theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Raoul Walsh|
|Produced by||Louis F. Edelman|
|Screenplay by||Ivan Goff
|Story by||Virginia Kellogg|
|Music by||Max Steiner|
|Editing by||Owen Marks|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|Running time||114 minutes|
White Heat is a 1949 film noir starring James Cagney, Virginia Mayo and Edmond O'Brien and featuring Margaret Wycherly, and Steve Cochran. Directed by Raoul Walsh from the Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts screenplay based on a story by Virginia Kellogg, it is considered one of the classic gangster films and was added to the National Film Registry in 2003 as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congress.
Cody Jarrett (James Cagney) is the ruthless, deranged leader of a criminal gang. Although married to Verna (Virginia Mayo), Jarrett is overly attached to his equally crooked and determined mother, "Ma" Jarrett (Margaret Wycherly), his only real confidante. Cody suffers from debilitating headaches and his mother consoles him each time. Early in the film she sits him on her lap and gives him a shot of whiskey with the toast, "Top of the world." It is later revealed that Jarrett's father died in an insane asylum.
Jarrett and his gang rob a train, resulting in the deaths of four members of the train crew and a Jarrett accomplice, Zuckie (Ford Rainey). With the help of informants, the police close in and Jarrett shoots and injures US Treasury investigator Philip Evans (John Archer). Jarrett then confesses to a lesser crime, which was committed by an associate at the same time as the train robbery, thus providing Jarrett with an alibi. He is sentenced to one to three years.
Evans is not fooled. He plants undercover agent Hank Fallon (Edmond O'Brien) in Jarrett's cell; Fallon goes by the name Vic Pardo. His main task is to find the "Trader," a fence who launders stolen money for Jarrett.
On the outside, "Big Ed" Somers (Steve Cochran), Jarrett's ambitious right-hand man, has designs on both the leadership of Jarrett's gang and his treacherous wife Verna. He pays a convict, Roy Parker (Paul Guilfoyle), to kill Jarrett. In the prison workplace, Parker arranges to drop a heavy piece of machinery on Jarrett, but Pardo pushes him out of the way, saving his life. Ma visits and vows to take care of Big Ed herself, despite Jarrett's attempts to dissuade her. He begins to worry and decides to break out. Before he can, Jarrett learns that Ma is dead and goes berserk in the mess hall, being dragged away to the infirmary and diagnosed with psychosis.
Jarrett takes hostages and escapes, along with Pardo, their cellmates and Parker, who is locked in the trunk of the getaway car. Later, when Parker complains, "It's stuffy, I need some air," Jarrett replies, "Oh, stuffy, huh? I'll give ya a little air." While calmly munching on a chicken leg, he empties his gun into the trunk.
On hearing of Jarrett's escape, Big Ed nervously waits for him to show up. Verna tries to slip away, but she is caught by her husband. She convinces him that Big Ed murdered Ma (though it was really Verna who shot her in the back). Jarrett guns down Big Ed.
The gang welcomes the escapees, including Pardo, for whom Jarrett has developed a genuine liking. Jarrett insists on sharing the proceeds from their robberies with him, stating, "I split even with Ma, didn't I?"
A stranger shows up at the gang's isolated country hideout, asking to use the phone. Everybody expects the stranger to be murdered: "Looks like Big Ed's gonna have company." To Pardo's surprise, he is introduced by a trusting Jarrett to the Trader (Fred Clark), the fence he was to track down.
Jarrett intends to steal the payroll at a chemical plant in Long Beach, California by using a large tank truck as a Trojan Horse to hide inside. Pardo manages to get a message to Evans and an ambush is set up. The gang gets into the plant but the driver, Creel (Ian MacDonald), recognizes Pardo as Fallon ("He pinched me four years ago.").
The police surround the building and Evans calls on Jarrett to surrender. Jarrett decides to fight it out. When the police fire tear gas into the office, Fallon manages to escape. All of Jarrett's henchmen are shot by the police, or by Jarrett himself when they try to give themselves up (Verna is taken by the police). Jarrett then flees to the top of a gigantic, globe-shaped gas storage tank. When Fallon shoots Jarrett several times with a rifle, Jarrett starts firing at the tank and shouts, "Made it, Ma! Top of the world!" The tank and several adjoining ones explode, killing Jarrett before the police's gunshots can.
