It offers up such unashamed villainy that it's no surprise it serves as a blueprint for every decent crime film since. The bastardry on display so gleeful that not even nearly equal screen-time for the cops can convince crime doesn't pay. But it's lean to a fault, so calculated and efficient that I wonder what its perverse oedipal implications would manifest in scenes other than heist plotting.
An iconic turn by James Cagney ('top of the world ma') makes up for a pretty creaky plot besides its overt Oedipal undertone. Cagney plays a distrustful brute of a criminal taken in by an undercover operative who is to bring the crook and his fence to justice. Overlong but mostly entertaining with good supporting turns by Virginia Mayo, Margaret Wycherly and Edmond O'Brien.
This movie's urgency comes from the fact that no one is on the same page for more than a few minutes at a time and even the plans that seem feasible are undone by virtue of being composed by people who are untrustworthy, bloodthirsty d-bags. I don't know many old crime movies that are this manically paced; I'm glad I took the chance on this one.
Raoul Walsh's WHITE HEAT (1949) is a transformational film in the gangster movie genre. Cagney's Cody Jarrett isn't just motivated by greed, he's a mentally ill sadist who kills for fun. The film falls almost exactly between PUBLIC ENEMY (1931) and BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967), and it marks an evolution point for the genre, w/ frank depictions of violence, complex characters & extensive location photography. (9/22/11 TCM)