Cody Jarrett

[© 2017]

Explain Dominant Color Explain Auxiliary Color

The Green in this spiritual portrait represents Cody's dominant trait, his cool-headed rationality. In Extraverts, the dominant trait is directed outwardly, and spiritual portraits use a long vertical line to represent this, because it is the side of their personality that is most evident. He demonstrates this trait in his cold-blooded ruthlessness.

The Blue in this spiritual portrait represents Cody's auxiliary trait, his preference for seeing the world in terms of his own ideas. In Extraverts, the auxiliary trait is directed inwardly, and spiritual portraits use a horizontal line to represent this. He demonstrates this trait in his on-going devotion to his mother, even though he is a fully-grown adult.

Criminal Mastermind and Mama's Boy in the Film White Heat

The film White Heat is really more of a gangster film than a film noir. However, the film appears in ....

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Cody Jarrett:
The Story

The film White Heat is really more of a gangster film than a film noir. However, the film appears in the book Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference, edited by Alain Silver and Elizabeth Ward, so this gallery is where the spiritual portrait of Cody Jarrett belongs.

Mama's Boy and Mastermind

Originally based on the story of Ma Barker, after several rewrites the script ultimately replaces the four children she had in real life with just one: Cody Jarrett. James Cagney plays this role with gusto, and film critics and historians alike continue to regard the film as one of the best movies of all time.

Cody Jarrett is more than a gangster, he is a ruthless mastermind, and his spiritual portrait reflects this. His ruthlessness is evident right away in the trailer, and in an early scene in which he chastises a gang member for disobeying his order to not waste the car battery listening to the radio:

I told you to keep away from that radio. If that battery is dead, it'll have company!
 — James Cagney as Cody Jarrett in White Heat, 1949.

No Compassion

The Green in Cody's image illustrates his lack of compassion for most people, and especially for anyone foolish enough to disobey one of his direct orders. His cold-hearted decisiveness leaves no doubt about whether he will carry out this threat of harsh and immediate punishment for disobedience.

Jarrett's wife Verna Jarrett reveals how she understands this better than anyone in the following observation, as relayed to Big Ed Somers — a gang member who aspires to take Cody's place as her lover — and leader of the gang:

I can't stand another night, Ed. Listening, going crazy. It ain't like waiting for some human being who wants to kill you. Cody ain't human. Fill him full of lead, and he'll still come at you.
 — Virginia Mayo as Verna Jarrett in White Heat, 1949.

Big Ideas and Big Plans

And where a more typical gangster might be content with petty-ante capers, Cody makes it clear he is a leader with big plans for grand heists:

Cody Jarrett: Supposin' you wanna push in a place like Fort Knox and grab yourself a couple a tons of gold, what's the toughest thing about a job like that?
Jarrett Gang Member: Gettin' inside the joint.
Cody Jarrett: A silver dollar for the gentleman in the balcony. Right on the button. Gettin' in. Which brings me to a story Ma used to tell me when I was a kid. A story about a horse. 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 wall. And one mornin', one morning the the people of Troy wake, look over the walls, and the attackin' army's disappeared. Men. Boats. The works. Takin' a powder. But, they left one thing after them: a great, big wooden horse. And accordin' to Ma....
 — White Heat, 1949.

The Blue in Cody's image represents his idealism — in his case, his big dreams of big payoffs — dreams of being On top of the world, Ma!. This trait is also evident in his ability see the big picture, as evidenced in his decision to plead guilty to a lesser charge that precludes the government's ability to convict him of murder.

Keeping His Promises

The true depth of Cody's sadism plays out in his handling of Roy Parker, who tries to kill him. First he levels a vague threat, which coming from someone like Cody, is chillingly noirish in its foreboding:

What's the matter, Parker? I ain't going to do anything. Not now. I'm going to let you stay awake nights, sweat it out. Then when I get ready, good and ready, I'll pay you back.
 — James Cagney as Cody Jarrett in White Heat, 1949.

Say what you will about Cody's morals, this is one promise he keeps:

Cody Jarrett: [While eating a chicken leg, Jarrett speaks to Parker in the trunk of the sedan]
How ya doin', Parker?
Roy Parker: It's stuffy in here, I need some air.
Cody Jarrett: Oh, stuffy, huh? I'll give ya a little air.
[Pulls a gun from his pants and shoots four times into the trunk.]
 — White Heat, 1949.

Unlike most of Cody's victims, at least Roy had it coming.

So Cool He's Cold — Cold-Blooded, That Is

With all its cool Blue and Green balanced by precious little warm Yellow and Red, Cody Jarrett has a very cold spiritual portrait — and his extremely cold character matches it quite well.


About This Portrait

This portrait is based on the excellent film White Heat. I highly recommend this film to everyone!