The tight-lipped scowl, the hunched shoulders that rear themselves for the kill, the gargoyle speech, the belching gunfire of a trigger-happy paranoiac – one with a mother complex, no less – these are the standard and still-popular ingredients that constitute the James Cagney of White Heat. All that is missing is the grapefruit in a dame’s physiog.
White Heat [suggested by a story by Virginia Kellogg] specifically is about a killer over whom only his mother can wield any influence. He heads a western gang, with his mother and his double-dealing wife along for company.
Cagney has an excellent supporting cast. Steve Cochran makes a good-looking, doublecrossing mobster’s aide whose ambition for the gang leadership, and the leader’s wife, ends in a rain of bullets. It’s a capable performance. Virginia Mayo has little to do except look sexy as the wife.
1949: Nomination: Best Motion Picture Story