Kehr Capsule of the Week: White Heat (1949)

Raoul Walsh’s heroes had a knack for going too far, but none went further than James Cagney in this roaring 1949 gangster piece. Cagney is a psychotic punk who sleeps in his mother’s lap between jobs; otherwise, he’s continually in motion, blasting away at cops and bystanders. Pure id, he could be the most unbalanced hero in film noir, yet Walsh’s swift, pounding direction keeps you cheering for him up to the famous ending, which finds Cagney shouting “Top of the world, ma!” as the world he ignited goes up in flames. His own energy does him in: he can’t contain it, and he finally explodes—the film leaves you drained and weirdly exhilarated. With Edmond O’Brien, Margaret Wycherly, and Virginia Mayo.

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