When I saw ‘White Heat’, It really added a layer onto my opinion of James Cagney, putting him front and center as one my favorite and most watchable of actors. He plays a mobster momma’s boy in the film yet still feels like an ice-cold hard ass. He’s psychologically intoned with his mother, a comforting yet sharply spoken woman, who follows him and his gang across the country. It begins with the Jarrett gang robbing a moving train, where we see just how much of a snake Cody Jarrett, (James Cagney), is. His lack of emotion is characteristic of the mob leader: and in fact is re-enforced by his mother.
The plot behind White Heat is one of considerable complexity: It involves Cody Jarrett submitting himself to prison out of some scheme to save his neck, and an undercover cop, Hank, who shares a cell with the mobster. It eventually leads to the two becoming close inmate friends, and resulting in there mutual escape, along with a handful of other criminals. They’re a fresh gang again, and Cody means to take revenge against a man named Big Ed, a member of his gang, who thinks he can reign over Cody’s men, and mother, while he’s in prison.
The result is a memorable gangster flick with an enticing performance from James Cagney. One of the most famous scenes is while he’s sitting in the prison, eating dinner, when he finds out his mother has been killed: he stands up on the table and screams, going on an angry rampage, punching prison guards while simultaneously weeping uncontrollably. He’s a red-faced bull, and the only person who can tame him, his mother, is now gone forever. Cody Jarrett is more loose and careless than ever.
There are so many subtle hints that make White Heat the masterpiece that it undoubtedly is, building scenarios that seem very much ahead of it’s time. It’s revealed that the father of Jarrett lived in a psyche institute, which creates a new dimension, a second breed of terror about Cody Jarrett’s character; his genes don’t exactly scream of sanity.
The conclusion of the film is a completely riveting third act: Through his final criminal act, we see he is more than a man chasing fast-cash, but a tortured, self-destructive person. He’s truly mad, clearly and simply, and he revels in wrecking havoc and revealing to the world himself and his true nature. It’s stated in the film that he would fake bouts of crying as a child in order to get his mothers attention. Cody Jarrett would never kill himself, no matter the pain he feels. He has to go out with an explosion, with people’s attention, and with that very specific sense of self-superiority he carries within himself.