“Made it, Ma. Top of the world!” White Heat was the last explosion of the Warner Bros. gangster movies, a decade after their ’30s heyday and was one of the best, with James Cagney unleashing a merciless portrayal of the warped personality that becomes a ruthless killer.
Based on the mother-son gang led by “Ma” Barker, the story opens with Cagney’s gang holding up a train and then hiding out in a freezing cabin with an injured member and his wife (Virginia Mayo) and mother. Dissension in the gang and an attraction between Mayo and a rebellious gangster lead to a police tail in Southern California, a stint in prison for Cagney, and a blazing final showdown. The climactic shoot-out in the oil refinery has become a movie icon and it remains one of Cagney’s and director Raoul Walsh’s greatest moments.
White Heat is one of the final film roles for Native American athlete and actor Jim Thorpe. Thorpe debuted in 1931’s Touchdown.
Academy Award Nomination for Best Motion Picture Story.
Cast: James Cagney, Fred Clark, Virginia Mayo, John Archer, Edmond O’Brien, Ford Rainey
Director: Raoul Walsh
Producer: Louis F. Edelman
Director of Photography: Sidney Hickox
Editor: Owen Marks
Composer: Max Steiner
Screenwriter: Ivan Goff
Art Director: Edward Carrere
USA / Warner Bros. / 114 minutes / 1949