Quick recap: A gangster with mommy issues gets outgangstered. Totally a thing. Look it up.
Fun (?) fact: In between takes for White Heat, James Cagney liked to go up to co-star Edmond O’Brien and show him poetry he had written.
My thoughts: Knowing that this was a gangster film, I was expecting violence but it being the 1940s, I wasn’t expecting anything super realistic. I was right in a way because the deaths were your typical ‘clutch the chest, fall over’ fare, but White Heat is pretty dark for its time. Many descriptions peg the main character Cody (not a very gangster name, tbh) as ‘psychopathic’ and ‘homicidal’ and that is very true. He doesn’t blink twice when offing someone and in some scenes, he seems to relish the torture he inflicts on his victims. It’s not that I wanted a gangster with a heart of gold, but I wasn’t expecting one so gangster-y.
As mentioned above, everything Cody does is for his mother. He runs the gang, but only gives orders that he knows she would approve of. I really liked her character because she didn’t put up with anything. In one scene, Cody is planning on giving himself up to police and when she is questioned later on, she plays the role perfectly of mom who doesn’t know anything, but will kick your ass if you keep asking. I had very little sympathy for Cody throughout the film, but what little I could muster was because of her and how true his love was. Plus, she left hiding to go buy the gangsters strawberries, so you can’t really hate someone who does that.
White Heat surprised me by how complicated it was, from both sides. The FBI obviously had no computers back then, but still managed to stay one up on the gang at all times. Cody, too, always thought ahead, like when he paid someone to rob a store many states away so that he could confess to it later on, thus providing an alibi for the much larger crime of a train robbery. In an effort to get Cody to admit his deception, the FBI plants one of their men as his cellmate to gain his trust. When Cody decides to break out, the FBI arranges a getaway car so that his relationship with agent Hank Fallon was still intact. And it’s not really a criticism of this film, but this constant life of being on the run made me wonder what the benefits of being a gangster really are. From the very beginning with the train robbery, everyone lives in constant fear of getting caught and must perform bigger heists to keep the money flowing in. I may just be lazy, but the lifestyle just seems like a lot of work. There were a few scenes of the gangsters counting their money, but besides buying high priced suits, what did they use it for? Being a gangster fit Cody because he was crazy, but I don’t know about the other ones.
Final review: 4/5
Up next: The Firemen’s Ball