Cinerama: White Heat

Posted: September 12, 2009 in Cinerama

White heat

By Mike Derderian

Mike Mallet was reaching out to the doorknob when bullets coming out of a Tommy gun riddled his already dying carcass. It all happened so fast and his eyes couldn’t believe that it was Marilyn who shot him in the back.

If it was Eddie the Lady “Three Fingers” Malone, who pulled the trigger, it wouldn’t have been so painful but it was Marilyn, the woman he loved. Mallet always believed that he knew who his enemies were but obviously he was dead wrong.

She left him lying there on the floor of his office. He was in grave pain, bleeding and thinking. The latter part was the worst for him. “Half-dead half-alive, lucky I wasn’t lying in the desert or vultures would be all over me now faster than drooling middle aged men, throwing themselves on Nancy Ajram in an overpriced concert,” Mallet was thinking, “Oops… I meant Haifa Wahbeh.”

He suddenly realized that his vision was becoming blurry. For a moment or two or even three he panicked but then he realized that his spectacles were dirty. He irritably pulled them off and flung them across the floor. The silver framed glasses dropped on a pile of old newspapers that were stacked under the windowsill.

That afternoon the sun was bright. The light penetrating from the window dropped on the oblique lenses, which in turn made the rays focus into a blazing beam that slowly burned through the stack of papers. “Damn, why did I let Gladys clean the windows yesterday? The dirt and dust would have prevented the sun from entering,” Mallet angrily grumbled in his mind.

Heavy white smoke gradually reached the roof and sifted through the air panel of the smoke detector. “Great I’m saved. The fire alarm will go off and people will rush to the office,” Mallet, who was unable to crawl any more and out of breath because of his wounds, thought. “But wait… I disconnected the smoke detector last week because every time I smoked my cigars it went off screeching like a banshee.”

As the temperature of the room became unbearable Mallet’s eyes caught glimpse of the white heat coming out of the red flames. It was at that moment that he remembered James Cagney famous line in Raoul Walsh’s 1949 gangster classic White Heat.

“‘Made it, Ma! Top of the world.” Well that was Cody Jarrett’s line and I’m afraid mine was gonna be: “I’m on the floor Ma… and about to burn, unless I do something!”

Suddenly the exhausted writer—me—realized that he was running out of space and it was time to write about James Cagney and one of his most memorable movie roles. Did you know the American Film Institute placed Jarret’s one liner “Made it, Ma! Top of the world,” at number 18 in a list of 100 best movie quotes remembered by the public. Guess you didn’t!

White Heat is the story of a man, his mother, his wife and the other man. It is a story spawned by malice and evil in which the vengeful antagonist is caught in a web of deceit, hate and death. It is the story of Arthur “Cody” Jarrett, a merciless gangster and psychopath, who has a slight case of mother fixation. Cross this guy and your body will be cross-examined by the mortician.

The moment the opening credits rolled by I found myself glued to the couch for an entire 114 minutes, especially after I watched the train robbery teaser scene. Once you see Jimmy delivering movie lines in his ice-cold manner of speech on screen you’ll know that this is a movie you don’t want to miss.

I’ve seen him in three other movies and in each one I couldn’t stop myself from admiring the man. Cagney is like wine and his piquant charisma becomes tastier with the passing of each year and if you want a sip of his acting here are three movies that will impress you to a standing ovation: Angels with Dirty Faces (1938), One, Two, Three (1961) and The Mayor of Hell (1933).

Cagney, throughout his electrifying performance in White Heat, was supported by an ensemble of Hollywood heavyweights like Virginia Mayo and Edmond O’Brien, in addition to John Archer, Steve Cochran and Margaret Wycherly, as Ma Jarrett, Cody’s pampering mother. But believe me she’s no Mother Teresa.

The ruthless woman helps her son run his gang and doesn’t seem bothered by her son’s murderous nature. Thanks to Wycherly’s performance Ma Jarrett came out quite believable and blood-curdling. She gave me the chills and she will do the same to you.

After the train heist and a bellyful of killings, Cody and his gang decide to keep a low profile until the Heat—a North-American slang for police—wavers away. Cody’s two-time and no good cheating wife Verna (Mayo), who isn’t very content with her on-the-run underground life and husband, begins to fool around with Cody’s second man Big Ed Somers (Cochran).

Verna, who looks good even when she is dressed in a shower curtain according to Cody, is a modern day Delilah and Mayo brilliantly played on that. You’ll fall for her charm and sympathize with her female frailty that curtains the personality of a femme fatal. I believe Shakespeare said it best when Hamlet said, “frailty thy name is woman” but after watching White Heat one can simply say, “‘frailty thy name is Verna.’”

In order to escape the gas chamber Cody gave himself up in a different state and is imprisoned after being found guilty for a robbery that he brilliantly orchestrated. Relentless police detective Philip Evans (Archer) decides to send in an undercover cop called Hank Fallon (O’Brien), who will befriend Cody in prison and squeeze some information out of the crook.

Little does Fallon know that the only squeeze he’ll get is the one he will be in after being involved with Cody.

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