September 6, 1949 [White Heat]

Watching Jimmy Cagney as Cody Jarrett in White Heat made my head hurt, in sympathy for Jarrett’s psychopathic migraines, soothed only by sitting on his mother’s lap--having just dispatched some poor lug locked in his trunk by cheerfully ventilating it for him--the implications difficult to consider.

Is any actor so willing to be anything the movie calls for? There is nothing about Jarrett I can like--he is even less approachable than Cagney’s Public Enemy almost twenty years earlier, when the movies seemed ready to indulge in whatever it took to keep us from our radios. And Cagney is so darned likeable, a grownup Mickey Rooney--and a master of sneering charm. I can still see him swatting around the Dead End kids more than a decade ago in Angels with Dirty Faces, laughing with his eyes while he growled them into goodness. And then his agony at the end, willing to slobber like a punk to destroy the idol and give his younger versions a second chance.

Oh, how Cody would have laughed at that other hoodlum--before pistol-whipping him to death, just for fun. In White Heat Cagney’s gangster turns everything--his guilty love for his mother, his self-hatred--first outward, then inward, until he bursts like those tanks at the end, like Hiroshima, desperate measures heat-blasting the problem into vapor.


  1. Cagney as a grown-up Mickey Rooney. Wow. The mind boggles and the head nods.


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