- James Cagney as Arthur "Cody" Jarrett
- Virginia Mayo as Verna Jarrett
- Edmond O'Brien as Hank Fallon / Vic Pardo
- Margaret Wycherly as Ma Jarrett
- Steve Cochran as "Big Ed" Somers
- Ford Rainey as Zuckie
- John Archer as Philip Evans
- Wally Cassell as "Cotton" Valletti
- Fred Clark as Daniel "The Trader" Winston
- Ian MacDonald as "Bo" Creel
- Paul Guilfoyle as Roy Parker
- G. Pat Collins as "Reader" Curtin
- Fred Coby as "Happy" Taylor
The character of Cody Jarrett was based on New York murderer Francis Crowley, who engaged in a pitched battle with police in the spring of 1931 at the age of 18. Executed on January 21, 1932, his last words were: "Send my love to my mother." Another inspiration may have been Arthur Barker, a gangster of the 1930s, and a son of Ma Barker.
White Heat was filmed between May 5 and mid-June 1949. Filming locations included the Southern Pacific railroad tunnel in the Santa Susana Mountains near Chatsworth, California, the now demolished San-Val Drive In in Burbank, and the Shell Oil plant at 198th Street and Figueroa in Torrance, California, where the final climactic shoot-out was filmed.
Critical reaction to the film was positive, and today it is considered a classic. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times called it "the acme of the gangster-prison film" and praised its "thermal intensity". Tim Dirks on the website Filmsite.org writes that the film may have also inspired many other successful films:
- "This classic film anticipated the heist films of the early 50s (for example John Huston's 1950 The Asphalt Jungle and Stanley Kubrick's 1956 The Killing), accentuated the semi-documentary style of films of the period (the 1948 The Naked City), and contained film-noirish elements, including the shady black-and-white cinematography, the femme fatale character, and the twisted psyche of the criminal gangster."
White Heat was listed in Time magazine's top 100 films of all time. Based upon both contemporary and more recent film reviews, the film has a 100% "fresh" rating on film review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes.
In June 2008, the American Film Institute released its "Ten Top Ten" list – the best ten films in ten "classic" American film genres – after polling over 1,500 people from the creative community. White Heat was acknowledged as the fourth best in the gangster film genre. Also, the quote; "Made it, Ma! Top of the world!" was number 18 on the American Film Institute's list of the greatest movie quotes.
Awards and honors 
- In 1950, Virginia Kellogg was nominated for a Best Writing, Motion Picture Story Academy Award for White Heat, and Ivan Goff, Ben Roberts and Virginia Kellogg were nominated for Best Motion Picture at the Edgar Awards presented by the Mystery Writers of America.
- White Heat was added to the United States National Film Registry of the Library of Congress in 2003.
American Film Institute Lists
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies - Nominated
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills - Nominated
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes and Villains:
- Cody Jarrett - #26 Villain
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes:
- "Made it, Ma! Top of the World!" - #18
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) - Nominated
- AFI's 10 Top 10 - #4 Gangster film
Cultural References 
Several quotes from the film were used in the hip-hop single "Back In Business" by E-40 and produced by his son Droop-E, on this 2010 album Revenue Retrievin': Day Shift. Quotes from the film were also used in the album track "White Heat" by Madonna, on her third album True Blue; the song was also dedicated to Cagney. Scenes with Cagney were used in the movie Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid putting Steve Martin to act with Cagney Scenes, as well as in the 1992 crime-drama film Juice. A short clip was also played in a scene from Hart to Hart: Season 3, Episode 21, titled Hart and Sole airing 6 Apr. 1982.
- All about Francis Crowley, by Mark Gado
- TCM Overview
- TCM Notes
- IMDB Filming locations
- Crowther, Bosley (September 3, 1949). "James Cagney Back as Gangster in 'White Heat,' Thriller Now at the Strand". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-09-05.
- "White Heat (1949)" at Filmsite.org
- "White Heat (1949)". rottentomatoes.com. Retrieved 2007-09-05.
- "AFI's 10 Top 10". American Film Institute. 2008-06-17. Retrieved 2008-06-18.
- "Librarian of Congress Adds 25 Films to National Film Registry" Library of Congress press release (December 16, 2003)
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: White Heat|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: White Heat (film)|
- White Heat at the Internet Movie Database
- White Heat at the TCM Movie Database
- White Heat at AllRovi
- White Heat at Rotten Tomatoes
- Greatest Films Web Site
- Francis Crowley at Crime Library
- Literature on White Heat