The intense character study of criminal insanity in Raoul Walsh’s WHITE HEAT (1949) is most likely the greatest Cagney performance that has endured the test of time in Warner’s gangster genre. Cagney plays the psychotic and sadistic Arthur ‘Cody’ Jarrett, a ruthless gang leader with a penchant for deriving pleasure from inflicting pain on others and plagued by torturous headaches and a mother fixation (Margaret Wycherly) with Freud written all over it. Meanwhile Cody’s wife, Verna (Virginia Mayo) ‘bats her eyes’ at every man she meets while enduring the brutality and neglect of her unstable husband. The plot thickens when a henchman plots an ‘accident’ for Cody that is foiled when an undercover cop, Vic Pardo (Edmund O’Brien) infiltrates the gang. The finale will justly go down as one of the greatest in all crime films, as Cody shouts triumphantly, ‘Made it, ma! Top of the world!’ against the backdrop of a burning chemical plant.
Author Tom Johnson (he interviewed Cagney and Mayo)
Make-Up artist Michael Westmore (his uncle Perc Westmore was the make-up artist for White Heat)