Posts Tagged ‘Virginia Mayo’

The Great Villain Blogathon: A Look at “Ma Jarrett” in White Heat

Those wonderful classic film loving bloggers: Speakeasy, Shadows & Satin, and Silver Screenings are once again hosting this fun and interesting look at villains in classic films.  My post today is one of many for this, the last day of their blogathon.  Please be sure to stop by their sites and read about other famous movie villains and the incredible, and possibly indelible performances by the actors and actresses who performed those infamous roles.

White Heat, made in 1949, a Warner Bros. production, is a tense crime noir film.  It starred James Cagney, doing what he did best, playing an evil criminal.  However, what makes his portrayal of Cody Jarrett different is that this time, Cagney’s criminal is crazy, aka psychotic and a lot of it is due to his overwhelming attachment to his “Ma”.

White Heat poster 1

In researching the background for White Heat, I found out that it was first an original story by Virginia Kellogg, who had been a reporter for the LA Times and may have been influenced by actual criminals she heard about while working for the newspaper.  There was also a theory that she based her criminal Cody Jarrett and his Ma on a real life crime family of the 1930s, Ma Barker and her sons.  While the FBI claimed that Ma Barker was an evil, criminal mastermind some of the people who knew her said she couldn’t organize a family breakfast so there were some doubts as to how much she was involved in her sons’ criminal activities.  Ma Jarrett, however, in White Heat, is in on the robberies, doesn’t blink an eye when Cody decides to “plug” someone,  and is  full of advice as to how he can avoid the “coppers”.

We first meet Ma(remarkably played by Margaret Wycherly) as she is fixing some food for Cody and  his gang.  They’ve just gotten back to their hideout from a train robbery-yes, a train robbery in 1949!-that has made the national headlines.  We also meet Cody’s stunningly beautiful wife, Verna(excellently played by Virginia Mayo) as she is snoring in one of the bedrooms.   In a foul mood, she gets up when Ma asks Cody to order Verna to help her.  We immediately see that the two main women in Cody’s life don’t like each other.  It’s not a loud, shouting match form of dislike but an icy relationship with bickering between the two women.  Suddenly, Cody begins to whimper, grabbing at his head, and stumbles to the floor,  Verna and the gang watch helplessly but Ma knows what to do.  She quickly gets Cody up, gets him to a bedroom, has him lie down on the bed, and begins to massage the back of his neck and head, murmuring to him all the while to be still and to calm down.  Ma’s care does the trick, and Cody comes out of his severe attack.  He even sits on her lap like a small boy would do, but the censors had that scene cropped to only shoulder and head shots of the Wycherly and Cagney.   Ma pours him a shot of whiskey which he drinks.  She toasts him  as he drinks that shot, “Top of the World, Cody!”  That toast becomes a catch phrase  throughout the entire movie.  Here’s a clip of Ma caring for Cody during his attack.

More of Ma in the film:  after the gang has moved to a Motor Court to live at, and despite Cody ordering none of them to leave, Ma  disobeys by driving to a Farmer’s Market to buy her “baby boy” some strawberries.  Her car is spotted by an undercover cop who is in contact with the Federal authorities stationed in LA and he puts a “tell”, a white rag around the back bumper of Ma’s car, so the Feds and local law enforcement will be able to follow her back to Cody and the gang.  What the cops don’t know is that Ma is very sharp-eyed and soon knows she is being followed.  With a lot of  turns and using her wits, she is able to dodge the police.  However, they eventually find the car at the Motor Court and there is a shoot out as Cody, Ma, and Verna escape in one car, leaving the rest of the gang to scatter.  At a drive-inn movie, Cody hatches his plan to escape the cops, and with Ma’s agreement, he flees.  Ma takes over when she and Verna are interrogated by the Feds, feeding them the pre-planned false alibi to keep Cody out of jail for the train robbery.  One key thing I noticed in this section of the movie is that Verna, eyeing a suitcase full of train robbery cash, coos to Cody how they could spend that money and that she’d love a full-length mink coat.  At the Motor Court, when we see Verna again, she is admiring herself by standing on a chair, in order to see her full self modeling her mink coat.  Cody comes in and asks her where Ma is.  Verna flippantly tells him that Ma is out shopping for strawberries for him.  For her snarky answer, Cody shoves Verna off the chair!  Fortunately she lands on the bed, shocked he’d do that to her.  Then we see Ma at the market and she too, is wearing a full length mink coat!  How telling that the one thing the bad guy’s wife wants he also gets for his ma!

