White Heat (Warner) is in the hurtling tabloid tradition of the gangster movies of the '30s, but its matter-of-fact violence is a new, postwar style. Brilliantly directed by Raoul (Roaring Twenties) Walsh, an old master of cinema hoodlumism, it returns a more subtle James Cagney to the kind of thug role that made him famous.
Playing a paunchy, mother-dependent killer, Cagney empties his pistol into his victim with the calm, preoccupied expression of a pedestrian waiting for a street light to change. There is none of the shock technique of The Public Enemy no audience-deafening gun blasts, no close-ups of the killer's eyes or of the sickening sprawl of the corpse. The new brutality is streamlined. .White Heat is sprinkled with an improved type of wrist action in blackjacking, so effective that the camera does not even bother to examine the victim. The traditional movie chase, with its essentially simple machinery, has evolved into a studious, highly technical battle in which the combatants use telephones, oscillators, triangulation equipment and poker faces.
White Heat cuts so deeply into the characters of its big-time hijackers that for once movie gangsters look as humanly criminal as the "wanted" faces on a post office bulletin board. The leading character, a scientific hijacker, is completely abnormal, but Cagney plays him in a stodgy workingman style that makes him as believable as the most ordinary man. Blandly out of contact with reality, the hijacker is seen in a typical shot collecting refuse in the prison workshop, a dumpy figure wearing an expression of near-senile rumination and apparently having the time of his life. His mother (Margaret Wycherly) is a fierce, puritanical type who pampers her son with his favorite strawberries and treats federal agents as though they were bureaucratic busybodies. Another odd creation is the restlessly affectionate gun moll (Virginia Mayo), a swirly blonde with a complicated mobile technique for kissing, getting out of bed and looking in the mirror.
Form-conscious Director Walsh can set up a trivial shot of gangsters listening to a car radio in a windswept mountain lideout, and make grey weather, the texture of trees and the vitality of the figures add up to visual pleasure. An unaffected director of home and bedroom scenes, he even manages, without bathos or leer, to jet away with a shot of Cagney sitting on lis mother's lap.
That Midnight Kiss (M-G-M). Producer Joe ("No one's going to get sick or die in my movies") Pasternak is an expert at turning out box-office musicals (Three Daring Daughters, In the Good Old Summertime). His favorite theme is the American dream that the tot on the living-room floor may one day turn out to be another Schnabel or Flagstad. In this case, the American living room is the usual Pasternak plush job, heavily furnished with grand pianos, helpful celebrities and enthusiastic prodigies.
As usual, Pasternak begins with a pretty soprano (Kathryn Grayson) warbling an aria. An itinerant celebrity (Jose Iturbi) is beating the fake rosebushes for young opera stars. Tunneling into this setup is a manly young truck driver (Mario Lanza) who has just the bouncing good looks and tenor voice to team up with the soprano.