The Story (continued)
White Heat (1949)
After convincingly lying and telling Cody that Big Ed killed his mother (and shot her in the back) and then forced her to go along, a quick-thinking Verna warns Cody that Big Ed has "got the house rigged up like a trap." She carefully leads him into the house - Cody jingles the door alarm device to alert Big Ed. Upstairs in his room, Big Ed has placed pillows beneath his blankets to look like a sleeping man and he waits in the shadows with his gun. When Verna enters the room by herself, she is held at gunpoint and confesses: "I was gonna take the car and beat it. I was scared. But I don't wanta go anymore." With his back to the door, Ed - now off-guard, pulls her to himself, inquiring: "Still got nerves?" Suddenly, he turns and sees Cody with his gun aimed at him. He wheels through the door out into the hallway to flee, and is shot twice in the back through the door.
Fatally wounded, Big Ed tumbles from the head of the stairs down to an intermediate landing. In a gallant gesture, Cody offers his arm to Verna to possessively take her down the stairs. Callously, he kicks Big Ed's twisted, lifeless body down the rest of the flight of stairs, telling his buddies who have appeared at the door: "Catch." The camera fades to black.
In the lodging house, the re-assembled gang (composed of Cody, Vic, the Reader, Ryley, Cotton, Happy, and Het) discusses a factory heist planned by the late Big Ed. In their scheme, a 5,000 gallon gas truck they bought for twelve grand will be used to block the factory gate during the getaway. Verna emerges from her upstairs room whining to Cody - he summarily dismisses her like a kid:
Verna: Oh Cody - my radio ain't workin' again.
Cody: Aw no. What do you want for it - unemployment insurance?
Verna: Can't I go down to San Berdoo and get it fixed?
Cody: Nobody leaves here unless I say so. Now you... (terrified, she flinches and recoils as he gestures toward her face) - whatsa matter, baby? I'm not gonna hurt ya. (He kisses her.) Go and read your comic books. Good girl.
Vic is intrigued by the mention of the Trader, Cody's connection that fences stolen, marked bills: "He ships to Europe. Collects both ends." After a quick inspection of the gas truck, and suggesting that Het cut a hole from the truck's storage compartment into the tank with a blow torch, he has decided upon a new strategy: "We're back in business, boys, we're back in business. And not Big Ed's way either." After confirming that the toughest thing in a robbery is "gettin' inside the joint," Cody relates the classical story of the Trojan Horse told to him by Ma when he was a kid:
'Way back there was a whole army tryin' to knock over a place called Troy and gettin' nowhere fast. Couldn't even put a dent in the walls. And, uh, one mornin', one mornin' the people of Troy wake up, look over the walls and the attackin' army's disappeared. Men, boats, the works. Taken the powder. But they left one thing after them: a great big wooden horse. And according to Ma...'
As the gang prepares the gas truck for the payroll theft in a re-enactment of the Trojan Horse ruse, a man dressed for fishing drives a wood-paneled station wagon into the yard and asks to use the phone. Cody invites the stranger inside - the gang fully expects the man to be shot for his automobile, but there are no shots. The man is revealed to be Daniel Winston - the Trader (Fred Clark), who compliments Cody on his robbery plan: "We might all profit by a closer study of classical literature." He unrolls blueprints of a chemical plant near Long Beach - their target - that will have $426,000 payroll money in its safe before closing time the next day: "Your truck will be driven past these checkers by an ex-convict of my acquaintance. He's now leading a scrupulously-honest life, as a truck driver for this very firm." When Vic becomes suspicious, he enters the house and pulls a gun on the intruder, until Cody reveals that the man is the Trader. Cody proudly reveals that Vic has filled the emotional void left by his Ma's death, and will get the same share as the late Ma Jarrett: "Vic's my partner. Fifty-fifty."
That night, Pardo sneaks from the house to get word to the authorities, but he is confronted and questioned by Happy with a gun: "Hold it, where ya going', Pardo?" They brawl, with Vic using his police training to flip Happy two or three times. The fight is witnessed by Cody, who has been wandering in the quiet of the woods to speak to his deceased mother. He insists on knowing why Vic was disobeying his orders to go to L.A.: "Nobody was to leave." Pardo's lying excuse is that he wants to see his wife: "She don't know where I am...I haven't seen her in a long time. I'm, uh, human, you know, like everyone else." With glazed eyes and a glimmer of sexual disappointment, Cody accepts his explanation and then delivers a haunting soliloquy about the ghost of his Ma - she was always paranoid that he would snap like his father and brother did:
You're just lonesome, lonesome, like me...Verna? All I ever had was Ma...I was, uh, I was just walkin' around out there talkin' to mine...well, my old lady never had anything, always on the run, always on the move - some life. First there was my old man, died kickin' and screamin' in a nuthouse. Then my brother. And after that, it was takin' care of me. Always tryin' to put me on top. Top of the world, she used to say. And then, times when I was losin' my grip, there she'd be right behind me, pushin' me back up again. And now...That was a good feelin' out there, talkin' to her, just me and Ma. Good feelin'. Liked it. Maybe I am nuts.
