James Cagney seems to be one of those great actors that just about every film critic loves to watch, or at the very least, my fellow 1001 bloggers. I include myself in that category; if it weren’t for Cagney’s screen presence in films like The Public Enemy or Footlight Parade, I don’t think I could’ve made it through those films. It is to that end that I wistfully partake in, if my research is correct, Cagney’s final film to make the 1001 list, and the last to which I have yet to review. White Heat, directed by Raoul Walsh, is a film noir starring Cagney as a cold-blooded felon, and being a film noir, you know Cagney’s classical gangster persona is going to fit right in.
Walsh has always been an on-the-nose director, and right from the opening credits, you know this is going to be on-the-nose. The story is filled with gangster cliches, the script is riddled with smart, crackling lines that typify the crime-doer’s vernacular, and the music is bombastic in a way that overly heightens the dramatic action. Really, everything about the way this film handles its material and presents it is hyperbolic to an inane degree, but like almost any film noir, it’s the inanity of the presentation that oddly makes it work. We expect a film noir to be somewhat campy, and over-the-top, and White Heat certainly delivers on that regard.
I wasn’t too sure whether I liked this or not. I appreciated the camp value that this brought, and the story was pretty nice, all things considered, but at the same time, the cheese factor seemed like it should put me off, and to that I can derive the thought that it will end up pissing more than a few people off this film. For those of you open to the experience, though, this will provide a nice, thoroughly entertaining romp of a film noir. Just don’t expect a dark, shadowy, serious noir with this; this is more fun and free-wheeling than that. Just be prepared for the anti-noir tone that this has to offer, and that and the always excellent Cagney will be enough to win you over.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10