From Forum Without a Name:
Ted Fontenot: Hadn't seen i White Heatin a long time when it played a couple of weekends ago on TCM. What a performance by Cagney? He's so fantastically a "character" yet very real. Seems like I've been around a number of people like that, guys who you never knew what they might do. I usually just detached myself from them as quickly as possible and as often as I needed to.
Nevertheless, I think he should have done something horrible to the Virginia Mayo (who, in a dead on performance, may be the most gorgeous killer bitch ever) character. In terms of his character and the movie's aesthetics, it was crying out for him to do so. That he didn't, considering what his mother meant to him and Mayo's connivance in her demise, it takes some of the heat out of the last 20 minutes or so.
I thought there was still enough going on that it ultimately doesn't matter--that relationship he has with Edmund O'Brien for example--understated enough to be moving, intense enough to be creepy (why the hell does he feel the need for such close male companionship), the moment when he realizes O'Brien's betrayal is something to behold. Not to mention the next few minutes.
ted fontenot: What can't be explained away is that Cody knew his tramp of a wife had colluded to do his mother in--yet, he lets her off. It's, like, forgotten. Of course, like I said, Mayo is so damn beautiful, you could see that as the reason--if it were addressed that way. But, is there anything that shows he's obsessed with her, overcomed in some way by her?
Cagney is so outrageously direct, so insistently in your face, he makes John Wayne and Bogart look fey in comparison. It is said that even (Raoul) Walsh was thrown by Cagney's reaction scene in prison where Cody learns of his mother's death.
The camera looks as if it had to take a step back, to keep from being pulled in.