Verna, Ma, and Cody making final plans while hiding out at the Drive-In-note Ma always sits between her son and his wife.

Verna, Ma, and Cody making final plans while hiding out at the Drive-In-note Ma always sits between her son and his wife.

Ma Jarrett knows she's being followed by the coppers

Ma Jarrett knows she’s being followed by the coppers

Cody’s false alibi is to claim that he was in Springfield, IL the same date as the train robbery, and that he committed a hotel robbery in Springfield.  Cody is sentenced to 3 years in the State Penitentiary in Joliet.  What he doesn’t know is that the Feds don’t buy his alibi and have planted an undercover cop in the prison, Fallon(great performance by Edmund O’Brien) to become pals with Cody and find out about the train robbery.  Before Fallon arrives at the prison, his boss Philip Evans(John Archer) fills him in on Cody Jarrett’s mental make-up.  Cody’s father was also a criminal, went insane, and had to be locked up in a mental institution where he died.  The same fate happened to Cody’s older brother.  When Cody was a kid, he’d fake severe headaches to get his Ma’s full love and attention.  Sometime in his late teens, the headaches became real.  Ma is the only person in the world that Cody trusts and loves;she is the force in his life.

Ma makes a drive to IL to visit Cody in the stir.  She tells him that Verna has run off with Big Ed(Steven Cochran) one of the gang members.  Ma knows this info will hurt Cody, but one gets a sense that she is pleased to tell him, to reinforce her opinion that Verna is no good for her son.  Ma vows to get Big Ed for Cody, but Cody, sensing doom, warns Ma to leave Big Ed alone, but his warnings fall on deaf ears.  Here’s a clip of one of the film’s most famous scenes, when Cody, at a prison meal, goes berserk when he finds out news about his Ma.  This is a spoiler alert if you’ve not seen White Heat so skip this scene’s clip in case you want to see the movie without knowing all about it beforehand!

More Spoilers!  Two more key scenes about Ma,  though she’s not in them.  Cody reveals to Fallon, after they’ve broken out of the state prison, that he walks around a lot outside at night due to insomnia and the only thing that soothes him is to talk outloud to Ma-he feels her presence though she isn’t there.   In the film’s fantastic climax, Cody’s plan to rob a chemical plant’s payroll has gone horribly wrong, the cops have him cornered, his gang is dead, and he climbs atop one of the chemical holding tanks.  He is defiant, not caring that what he is standing on top of is flammable stuff.  Fallon  decides to be the one to shoot Cody down but not before Cody has shot holes into the various pipes fitted into the top of the chemical tank which causes flames to shoot out and upward all around him.  Before the final fatal shot from Fallon and the literally explosive ending, Cody yells, “Top of the World, Ma!”  That scene’s clip is here.

Being a mom myself, to 7 kids, ages 12-23, I feel I know a thing or two about motherhood.  Mothers develop a close bond with their babies, but over time it has to change for the sake of the kids;so that they’ll be able to succeed in the world on their own, and hopefully start up and maintain their own successful families.  In studying this film and Ma Jarrett, I saw a mom who hadn’t lessened her bond with her son.  Instead of trying to plead with him to stop his bad life choices, she joined him!  She is somewhat of Cody’s Greek Chorus in the first two-thirds of the film: telling him what he could do, warning him about Verna, the gang members, how to avoid the cops and prison time.  Cody is the only person she really displays her emotions to.  Everyone else sees a cold-hearted mom who can think logically, albeit in a criminal bent, as to what the gang’s next steps should be.  Only Cody gets to experience the loving nurturer.

Margaret Wycherly is excellent as Ma Jarrett.  Wycherly was a former stage actress, appeared in some silent films,  she is best known for two roles as moms: in 1941’s Sergeant York, where she did get nominated for Best Supporting Actress for playing Mother York to son Gary Cooper as Alvin York, and then as Ma Jarrett to son James Cagney, as Cody Jarrett in White Heat.

White Heat is often lauded as one of director Raoul Walsh and actor James Cagney’s best films.  It is available on dvd and I nabbed my copy from our local library.  It airs from time to time at TCM so keep a watch for it to be on the schedule in the future.  For a look at a criminal and his villainous Ma, seek out White Heat!!

