#95 White Heat

Watched: April 02 2017

Director: Raoul Walsh

Starring: James Cagney, Virginia Mayo, Edmond O’Brien, Margaret Wycherly

Year: 1949

Runtime: 1h 54min

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After ten years, and 48 entries, James Cagney is back, and we’re thrilled. Cody Jarrett (Cagney) leads a gang of hoodlums with the help of his Ma (Wycherly) with whom he has a relationship worthy of a Freudian study. After several deaths during a train robbery perpetrated by him and his gang, Cody decides to take the rap for another, less violent crime committed at the same time to avoid a life and/or death sentence.

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He seems sadder about leaving his Ma for two years than about leaving his hot wife. See “Freud” above.

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Meanwhile, the man in charge of investigating the train robbery decides to put one of his men, Hank (O’Brien), undercover in Cody’s prison cell to get to the bottom of the case since he knows it was Cody’s doing. Hank’s task is to gain Cody’s trust and get a confession. Or, as it turns out, join him in a prison break and become his right hand man after unfortunate events and treacherous gang members throw Cody’s world off balance.

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“It’s guy love between two guuuuys”

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White Heat is an action-packed noir-thriller-prison break-heist-crime-gangster-film with all the elements we still see in the genre(s). The Cagney Charisma makes you sort of root for him a bit no matter how amoral and unscrupulous his character may be, although in this case it could be partly because the people with which he surrounds himself are pretty much as bad as he is.

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Examples include, but are not limited to, his beautiful but duplicitous wife Verna (Mayo)

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Cagney’s undeniable charm aside, we found ourselves rooting more and more for Hank as the story progressed, and we were really impressed with the often sophisticated investigative and forensic tools employed by the police in this film – they felt very modern to us. We also kind of loved Ma Jarrett although, like her son, she’s a bit of a manipulative sociopath.

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Cody is deliciously insane though, so Ma may have been a stabilizing influence in his life

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It’s a dramatic film with a dramatic score. The storyline is one which would probably have been stretched into an entire season of a TV show nowadays, so with a run time of under two hours, it never gets dull. Very good indeed, and we loved being back in the company of James Cagney.

What we learned: We might all profit from a closer study of classic literature.

Next time: All About Eve (1950)

#47 The Roaring Twenties

Watched: October 17 2016

Director: Raoul Walsh

Starring: James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, Priscilla Lane, Gladys George, Jeffrey Lynn, Frank McHugh

Year: 1939

Runtime: 1h 46min

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It’s World War One and two guys are doing their best to smoke a cigarette in a shell hole during the fighting. A third guy joins them and they gradually strike up a friendship despite being from very different walks of life; Eddie Bartlett (Cagney) is a mechanic, George Hally (Bogart) is the son of a bar owner, and Lloyd Hart (Lynn) is a lawyer.

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Sharing a smoke and a shell hole in WWI = best friends forever!

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Upon returning home after the war, the three go their seperate ways and we follow Bartlett as he goes back to his old friend and his old job only to find that the world has moved on and there’s no work for him. To make matters even worse, Eddie decides to look up his old penpal from the war, Jean (the ridiculously gorgeous Priscilla Lane), and discovers she’s a school kid. To his credit, he walks away.

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“I’ll just look you up in three years, dollface!”

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He moves in with his friend Danny Green (McHugh) and they take turns driving Danny’s taxi to make a living. After Eddie is arrested for unwittingly smuggling rum into a bar, he realises that there’s money in illegal alcohol and he starts producing and delivering his own, with the help of Danny, the fabulous Panama Smith (George) and his old lawyer friend from the war. He makes it big, runs into (the now legal) Jean again and starts to pursue her, with varied success. She tries, but fails, to fall in love with Eddie.

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“I appreciate the job and the pressies, but I think I’m just gonna fuck your friend instead. #friendzone!”

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George Hally comes back into their lives and the business keeps growing. However, Hally’s ruthlessness and tendency towards violence push Lloyd away and drive Eddie to become more violent himself. When prohibition ends, Eddie has lost it all – his business, his girl, his best friends and his sobriety. Panama stands by him, but he becomes a drunk and reverts to taxi driving again.

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While Hally keeps up his violent criminal career with considerable more success.

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Eddie is short tempered, proud and impulsive, but he’s not a really bad guy, more a victim of circumstance and his own ambition. Hally is more the psychopath – the one who delights in violence and excessive force. Panama and Danny are easily the most likable characters, and in many ways the most innocent victims of Eddie and Hally.

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She’s also the most fabulous character. You can’t go wrong with polka dots and feathers!

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We loved the voice-over and the documentary feel of The Roaring Twenties. The plot and the characters are intriguing and the film was strangely educational, like a very engaging history lesson. Our love for James Cagney is still going strong – whether he’s playing a gangster or he’s dancing and singing, he is mesmerizing.

What we learned: don’t drink and drive, kids! Also, we learned a lot of stuff about the USA between 1920 and 1939. Thank you, voice-over dude!

Next time: The Wizard of Oz (1939)