Inside, they share a drink with Verna (dressed in a black negligee), and Cody promises Vic that they'll share a vacation together after the next day's job. Verna is thrilled:
Verna: You mean it, honey? We could have fun. Live big. Money's just paper if you don't spend it.
Cody: That's an idea.
Verna: It's a good idea. Europe, maybe. Paris. Rubbin' shoulders with the best of 'em. (She acts out the fantasy.) How'd ya do, Countess? Sable coats. Jewels just drippin' from my fingers. Oh, I'd knock their eyes out, Cody. You'd be real proud of me. (He pulls her into his lap.)
Cody: Don't go flippin' your lid.
Verna: (to Vic) He ain't thought of a vacation in years, Vic. Don't let him forget it.
Cody: (toasting) Here's to us, top of the world.
Drunk and amorous, Verna hops onto Cody's shoulders like a monkey and giggles as he tells her: "Grab the brass ring..." - a bottle of champagne on the table. He piggybacks her up the stairs for a night of sex. Meanwhile during his sexual dalliance with Verna - his undoing, Vic repairs Verna's broken-down portable radio, transforming parts of it into an oscillator that he attaches, the next morning, to the rear axle of the gas truck as a tracking device. Cody rehearses instructions with his gang before they climb into the belly of the truck and head for the plant:
Ya know where the rendezvous is. We're to pick up our driver there at five o'clock and we'll be at the plant right after the day shift is checked off. Now Vic, and Tommy, we go in the truck and the rest of ya go with Verna in the sedan. And baby, don't get picked up for speeding, but get 'em there, huh? (They kiss affectionately.)
During the ride, steam pours out of the gas truck's radiator: "Twelve thousand bucks and you're gettin' ready to blow up in your face." At a gas station, while the attendant fills the "dry as a bone" radiator with water, Vic proceeds to the "Washroom - Cleanest in the West." With a piece of cleaning soap, he writes an alert message on the mirror: "ATTENTION POLICE CALL EVANS - TREASURY. RADIO SIGNAL FALLON." He swiftly removes his jacket and hangs it on the light above the mirror to obscure the writing when Ryley comes to get him. Vic cleverly informs the attendant: "Hey, I thought you said 'Cleanest in the West'?...Well, the mirror's so dirty you can see double." But the attendant turns away disgruntled: "Wise guys, didn't even buy gas." At Charlie's Roadhouse, the rendezvous point where Verna's sedan and the Trader are waiting, the gang members pile "into the wooden horse." The recently-released convict/driver comes out of the house - it's Bo Creel, a convict who can recognize Pardo.
Cody tells Verna to drive to the plant and "park across the street. If there's any trouble, give us the horn hard." She spits out her gum (a trick she learned from Big Ed) and affectionately kisses Cody. Cody is more appreciative and kindlier toward his two-timing, murderous wife (she killed his mother!) now that his wise mother is dead and can no longer advise him about her duplicity. There's a signal system from the cab to the interior of the gas truck: "There's a button up in the cab. Press it once if trouble shows and three times for all clear."
Back at the gas station, the attendant eventually telephones the police and Evans is alerted to the radio signal from the oscillator: "Call the FCC. Get every direction-finder car they've got. Ask 'em to clear the air." The cops show off their very sophisticated tracking technology. A range-finger and a mounted antenna on the top of agent Evans' car (Car A) search for the truck's signal and locate it at "one zero five degrees." Another direction-finder car (Car B) with another bearing also locates the signal at: "two eight four degrees." The measurements are plotted on a large wall map, pin-pointing the gas truck's location by the intersecting lines at "Main and Atlantic in Alhambra, general direction southwest." More tracking bearings are received and plotted in a quick succession of images - the truck is located at "Imperial and Figueroa," and then at "198th and Figueroa" - it looks like the truck is heading toward the Long Beach area.
In the film's closing sequence, the truck is waved through the huge chemical plant's gates. [The final sequence was shot on-location in Torrance, California.] The gang emerges from the interior of the tanker and Bo knocks out the guard inside the office of the Accounting Department. As the men prepare to blow up the safe, the police cars reach the plant and move into position. Bo stops short in his tracks - he recognizes Vic Pardo as an informant and federal agent: "Hey Cody, that guy's a copper...He's a T-man. I know him. His name is Fallon...He pinched me four years ago." Unmasked as a 'copper,' Vic picks up the unconscious guard's tommy-gun and aims it at the men: "Don't go for your guns." In close-up, Cody is stunned, uncomprehending and refusing to admit that he has been betrayed by his equally cold-blooded, close friend:
Cody: A copper! A copper! How d'ya like that, boys? A copper. And his name is Fallon. (He begins to laugh hysterically.) And we went for it. I went for it. Treated him like a kid brother. And I was gonna split fifty-fifty with a copper. Maybe they're waitin' to pin a medal on him.