 

My Classic Movie Pick: Colorado Territory

Joel McCrea was one of my grandma’s favorite actors.  She told me that years ago when I was probably 12 or 13 years old.  At age 12 or 13, I had no idea who Joel McCrea was, but when I began to watch classic movies in my high school days, I did find out who he was.  A tall, good-looking actor, often playing in comedies or dramas in the 1930s and 1940s; I could see why he was one of my grandma’s favorites!  In the late 1940s and heading into the 1950s, McCrea was aging and he turned increasingly to roles in Western films.  Colorado Territory was just such a career changing role and it fit McCrea’s persona to a T.

CO Territory

In 1941, famed Hollywood director Raoul Walsh had a huge box office hit with a gangster movie, High Sierra, that starred Humphrey Bogart.   Jumping ahead to 1949, a similarly plotted film treatment landed on his desk, Colorado Territory, written by Edmund H. North and John Twist.  Their screenplay took High Sierra and pushed it back in time to the 1870s.  Walsh loved the story and  got the greenlight from Warner Brothers to make this “newish” version of his earlier film.

In Colorado Territory, we meet outlaw Wes McQueen(Joel McCrea) stuck in a jail in Clay County, Missouri.  He’s a notorious bank robber and train robber and known for being very fast with a gun.  A sweet, little old lady arrives at the jail with a cake and some handknit woolen socks for McQueen, telling the jailor and sheriff that she’s McQueen’s Aunt Georgina(Hallene Hill).  She is informed that she won’t be allowed to see McQueen, but that the basket of goodies will be delivered to him.  As the aunt leaves, she tells the sheriff to give McQueen a message, that his old white horse has been broken to drive buggies by his Uncle Pluthner.  The basket is given to McQueen with the message about his old white horse.  McQueen immediately perks up, because he realizes it’s a coded message and that Pluthner isn’t really his uncle but a former Pinkerton agent turned outlaw.  With an unraveling knitted sock, McQueen is able to escape from his jail cell in a way that would have made tv’s MacGuyver proud!

McQueen starting to unravel one of the socks.

McQueen starting to unravel one of the socks.

The next morning it is discovered that McQueen has escaped.  A bell is rung in the town, and a posse is rounded up.  The chase to catch McQueen is on!  Meanwhile, McQueen has met up with Pluthner(Harry Woods), who tells him that McQueen’s old robbing buddy, Dave Rickard(Basil Ruysdael) is living in Colorado territory and he wants McQueen to help him with one more train robbery, which will yield a large haul of cash, and that they can split it up with Pluthner, and then they can all scatter to do what they want with their lives.

McQueen makes a short stop at his family’s farm.  He sits on his horse, looking wistfully around as he remembers his boyhood there.  The new owner’s son appears, on his way to a fishing hole.  McQueen recognizes the boy and asks him how is his family doing?  The youth answers his questions but when McQueen asks about Martha, the boy’s face clouds up with sadness.  He motions to McQueen that Martha is over yonder, buried in the cemetery.  McQueen is very sad to learn of this news.  He goes alone to pay his respects to Martha and from McCrea’s somber acting, we can tell that Martha was a very important person in McQueen’s life and future plans.  This scene also allows the audience to feel empathy for this outlaw, who went from a mischievious youth to bad choices to now, wanting to just pull off one more robbery and then he’ll pursue a quiet, upright life.  We are rooting for McQueen, hoping he can make this change.

McQueen visiting Martha's grave

McQueen visiting Martha’s grave

To get to Colorado territory and avoid the posse, McQueen takes a stagecoach and meets  fellow passengers, Mr. Fred Winslow(Henry Hull) and his pretty daughter, Julie Ann(Dorothy Malone).  Winslow is a chatterer, and goes on and on about leaving Georgia behind for a rich ranch he has purchased, Rancho del Sol.  Julie Ann is exasperated with her father and several times tells him to stop telling about their personal affairs to this traveling stranger.  McQueen lies, and tells the Winslow’s that his name is Jeff Rogers and that one day he, too, would like to farm or ranch in the West.  When bandits are about to  attack the stagecoach, McQueen impresses all with his ability to defend and defeat the would-be robbers.  At the stagecoach depot, McQueen spies a wanted poster with his picture on it and he deftly tears if off the wall and discards it while accepting the award of a good horse that will help him get to the his next point -an abandoned mission town, Todos Santos, where the rest of the train robbing gang are waiting for him.

