White Heat

Film, Thrillers
  • 5 out of 5 stars
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White Heat = Scarface + Psycho. Cagney sits in his mother's lap as they plan their heists together with plans provided by classical mythology. In the prison canteen, they tell him she's dead, and he lurches, whimpers, and punches everybody in his way. Finally cornered by the cops on top of an oil refinery, he yells 'Made it Ma, to the top of the world, Ma!' and empties his gun into the gas tank to join her in gangster heaven. Despite chronology (deranged by the censor's influence on the studios), this is really the fitting climax of the '30s gangster movie.

By: PH

Release details

Rated: 15
Duration: 114 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Raoul Walsh
Screenwriter: Ivan Goff, Ben Roberts
Cast: James Cagney
Virginia Mayo
Edmond O'Brien
Margaret Wycherly
Steve Cochran
John Archer
Paul Guilfoyle
Fred Clark

Average User Rating

5 / 5

Rating Breakdown

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Julie R
Tastemaker

I went to see this film at the BFI as part of the 'Screen Epiphanies' where a person in the film industry talks about a film that inspired them to join the industry, followed by the screening of that film.  This was Tim McInnerny introducing White Heat.  Where they discussed the film before, it gave me more appreciation of for good the film was for it's time and means that I have rated it higher than I might have had I just watched it on its own.


It is a James Cagney gangster film and he is the head of a gang who pull of a mail train heist and the story follows the gang after the heist as they try to evade the law.  The character Cagney plays is a complex character, being both a gangster and a mummy's boy with some sort of mental health issues.  This was one of the earliest examples of method acting.


The film was made in 1949, but I was interested to see that the police had car phones, fingerprint and soot analysis and a rudimentary form of GPS tracking - was this technology available at the time, or was it a bit futuristic?  I don't know, but for me it added a bit more interest to the film as it wasn't just the usual standard police chases and there was a bit of intelligence involved.  It was seen as a very violent film at the time.


There was also a bit of humour in the film, the most memorable being a 'Dad's Army' moment, when during the robbery on the train one of the gang called him by his name to which he replied something like, 'why don't you give them my address as well'?