Fallon: Solid gold. Come on, get up, get your hands up.
Cody: Yeah, that's it. A nice gold medal for the copper. Only maybe he's gonna get it sooner than he thinks.
From behind, Cotton sneaks up and knocks Fallon out with the butt of his gun. Cody points his gun straight at Fallon's head, ready to pull the trigger until Cotton warns: "The joint's crawlin' with cops." Cody plans to use Fallon, now groggy and disoriented, as his "ace in the hole. He's gonna walk us out of here." Cody assumes that the cops won't shoot at their hostage:
Vic: It won't work, Cody. They'll shoot just the same.
Cody: They won't shoot one of their own.
Vic: They won't make any deals.
Cody: You better pray that they do.
A loud microphone with Evans' voice blares out: "Jarrett. You and your men might as well give up. Jarrett, come out with your hands up." Cody replies at a broken window: "We've got your boy Fallon in here. And he'll be all right if you do what I say." Verna has been apprehended and selfishly and flirtatiously barters for a deal with Evans if she can coax Jarrett to come out: "If I can, mister, will ya go easy on me? I'll tell him you'll let him get away because you don't want your guy hurt. He'll believe me. And when he comes out, you can do what you want with him." Evans curtly rejects her offer: "No deal." As Jarrett's disloyal spouse is dragged away to be locked up, she shouts back: "You cheap copper."
Crouched at the window, Cody mocks Evans' warnings and speaks to his Ma: "'Come out with your hands up,' the man says. How do ya like that, Ma? Here's my answer, ya dirty..." He fires his tommy-gun at the police, reminding them: "That was Cody Jarrett talking!" The windows of the office shatter as tear-gas bombs are exploded into their presence. Blinding white gas permeates the room, obscuring the view with smoke. The fumes cause the gang to choke and gulp for air. Aiming at Fallon to kill him, Cody accidentally shoots Cotton with a burst from his gun. As Fallon stumbles out of the office, he is recognized by Evans and the police cease firing - Hank hurriedly orders Evans: "Get a car out to Charlie's Roadhouse, highway sixty near Colton. Pick up Daniel Winston. He's the Big Guy you're looking for - your fence."
The gang staggers from the smoke-filled building to a side door, where Happy and Het are motioned out first - they are mowed down by machine-gun fire. The remaining gang members climb up a short metal ladder into the intricate, maze-like labyrinth of metal pipes and catwalks as the law closes in. Cody exchanges fire, killing a law officer. Bo Creel is killed and one by one, the other members of the gang are killed in the ambush. Desperate, knowing that they are slowly being surrounded, Ryley and Cody slide down a pole and head toward the Hortonsphere area. Evans cautions his men about the volatile area:
All right. Pass the word along. Don't fire unless you've got a perfect target. That place is a stack of dynamite. Have that area surrounded. Get some searchlights.
Jarrett chuckles to himself, rambling with berserk boasts to the last remaining gang member Ryley: "They think they've got Cody Jarrett. They haven't got Cody Jarrett. You hear? They haven't got him. And I wanna show ya. They haven't got him."
In the famous, climactic scene ending the film, he defiantly scrambles higher and higher around a holding tank with curving stairs circling the steel bulbous sides. At the top of the sphere, he even gleefully fires upon Ryley as he turns himself over to the police. Cody is the only one left, cornered high atop one of the gas storage tanks at a dead end - he taunts the cops with a cocky retort: "Come and get me." Jarrett laughs maniacally as he is repeatedly wounded while standing astride the globe-like tank - or on top of the world itself - by Fallon's high-powered, scoped-rifle fire. As he recocks his gun, Fallon quizzically wonders about the mirth of the villain as he self-destructs: "What's holding him up?"
Rather than giving in and submitting to the lawmen, a cackling, psychotically-mad Cody staggers around on the top of the platform as more bullets tear into him. Now out of his mind, he deliberately empties his pistol into the giant gas-tanks of the chemical plant to ignite them and immolate himself. The men below run from the flaming area, fearing for their lives. And then Cody hysterically lifts his face skyward, holds out both arms, and cries out to his dead mother that he has fulfilled her oft-repeated advice to him - immortality:
Made it, Ma! Top of the world!
With defiance, he dies in the tremendous 'white heat' explosion - a mushroom cloud, apocalyptic-style blast that shakes the earth. Following Cody's suicidal, angry death, an emotionless, unsympathetic Fallon provides an additional epitaph as clouds of smoke billow up and firelight flickers on his face:
Evans: Cody Jarrett.
Fallon: He finally got to the top of the world. And it blew right up in his face.
The flames are extinguished by giant fire hoses as THE END zooms out from the center of the screen.
[There are a number of films that have paid homage to White Heat's ending, including director Robert Wise's crime caper Odds Against Tomorrow (1959), and Fade to Black (1980).]
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