McQueen sees the bandits approach while on the stagecoach

McQueen sees the bandits approach while on the stagecoach

Winslow reveals he moved Julie Ann to Colorado to get her away from a scoundrel back in Georgia

Winslow reveals he moved Julie Ann to Colorado to get her away from a scoundrel back in Georgia

Dprpthy Malone as Julie Ann-can she take Martha's place in McQueen's heart?

Dorothy Malone as Julie Ann-can she take Martha’s place in McQueen’s heart?

 

McQueen arrives in Todos Santos and meets his robbery team.  What a bunch of misfits!  There’s the brute, Reno Blake(John Archer), who has brought along a dance hall gal, Colorado Carson(Virginia Mayo)-a half-breed, rough kind of woman.  Rounding out the trio is Duke Harris(James Mitchell) a smart-alecky, psychopathic guy.  James Mitchell is so good in his role-I had only really known him previously from his role as Curly in the dream ballet sequence of the movie version of Oklahoma! and his long-standing role on the soap opera All My Children.  I really think he should have been nominated for a best supporting actor, he does that well with the role of the twisted Duke!

Meeting the robbery gang at Todos Santos: Reno, Colorado, and Duke

Meeting the robbery gang at Todos Santos: Reno, Colorado, and Duke

Duke giving McQueen some more information about the robbery

Duke giving McQueen some more information about the robbery

McQueen having to break up a fight between Duke and Reno

McQueen having to break up a fight between Duke and Reno

McQueen lets it be known that he is in charge of this robbery for Rickard and Pluthner.  Reno and Duke aren’t happy about this, but keep their complaints to one another.  Colorado can tell that McQueen is a better man than Reno or Duke could ever hope to be and she begins to flirt with McQueen.  One night she overhears him murmur Martha’s name in his sleep, and when he awakens, Colorado asks him about Martha, then throws herself into McQueen’s arms, essentially asking him to take her with him when the robbery is done.  McQueen gently refuses her, taking her arms down from his neck and explains that there is someone else he wants to plan his future with, Julie Ann.  He tells Colorado that he’ll make sure she gets a cut of the money and that he will expect her to go off on her own to start her new life.

Colorado realizing McQueen is a better man than Reno

Colorado realizing McQueen is a better man than Reno

Showing McQueen how well her broken leg has healed!

Showing McQueen how well her broken leg has healed!

Colorado begging McQueen to take her with him after the robbery

Colorado begging McQueen to take her with him after the robbery

 

The town’s station agent(Ian Wolfe) visits the gang.  He’s a nervous sort of fellow, and a weakling.  He has arrived to tell them the specifics of the train’s arrival and how much money it will be hauling in the safe.  What he doesn’t tell the gang is that he’s really working with the U.S. Marshall for the region.  The Marshall(Morris Ankrum) has gotten information about the attempted train robbery and he’s pretty sure McQueen’s behind it.  More double-dealings are revealed: Pluthner has arranged with Reno and Duke to keep the money for themselves and to kill McQueen and Rickard, and Reno and Duke have their own plan brewing, to keep the money for themselves, killing McQueen, Colorado, and Pluthner in the process.

The robbery happens but it doesn’t go according to anyone’s plans and McQueen discovers all of the double-crosses that were going to happen.  Unfortunately he is shot in the shoulder and while he and Colorado hide out at the Winslow’s ranch for a bit, McQueen sadly discovers that Julie Ann is not the girl he thought she was and he decides then and there to not plan a future with her as his wife.  Leaving the Winslow’s ranch to head back to Todos Santos with Colorado, he realizes that perhaps Colorado is the woman he really loves.

It's Colorado who McQueen really loves!

It’s Colorado who McQueen really loves!

 

Uh oh! Seeing those smoke signals!

Uh oh! Seeing those smoke signals!

With McQueen and Colorado now planning their new life together at the old mission, with money in their possession and just a short ride over a mountain ridge to Mexico, they suddenly are awakened from their plans by the sight of smoke signals-an Indian that the US Marshall had sent to search for them found them at Todos Santos and sent the signal to let the Marshall and his posse know where McQueen and Colorado are hiding.

