super Reviewer

My favourite gangster movie, Cagney is brilliant as the crazy mama's boy gang leader. The ending is classic. I love it.

Aj V
Aj V

Super Reviewer

James Cagney stars as Cody Jarrett, a mother obsessed psychopath who breaks out of jail to plan a raid on chemical refinery, whilst unwittingly taking an undercover agent under his wing. Probably Cagney's most well known (and misquoted) character, Jarrett is one of the great gangsters from the old school. The addition of his Oedipus complex made him a whole different animal to his contemporaries, although I personally found his performance a little ripe in the earlier scenes of the film (when he has his headaches and finds out about his mother's death I couldn't help but be reminded of Norman Wisdom!) Once they break out of jail the film and his performance settle down though, and it becomes a masterful character study of a cold blooded hoodlum whose flippant use of violence and contempt for the law has passed into legend. The incredibly influential formula has been copied a million times over the years, not least by Tarantino in Reservoir Dogs and as such White Heat can be seen as a real watershed in the evolution of the crime drama. The cops are of course a little bland especially in comparison to Cagney's exuberant performance, but their use of oscillators and spectrographs must have made it the equivalent of CSI in its day. There is also some great support from Virginia Mayo as the classic gangster's moll, as ugly on the inside as she is beautiful on the outside and Margaret Wycherly as his hard-as-nails ma, and the spectacular finale in the refinery never fails to get the blood pumping. Classic stuff.

xGary Xx
xGary Xx

Super Reviewer

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