WHITE HEAT (1949)

Cody Jarrett is the sadistic leader of a ruthless gang of thieves. Afflicted by terrible headaches and fiercely devoted to his ‘Ma,’ Cody is a volatile, violent, and eccentric leader. Cody’s top henchman wants to lead the gang and attempts to have an ‘accident’ happen to Cody, while he is running the gang from in jail. But Cody is saved by an undercover cop, who thereby befriends him and infiltrates the gang. Finally, the stage is set for Cody’s ultimate betrayal and downfall, during a big heist at a chemical plant. All the locations and bearings radioed back and forth during the triangulation tracking of the gasoline truck, as it moves southwest across the Los Angeles basin, are accurate. They can all be found on a modern map of Los Angeles. Even the view of the Los Angeles City Hall shows up at the appropriate time. If the surprise expressed by James Cagney’s fellow inmates during “the telephone game” scene in the prison dining room appears real, it’s because it is. Director Raoul Walsh didn’t tell the rest of the cast what was about to happen, so Cagney’s outburst caught them by surprise. In fact, Walsh himself didn’t know what Cagney had planned; the scene as written wasn’t working, and Cagney had an idea. He told Walsh to put the two biggest extras playing cons in the mess-hall next to him on the bench (he used their shoulders to boost himself onto the table) and to keep the cameras rolling no matter what. The unusually close relationship between Cody Jarrett and his domineering mother was inspired by real life bank robbers Kate Barker (aka “Ma Barker”) and her sons. Ranked #4 on the American Film Institute’s list of the 10 greatest films in the genre “Gangster” in June 2008. The train robbery was filmed using the former Southern Pacific tunnel in Chatsworth, CA. The Line is now owned by Union Pacific and was the location of a tragic 2008 head-on collision that killed 25 people.

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