One of the film's last images

One of the film’s last images

I won’t reveal the end of Colorado Territory as I want the potential viewers to seek this film out!  It’s a well-acted film, a storyline that doesn’t have any plot holes, and it touches on that philosophical question, can a person really change their life around?

Colorado Territory will be shown on TCM on Saturday, April 25th, at 4:30 pm EST/3:30 pm CST.  It is also available to view on Amazon’s instant rent or for purchase.  I’ll end my blog with a few more movie posters for Colorado Territory and I find them a bit amusing as they all focus on Virginia Mayo over Joel McCrea!

T.his poster I find quite well done

This poster I find quite well done

Two posters, comparing the two main characters of High Sierra and Colorado Territory

Two posters, comparing the two main characters of High Sierra and Colorado Territory

From my limited highschool French, this  movie isn't all about the girl of the desert!

From my limited high school French, this movie isn’t all about the girl of the desert!

CT poster 2

My Classic Movie Pick: The Best Years of our Lives

My husband is a chemical engineer.  Logic-driven, analytical thinker, understands all math with ease.  He isn’t as knowledgeable about Classic Movies as I am, but he knows who James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, and Claude Rains are.  If he were to select a favorite classic film that he truly enjoys, he’d pick 1946’s The Best Years of Our Lives.  Directed by William Wyler, it won Best Picture, Best Actor(Frederic March), Best Supporting Actor(Harold Russell), Best Director(Wyler) and Best Screenplay(Robert E. Sherman) at the 1947 Academy Awards.  The Best Years of Our Lives poster 1

The Best Years of Our Lives is about 3 returning WWII veterans, coming back to their lives in a mid-sized American city, coming back to their loved ones, their friends, and hopefully, to their former jobs or careers.  The oldest veteran in our trio is Army Sergeant Al Stephenson(March), a man with a loving wife, two kids, a nice home, and a nice job waiting for him at the bank.  The second veteran is Army Air Corps Captain Fred Derry(Dana Andrews), a former soda jerk for a large drugstore.  Fred has an elderly father, stepmother, and a vivacious wife.  It’s pretty clear that after we see Al’s homecoming and then Fred’s, that Fred lives on the poorer side of town.  The third veteran is sailor Homer Parrish(Russell) who will be coming home to his parents, younger siblings, and the neighbor girl next door, but due to a horrific war injury, he is coming home without his hands, just hooks that he has skillfully learned to use.  We see Homer’s unease and nervousness about seeing his family for the first time with the prosthetic hooks.

The three veterans meet

The three veterans meet

When the three veterans meet, it is evident they didn’t know one another prior to leaving for the War but now they become good friends through their shared experiences of having served their country, having given up part of their former lives in order to fight, and the commonality of trying to adjust to their former lives.  Each goes through a personal battle to regain a foothold in American post-war society.  Al is older, his kids grew up while he was away.  His daughter, Peggy(Teresa Wright) is a college student now and his son, Rob(Michael Hall) is in high school.  He feels distant from them and from his wife, Milly(the outstanding Myrna Loy).  He also has to deal with his wanting to use alcohol too much in  numbing his pain, and clashing at the bank with his boss, Mr. Milton(Ray Collins) over  attempts to ease up on loan regulations for returning veterans.

A neat scene, all is too quiet and Milly leaves the kitchen to see Al standing there!

A neat scene, all is too quiet and Milly leaves the kitchen to see Al standing there!

Al embracing Milly

Al embracing Milly

Al reunited with Milly, and their kids, Peggy and Rob

Al reunited with Milly, and their kids, Peggy and Rob

Fred is warmly greeted by his father, Pat(Roman Bohnen) and his stepmother Hortense(Gladys George), but he notices that his wife, Marie(Virginia Mayo) is not at his father’s house to also greet him.  Pat informs his son that Marie moved out some time ago, that she decided to get her own place.  This news surprises and bothers Fred, as Marie never wrote him about her decision.  He gets the address for Marie’s new place and goes there to greet her, but she isn’t home. Through the course of the movie, we learn that Marie is quite the club hopping gal, that she isn’t happy with Fred’s job as a soda jerk as she wants him to earn more money, and Fred begins to have doubts about his quick, war-time marriage to Marie.

