White Heat is James Cagney all the way. Cagney epitomizes the gangster and struts the psychotic part a little bit better than Edward G. Robinson’s gangster in Key Largo. White Heat is a movie about a troubled gangster played by James Cagney who is lead by his demented mother who is as much a renegade as he is.
Just like a lot of gangster and outlaw flicks of its time it ends with a pejorative bang that immortalizes the antagonist in our hearts, and surprisingly we seem to side with Cagney over the authorities and are with him until the final moments as he says, “mom I’m on top of the world”.
I most like this movie for the acting of Cagney-who plays an enchanting vagabond of a criminal. All of the actors in this movie really give us the bang for are rental in this superb acting achievement.
James Cagney brings the antagonist role to the screen in a fashion that we can’t hate; we get the same feeling we get when we see Heath Ledgers Joker in the Dark Knight. When we watch Heath it is more like watching a piece of diabolical and exciting artwork in motion and we get the same feeling when watching Cagney; however Cagney is slightly more personable. This is emphasized in one of the most scenically comedic parts in this gangster flick, when a traitor to Cagney- who is stuffed in the trunk says, “It’s hot in here, I need some air”. In reply Cagney says, “you want some air, I’ll give ya some air”? And litters the trunk with a barrage of bullets. If you loved Key Largo (Edward G. Robinson), or Angels with Dirty Faces-, which is another Cagney masterpiece, you will love white Heat.