White Heat (1949)

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Released 9-Aug-2005

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio
Audio Commentary-Drew Casper (Film Historian)
Featurette-Warner Night At The Movies, With Intro By Leonard Maltin
Featurette-White Heat: Top Of The World
Theatrical Trailer-White Heat
Theatrical Trailer-The Fountain Head
Short Film-Newsreel
Short Film-So You Think You're Not Guilty
Short Film-Homeless Hare
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1949
Running Time 108:44
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (46:52) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4,5 Directed By Raoul Walsh

Warner Home Video
Starring James Cagney
Virginia Mayo
Edmond O'Brien
Margaret Wycherly
Steve Cochran
John Archer
Wally Cassell
Fred Clark
Case ?
RPI $19.95 Music Max Steiner

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
Italian for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    It is the star power of James Cagney in the lead role of White Heat that easily identifies it as a gangster film. Made well after the classic gangster genre period of the 1930s, it is really a genre hybrid of gangster films, prison drama, and police procedural thriller. Cagney is Cody Jarrett, the leader of a ruthless band of bank robbers, husband to the beautiful Verna (Virginia Mayo) - "you'd look good in a shower curtain", and devoted son to his Ma (a witch-like performance by Margaret Wycherly).

    White Heat opens in a very un-gangster style way, with Jarrett and his gang holding up a train before holing up in a secluded shack. Tensions are present right from the start under Raoul Walsh's no nonsense economical direction: the gang is grumbling, Big Ed (Steve Cochran) is plotting, Verna is pouting, and Jarrett is suffering from crippling headaches. As a vague yet striking manifestation of Jarrett's psychosis, the white heat intensity of the film's title, his headaches can only be soothed by the caring and nurturing of his dear old Ma. Cagney's performance is also white hot for its intensity, almost a parody of the cinematic gangsters he was so well-known for, such as in The Public Enemy, Angels with Dirty Faces, and The Roaring Twenties. In White Heat Cagney delivers the dynamic physicality he was famous for, but the rage and vitality of Jarrett, not to mention his overt mother fixation, is a step further into a Freudian/Oedipal fuelled psychosis.

    To avoid a federal indictment for the train robbery, Jarrett hits on the cunning plan of taking the heat for a lesser crime committed at the same time, with the expectation of serving only two years instead of twenty. However, the Feds are on to him, and so Evans (John Archer) concocts a plan to have undercover specialist Hank Fallon (Edmond O'Brien) pose as Vic Pardo, recently convicted and placed in Jarrett's cell. The plan is that when Jarrett gets lonely and talkative Fallon/Pardo will be there to hear the incriminating confession. Everyone's plans start to come undone when Ma starts to lose control of the gang on the outside, Verna falls for the suave good looks of Big Ed, and Jarrett decides to make a jail break.

    Jarrett is no exception to the characters Cagney has created before, only this time his performance pushes the extremes of depicted psychosis almost to the point of parody. It is a credit to Cagney's extraordinary ability that he can pull off this frightening yet sympathetic performance. The biggest difference in White Heat is that the gangster never really seems to be a gangster in and of the city in the way that Tom Powers from The Public Enemy and Eddie Bartlett from The Roaring Twenties were. Much of White Heat has the style of a rural caper film, such as the beginning during the train robbery and its aftermath, the entire second act is set in the prison, and the final act is set either in rural locations or the undeveloped suburbs of LA. During only one scene does Jarrett dress in the fashion of a mobster, a pin-striped suit and fedora. The cinematic gangster is always on the run and it's just a matter of time before he runs out of places to run. Even the film's dramatic climax is outside the city, in an oil refinery, a location ripe for an explosive finale and Jarrett's famous shout, "Top of the World, Ma!"

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Transfer Quality


    White Heat is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, which is very close to its original of 1.37:1, and is of course not 16x9 enhanced.

    For a film this old, the transfer is very good and extremely pleasing to the eye. It is very sharp throughout, the blacks and the shadows are fantastic, particularly in a film with so many gritty and realistic night shots, and there is not much in the way of low level noise. It is also black and white, so there is no colour to speak of.

    However, there are problems due to the film's age, but surprisingly few. At 3:58 - 4:00 there is an extremely grainy shot, which is impossible to miss. Also, at 41:04 - 42:10 and 48:30 - 48:39 there are problems of high grain (although not to the extent of the first case), and both shots also suffer from compression artefacts. There is the occasional problem of softness, but it is not consistent or intrusive.

    There is a mild problem of pixelization with this transfer which tends to be noticeable during close ups. There are only mild examples of aliasing, such as at 91:15 - 91:22 on the truck grille, and there is no obvious telecine wobble.

    The subtitles are mostly very accurate, only occasionally dropping words such as names.

    This is an RSDL disc and the layer change is placed at 46:52. It was so quick and subtle that I missed it the first time, and even double checked it when I did notice it.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    There are three audio tracks here: the default English track, plus an Italian dub, and the commentary. Each is Dolby Digital 1.0, encoded at 192Kb/s.

