White Heat: Hers & His Perspectives

For the sixth installment in our 2023 Classic Couple Movie Challenge, we offer our take on White Heat (1949).


White Heat is the most gangster of gangster films. It’s got it all in a fast-paced story involving a merciless gang of criminals, gun molls and dames, hard-nosed cops, and naive prison guards.

James Cagney as psychopathic criminal Cody Jarrett gives a terrifying performance as the ruthless leader of the Jarrett Gang of gangsters central to the film. Cagney’s performance as a cold-hearted killer is only slightly more terrifying than that of Margaret Wycherly playing his controlling mother, Ma Jarrett. Ma’s the stony-hearted puppet master, pulling the strings of her criminal son as she unabashedly supports his violent ways and does whatever necessary to keep her son in control of the gang. The pair are the ultimate baddies who bring intensity to their performances, the white heat that burns up the screen. And that relationship plays out nowhere more than White Heat‘s spectacular ending, one of the most iconic scenes in cinema history.


“Made it, Ma! Top of the world!” 

In the final scene of White Heat, Cagney delivers one of the most known movie quotes from Old Hollywood. The scene fully depicts the madness and the bravado of an all-in, through-and-through gangster. And Cagney’s performance is absolutely iconic. There simply was no better gangster.