Fred's dad, Pat, and stepmom, Hortense

Fred’s dad, Pat, and stepmom, Hortense

At first, Marie is glad Fred is home

At first, Marie is glad Fred is home

Fred and Marie about to have one of their many arguments

Fred and Marie about to have one of their many arguments

Homer arrives at his home and his family eagerly rushes out the front door to greet him.  The neighbor girl, Wilma(Cathy O’Donnell) and her family are also there to greet Homer.  All are uneasy when they see Homer’s hooks, and his mother breaks down despite trying not to.  After unloading his gear in his boyhood bedroom, Homer decides he needs to get away for a bit and he heads down to his cousin Butch’s (Hoagy Carmichael) bar.  When he arrives, he meets Fred again, who has gone there to mull about he and Marie’s poor marriage.  Pretty soon, they are joined by Al, Milly, and Peggy.  The 5 of them have an enjoyable evening.  Homer catches a cab ride home.  Al and Milly offer to drive Fred over to Marie’s new place, but when Fred passes out due to too much alcohol, the 3 Stephenson’s decide to let him sleep it off in their guest bedroom.  During the night, Fred has a very bad dream and Peggy rushes to his side to help him.  It is then that Peggy and Fred start to develop feelings for one another, but both are cautious due to Fred being a married man.

Homer greeting his family and friends

Homer’s family uneasy about his prosthetic hooks

Explaining how the hooks work to Wilma

Explaining how the hooks work to Wilma

Everyone at Butch's Bar

Everyone at Butch’s Bar

 

As the movie advances from Butch’s Bar, the three veterans have their own personal mountains to overcome.  Peggy decides to inform her parents how she feels about Fred despite he being in a bad marriage.  Her parents try to counsel her that she really cannot know how a marriage really is between two other people and that she should give Fred space to work this out on his own.  Fred needs to decide what he wants to do career -wise, and what to do about Marie.  Homer needs to realize that Wilma loves him, whole-bodied or not.

Hoagy Carmichael doing what he did best!

Hoagy Carmichael doing what he did best!

Peggy listening to her parents advice about Fred

Peggy listening to her parents advice about Fred

The Wedding-very emotional scene!

The Wedding-very emotional scene!

The Best Years of Our Lives will be airing on Turner Classic Movies on Sept. 30th at 1:30 am(EST)/ 12:30 am(CST) so set that dvr machine!  It is also available to view via Amazon.com http://www.amazon.com/The-Best-Years-Our-Lives/dp/0792846133 to either buy or see it on their instant viewing, it is available to rent through Netflix http://movies.netflix.com/WiMovie/The_Best_Years_of_Our_Lives/299970?locale=en-US,  and many clips of famous scenes are up on Youtube.  For an evening in the company of a very true to life tale of returning veterans, don’t miss seeing The Best Years of Our Lives!

One interesting  side note, Harold Russell was not a professional actor.  He was in the US Army during WWII and lost his hands during a training exercise at Camp Mackell, in North Carolina.  A defective fuse detonated on an explosive he was handling, and that is how he lost his hands.  After his recovery and rehabilitation, he was a student at Boston University and had appeared in a film made by the US Army, called Diary of a Sergeant, about the rehabilitation of injured soldiers.  Director William Wyler happened to see that film and cast Russell to play the part of Homer.

My Classic Movie Pick: White Heat

1949 and James Cagney’s independent movie production company wasn’t faring so well.  Warner Brothers came calling, and he agreed to let them help produce and distribute a movie that they had the rights for and wanted him to star in, White Heat, a film noir and one of my favorites of this kind of film: gangsters, criminals, cops, untrustworthy women, and justice for all at the end.White Heat

Cagney plays Cody Jarrett, a criminal leader of a gang.  Cody is married to Verna( Virginia Mayo), his gorgeous and  younger wife.  Also in Cody’s life is his  Ma( Margaret Wycherly).  She is the most important person in Cody’s life, the one woman he always turns to when he has problems as she can usually come up with good solutions.  She is fully supportive of her son’s criminal ways, and when he is hit with those terrible headaches, only Ma can help him through them.

Verna not too happy that Ma Jarrett is a part of her married life to Cody.

Verna not too happy that Ma Jarrett is a part of her married life to Cody.

Ma Jarrett helping Cody as one of those headaches comes on him.

Ma Jarrett helping Cody as one of those headaches comes on him.