    The dialogue quality is perfectly fine for an old mono track, and the only audio sync problems had to do with some ADR work, such as at 84:55 - 86:18. When Jarrett and Fallon/Pardo are talking on a windy night underneath a tree it is quite obvious that dialogue is ADR and doesn't seem natural at all.

    The music is credited to the famous Max Steiner, a frequent collaborator with Raoul Walsh. Whether capturing the mood of the on screen action or psychology (or psychosis) of the characters, Steiner's score is always appropriate, and never intrudes on the dialogue or other sound effects.

    This is a mono track, so there is no surround or subwoofer activity.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    As part of the Warner Home Video gangster collection, White Heat also includes the 'Warner Night at the Movies' theme, which mimics the presentation of films back in the earlier decades of last century. There is an introduction by Leonard Maltin, a newsreel, and a small collection of shorts of varying quality before the main feature begins. All the extras are 1.33:1 with two channel sound.


    The main menu has a picture of James Cagney and Virginia Mayo on one side of the menus and Cagney alone on the other side. It is 16x9 enhanced and is accompanied by music from the film.

Warner Night at the Movies

    This brings up another menu, which includes an introduction, plus access to a number of the DVD extras, but not all of them, as well as the film itself. (The film can also be accessed from the main menu of course, and there is a separate Special Features menu.)

Introduction (2:57)

    Leonard Maltin introduces the 'Night at the Movies', from on the famous Warner backlots. He enthusiastically summarises the film and the features that are also on this second menu, which is nice way to start a night at the movies.

Theatrical Trailer: The Fountain Head (2:17)

    Starring Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal, The Fountain Head is based on the novel by Ayn Rand. This is a famous melodrama, directed by King Vidor, which I have unfortunately never seen. Hopefully the presence of this trailer might anticipate its DVD appearance in the near future.

Newsreel (1:29)

    This is a highlights reel of the twelve months of 1949, as a prelude to the coming half-century. This newsreel is almost useless, especially compared to those included on the other Warner Bros. gangster films. Most of the footage is of the inauguration of President Truman, and is mostly silent or accompanied by a trumpeting fanfare. Much of the footage is of crowds and long shots of the presidential motorcade.

So You Think You're Not Guilty (10:29)

    This is a funny short starring George O'Hanlon as the trouble-magnet Joe McDoakes. When an indecisive traffic signal confuses McDoakes he almost causes a traffic accident and attracts the attention of a cop. Self-righteousness gets the better of him, and he refuses to admit he was in the wrong or to pay the $2 fine. Instead, he sticks up for himself and goes to jail instead.

Homeless Hare (7:05)

    Starring Bugs Bunny and directed by Chuck Jones, this Merrie Melody tells a typical tale of our favourite rabbit using his wits and a preternatural ability to transcend the laws of physics in serving justice on a building worker who has uprooted his cosy hole. Typical? Sure. Great? Of course.

Theatrical Trailer: White Heat (2:18)

    Packed full of shooting, punching, kicking, and explosions, this trailer is really advertising the return of Cagney to the gangster genre which made him so famous, but doesn't bother with any real narrative development.

Featurette - White Heat: Top of the World (16:51)

    This is a talking head documentary featuring a number film academics, historians and biographers, along with Martin Scorsese, praising White Heat as one of the premier gangster films of the period, as well as the relationship between Cody Jarrett and the gangsters Cagney has previously depicted during the earlier history of the genre. They provide information about Cagney's antipathy towards the genre and his attempts, with mixed results, to form his own independent production company. The high profile failure of one project lead him back to Warner Bros. and the gangster genre to make White Heat.

Commentary - Drew Casper (Professor of Film, USC)

    I listened to this commentary from start to finish and absolutely hated it. But that's not to say that Drew Casper is not an expert in his field, which he obviously is, or that he is not full of interesting and detailed information about Cagney and his career, and White Heat, plus the key members of the production. Unfortunately, Casper has a flair for the dramatic, which he combines with a scripted approach to his commentary, to produce a tedious and melodramatic presentation that often resorts to pretentious lecturing. Some might like it, but I much prefer my commentaries casual and laid back.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    Once again, this is one of the Warner Bros. classic gangster films which was released in Region 1 in January of this year. Everything, with the exceptions of the Italian dub and some extra subtitles on the local disc, seems to be identical, right down to the menus. You would do best to take the local disc for the PAL transfer.


    This is a classic gangster film from the late 40s, starting James Cagney in one of his most memorable and startling performances. It's not as great as The Roaring Twenties or The Public Enemy, but there's still a lot of exciting fun to be had.

    The video quality is very good for a film over fifty years old; there are blemishes on the source print, but the transfer is mostly up to scratch.

    The audio quality is perfectly fine, if unexceptional. It is old and it is mono, but it does the job required of it.

    The extras are a great addition to this film and enhance the experience and understanding for the audience.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Michael Cohen (read my bio)
Thursday, October 20, 2005
Review Equipment
DVDPhilips 860, using RGB output
DisplaySony 76cm FD Trinitron WEGA KV-HX32 M31. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver.

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