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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Made it Ma, Top of the World!

Turner Classic Movies is in the middle of their annual Month of Oscar nominees (which really makes me wish I had a cable-box on the television in my room) and today I caught White Heat, a James Cagney gangster movie from 1949.

Cagney is great as gang-leader Cody Jarrett, a homicidal maniac with a serious mommy-complex. Ma Jarrett is not your normal loving and caring mother, however. When Cagney falsely takes a small rap to avoid prosecution for the more heinous crime he actually committed, Ma tries to take over the gang.

The first ten minutes of the movie are devoted to showing how crazy and murderous Cagney's Jarrett really is. He's shown needlessly gunning down train engineers in the course of a robbery and refusing to get a doctor for a member of the gang whose face is scalded. He's also shown gripping his skull in agony and needing his mother's affection to get through the spell.

The movie really picks up after Cagney goes into prison for his false rap. Turns out the feds know what Cagney is trying to pull, and they're going to put a man in his cell to try and get the real dirt. The rest of the movie follows Agent Fallon's efforts to cozy up to Cagney and avoid having his real identity discovered. There are some interesting twists, a remarkably well-executed jailbreak and a final shootout, all leading to one of the most famous lines in movie history. (See: the title of this post.)

White Heat is a taut and tense thrill-ride made a classic by the unforgettable performance by Cagney. I'll give it 8.2 out of 10.

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