Film Noir 2024
35mm Print

White Heat is of an exceptional toughness … Cagney has undoubtedly transformed [this] megalomaniac killer into his best-ever part.”

Raymond Borde and Etienne Chameton, A Panorama of American Film Noir

Categorized in Paul Schrader’s noir dossier as post-hardboiled,” Raoul Walsh’s extremely controlled film about an intemperate anti-hero is one of the masterpieces of American cinema. Based on a story by Virginia Kellogg (also the author behind T‑Men), White Heat was a return to the crime genre for James Cagney after a period of independence from the studios, and he was loath to relinquish his artistic stamp. His agitated walk and unpredictable bursts of energy as Cody Jarrett keep the film in a state of productive tension, while Walsh withholds key information about Cody’s relationships and psychology, preventing White Heat from resembling any normal underworld picture. The film is action packed—prison brawls, strategic car-tailing, and heartless executions—but it also comes loaded with subtext. Walsh foregrounds Cody’s ties to his Ma (and her top of the world” toast) and girlfriend Verna, all while leaving the true fatale figure hidden in plain sight.

The initial montage of White Heat, which compresses James Cagney’s career as a psychotic gangster into a single, slashingly violent train robbery, is perhaps the fastest, poundingest opening in film history.”

Dave Kehr, Chicago Reader

One of the best films of the 1940s … A precursor to the cataclysmic and brutal atomic noirs of the 1950s such as Kiss Me Deadly, White Heats relentless propulsion is a testament to Walsh’s supremely detailed, steely, and unruffled direction.”

Adrian Danks, Senses of Cinema
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