Cody and his gang, living in California,  rob a train, killing the engineer and 3 other railroad employees.   The police eventually close in and track Cody and his gang.  Cody wounds Philip Evans(John Archer) a US  Treasury agent  on the chase to bring down Cody Jarrett.   Cody is tricky and smart, despite his ruthless ways and his psychotic antics, and he knows that an acquaintance has committed a robbery in Chicago  the same day as the train robbery in California.  Cody is able to use the robbery in Chicago as his alibi, claiming he did that crime.  He pleads guilty to that crime and gets 1-3 years in an Illinois state  prison.   Evans knows Cody is lying, so he sends in federal agent Hank Fallon(Edmund O’Brien) to pretend to be a criminal newly arriving at the prison and to be Cody’s cellmate.  Fallon is  to try and find out who the “fence” is on the outside, who is Cody sending money to for Ma and Verna and the gang.

Fallon undercover in the prison, trying to get to know Cody.

Fallon undercover in the prison, trying to get to know Cody.

Meanwhile, Verna is tolerating Ma, barely, and  spending time with Big Ed(Steve Cochran), one of Cody’s gang members.  Big Ed tells Verna that he will one day run the gang and to do that, he has someone on the inside at that Illinois prison who will kill Cody for them.  Then they can be together, and get rid of Ma, too.  Unfortunately Big Ed’s plan goes awry, and Fallon sees Cody about to be killed by a prison workplace “accident” and saves Cody in the nick of time!

Verna and Big Ed making their plans.

Verna and Big Ed making their plans.

This film has several memorable scenes and in the prison is one of the best: Cody’s complete psychotic  breakdown when he gets the news that Ma has died.  Cagney didn’t tell the actors in the scene that his big breakdown was coming and the look on Edmund O’Brien’s face is priceless-he is truly shocked and astounded at Cagney’s going berserk in the prison cafeteria.

Here comes that breakdown!

Here comes that breakdown!

After Cody is hauled off to the prison’s infirmary because of  his breakdown,  he sneakily manages a prison breakout, taking Fallon with him.  Cody utterly trusts Fallon, not knowing that Fallon is really a federal agent with the US Treasury Department.  Big Ed learns that Cody is alive and has broken out of jail, and he is very afraid as is Verna.  They try to plan what to do if and when Cody reappears.  It is a great scene when Cody does reappear and confronts Verna, who lies to him about Ma’s death.  Big Ed gets his ultimate reward from Cody and then it is off to the next caper, robbing the payroll of a petroleum plant in Long Beach, California.

Cody gets a criminal pal to steal a tanker truck that picks up products from the petroleum plant.  He tells the gang that they will all hide in the truck, like a Trojan Horse, and be driven into the plant.  From there, they’ll rob the payroll office, and escape in the truck.  Fallon manages to get a message to Evans and a police ambush is set up at the plant, awaiting Cody and the gang’s arrival.  But darn the luck, the driver of the truck recognizes Fallon as an agent who arrested him several years ago!

Fallon manages to escape to the cop side of the oncoming battle at the petroleum plant and  Verna is immediately arrested.  It is now down to a shootout with Cody and his remaining gang members.  The last scene is memorable and Cody’s final line, “Made it Ma!  Top of the World!”,  is a tribute to great screenwriting, direction, cinematography, special effects,  and acting.

"Top of the World!"

“Top of the World!”

I just can’t praise this movie enough.  Yes, some of the characters are horrible people, and you are glad when they get punished.  The acting is so good in this film, and James Cagney is just magnificent as Cody, an  evil criminal with a deep love for his Ma, and those terrible headaches!

White Heat was directed by Raoul Walsh, one of Hollywood’s best, and the screenplay was written by Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts.  The story came from Virginia Kellogg.  Max Steiner created the fantastic music that accompanies the action on the screen.  Kellogg, Goff, and Roberts were nominated for Best Screenplay at the 1950 Academy Awards.  In 2003, White Heat was admitted to the National Film Registry and it is in the top 100 of one of those AFI lists.

White Heat isn’t available on Netflix, but is available to buy or watch instantly on Amazon.  Tuesday, May 21, at 11:45 a.m. (CST) it will be shown on Turner Classic Movies, so set that dvr!

French movie poster for White Heat.

French movie poster for White Heat.

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