Sunday, August 28, 2016

White Heat

Raoul Walsh 
Hollywood CA 1949

This was to be the last of Cagney’s gangster roles, so they decided to pull out all of the stops and bring the whole thing crashing down at the end.  Between his migraine headaches, epileptic fits and intense fixation on his mother, in Cody Jarrett, with Cagney’s encouragement, Walsh and his screenwriters set about creating the most unlikely hero thus far presented in this already twisted genre.  Once his mom gets shot in the back, Cagney’s character transfers his trust and worship to fellow inmate and savior, Vic Pardo (played by Edmond O’Brien, whose character is really an undercover agent, Hank Fallon, placed in Cody’s prison cell for this very purpose.) 

However, it isn’t only in its emotional and psychological aspects that this film rises to extraordinary heights.  Raoul Walsh was clearly fascinated by all the new gadgets to which the police had access in the wake of WWII. The film has almost a science fiction quality at times, while at others it comes close to documentary.  Frame by frame the film is strikingly composed; and it’s ironic, given that Walsh had only one eye and so no depth perception, that his films exploit and exalt extreme deep focus cinematography as the work of few others have.

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