Warner Brothers weren't kidding when they put the title "White Heat" on the new James Cagney picture, which came to the Strand yesterday. They might have gone several points higher in the verbal caloric scale and still have understated the thermal intensity of this film. For the simple fact is that Mr. Cagney has made his return to a gangster role in one of the most explosive pictures that he or anyone has ever played.
If that is inviting information to the cohorts of thriller fans, whose eagerness this reviewer can readily understand, let us soberly warn that "White Heat" is also a cruelly vicious film and that its impact upon the emotions of the unstable or impressionable is incalculable. That is an observation which might fairly be borne in mind by those who would exercise caution in supporting such matter on the screen.
For there is no blinking the obvious: the Warners have pulled all the stops in making this picture the acme of the gangster-prison film. They have crammed it with criminal complications—some of them old, some of them glittering new—pictured to technical perfection in a crisp documentary style. And Mr. Cagney has played it in a brilliantly graphic way, matching the pictorial vigor of his famous "Public Enemy" job.
Indeed, as the ruthless gang-leader in this furious and frightening account of train-robbery, prison-break, gang war and gun fighting with the police, Mr. Cagney achieves the fascination of a brilliant bull-fighter at work, deftly engaged in the business of doing violence with economy and grace. His movements are supple and electric, his words are as swift and sharp as swords and his whole manner carries the conviction of confidence, courage and power.
If you think Mr. Cagney looked brutal when he punched Mae Clark in the face with a ripe grapefruit in "Public Enemy," you should see the sweet and loving things he does to handsome Virginia Mayo, who plays his low-grade wife in this film. Or you should scan the exquisite indifference with which he "lets a little air" into the trunk compartment of an auto in which is locked a treacherous "friend."
And Mr. Cagney's performance is not the only one in this film. Director Raoul Walsh has gathered vivid acting from his whole cast. Miss Mayo, in fact, is excellent as the gangster's disloyal spouse—brassy, voluptuous and stupid to just the right degree. And Edmund O'Brien does a slick job as a Treasury Department T-man who gets next to the gang-boss in prison and works into a place of favor in his mob. Steve Cochran is ugly as an outlaw, John Archer is stout as a Treasury sleuth and Margaret Wycherly is darkly invidious as the gangster's beloved old "ma."
Perhaps her inclusion in the story is its weakest and most suspected point, for the notion of Mr. Cagney being a "mama's boy" is slightly remote. And this motivation for his cruelty, as well as for his frequent howling fits, is convenient, perhaps, for novel action but not entirely convincing as truth.
However, impeccable veracity is not the first purpose of this film. It was made to excite and amuse people. And that it most certainly does.
I love this movie and reading that "NY Times" review makes me want to see it again soon! Have you ever seen White Heat? If you love a gritty crime drama, you'll really enjoy it!
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