White Heat, Raoul Walsh (1949)

Annex - Cagney, James (White Heat)_NRFPT_02
I won’t say they don’t make ’em like this any more; I’ll say this is where they learned how to make ’em. White Heat is an early zenith of the form, where the hardboiled sensationally violent stuff that went before (The Public Enemy is a great example) gets tempered with subtle, truly fascinating psychological character development. You couldn’t have Michael Corleone or Tony Soprano without Cody Jarrett. Jimmy Cagney’s Jarrett is a ruthless boss, but utterly helpless to his Oedipus complex, and Edmond O’Brien is deliciously nuanced as the undercover cop who slowly insinuates himself into the position of Cody’s absent mother, so as to betray him in spectacular fashion. It’s a crisp and vivid gangster picture, but it’s also a perfect Freudian nightmare of betrayal and frustrated desire. It could only have been better if the gang would have used an empty milk truck instead of a gas truck as their Trojan horse. Bonus points for Walsh’s always-hilarious fascination with technology and procedure; the long and exhaustively explained process of triangulating the location of the bad guys using radio transmitters (little Teletubby antennae affixed to the roofs of squad cars) cracks me up almost as much as my all time favorite “Report all changes as they occur” assault planning sequence in Objective, Burma! God bless AMC.

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