Cody Jarrett is the sadistic leader of a ruthless gang of cut throat criminals. Afflicted by terrible migraine headaches and obsessively devoted to his ‘Ma’, Cody is a volatile, violent, and eccentric character. Cody’s top henchman wants to lead the gang and attempts to arrange an accident for Cody, while he is running the gang from behind bars. But Cody is saved by an undercover cop, who thereby befriends him and infiltrates the gang. Finally, the stage is set for Cody’s ultimate betrayal and downfall, during a big heist at a chemical plant.
Breaking ground for even more creepy criminals, Cody Jarrett is dominated to incestuous excess by his she-wolf of a mother, Ma Jarrett (modeled on Kate “Ma” Barker and played to excellence by Margaret Wycherly). These two are not people you would want to cross: Cody is capable of acts of extreme violence, and Ma Jarrett will go to great lengths to protect her son. She has even less fear then he.
Featuring one of the best endings and most quoted movie lines in film history, WHITE HEAT has gone to universal acclaim and has been referenced numerous times in countless films.
If the surprise expressed by James Cagney’s fellow inmates during “the telephone game” scene in the prison dining room appears real, it’s because it is.
Director Raoul Walsh didn’t tell the rest of the cast what was about to happen, so Cagney’s outburst caught them by surprise. In fact, Walsh himself didn’t know what Cagney had planned; the scene as written wasn’t working, and Cagney had an idea. He told Walsh to put the two biggest extras playing cons in the mess-hall next to him on the bench (he used their shoulders to boost himself onto the table) and to keep the cameras rolling no matter what.
In the prison eating hall scene when Cody Jarrett finds out his mother is dead, one of the cons who passes the word to him is sports legend Jim Thorpe.