Wednesday, March 2, 2011
MOVIE SHOWCASE: WHITE HEAT
Cody Jarrett (James Cagney) is the ruthless, deranged leader of a criminal gang. Although married to Verna (Virginia Mayo), Jarrett is overly attached to his equally crooked and determined mother, "Ma" Jarrett (Margaret Wycherly), his only real confidante. Cody suffers from debilitating headaches and his mother consoles him each time. Early in the film she sits him on her lap and gives him a shot of whiskey with the toast, "Top of the world." It is later revealed that Jarrett's father died in an insane asylum.
Jarrett and his gang rob a train, resulting in the deaths of four members of the train crew and a Jarrett accomplice, Zuckie (Ford Rainey). With the help of informants, the police close in and Jarrett shoots and injures US Treasury investigator Philip Evans (John Archer). Jarrett then confesses to a lesser crime, which was committed by an associate at the same time as the train robbery, thus providing Jarrett with an alibi. He is sentenced to one to three years.
Evans is not fooled. He plants undercover agent Hank Fallon (Edmond O'Brien) in Jarrett's cell; Fallon goes by the name Vic Pardo. His main task is to find the "Trader," a fence who launders stolen money for Jarrett.
Jarrett takes hostages and escapes, along with Pardo, their cellmates and Parker, who is locked in the trunk of the getaway car. Later, when Parker complains, "It's stuffy, I need some air," Jarrett replies, "Oh, stuffy, huh? I'll give ya a little air." He empties his gun into the trunk.
On hearing of Jarrett's escape, Big Ed nervously waits for him to show up. Verna tries to slip away, but she is caught by her husband. She convinces him that Big Ed murdered Ma (though it was really Verna who shot her in the back). Jarrett guns down Big Ed.
The gang welcomes the escapees, including Pardo, for whom Jarrett has developed a genuine liking. Jarrett insists on sharing the proceeds from their robberies with him, stating, "I split even with Ma, didn't I?"
Jarrett intends to steal the payroll at a chemical plant in Long Beach, California by using a large gas truck as a Trojan Horse to hide inside. Pardo manages to get a message to Evans and an ambush is set up. The gang gets into the plant but the driver, Creel (Ian MacDonald), recognizes Pardo as Fallon.
The police surround the building and Evans calls on Jarrett to surrender. Jarrett decides to fight it out. When the police fire tear gas into the office, Fallon manages to escape. All of Jarrett's henchmen are shot by the police, or by Jarrett himself when they try to give themselves up (Verna is taken by the police). Jarrett then flees to the top of a gigantic, globe-shaped gas storage tank. When Fallon shoots Jarrett several times with a rifle, Jarrett starts firing into the tank and shouts, "Made it, Ma! Top of the world!" just before it goes up in a massive explosion.
The train robbery which opens the film appears to have been closely based on the robbery of Southern Pacific's "Gold Special" by the D'Autremont brothers in 1923.
Jimmy Cagney should have won an Oscar for his role...