Brandon and Jessie Bourne has been married to each other for many years. A few years ago, Brandon had an extra-martial affair with Isabel Lorrison. Now she has come back to New York intending to start over with the relationship once again. Meanwhile, Jessie is attracted to Mark Dwyer, just arrived from a secret mission in Italy.
Barbara Stanwyck ... Jessie Bourne
James Mason ... Brandon Bourne
Van Heflin ... Mark Dwyer
Ava Gardner ... Isabel Lorrison
Cyd Charisse ... Rosa Senta
Nancy Davis ... Helen Lee
Gale Sondergaard ... Nora Kernan
William Conrad ... Lt. Jacobi
Raymond Greenleaf ... Horace Elcott Howland
Douglas Kennedy ... Alec Dawning
Beverly Michaels ... Felice Backett
William Frawley ... Bill the Bartender
Stanwyck and Heflin have a palpable chemistry here, and Ava Gardner is a most alluring vixen. Cyd Charisse is a delectable ingenue (and a tall drink of water), while Gale Sondergaard is hilarious as a hard-bitten, hoydenish Amazon floozie. Stanwyck is playing about 10 years younger than her actual age (her film mother admits to being 55, when Stanwyck is in her early forties here, and while still handsome, she does look her age).
Mervyn Leroy did a nice job of combining the noir/woman's-picture genres, though its ennoblement of Stanwyck robs her of her strengths as a no-nonsense woman, good or bad. Her scene with Gardner is a standout -- both actresses are well matched; Gardner's feline beauty and laissez-faire romantic approach nicely complements Stanwyck's humane fatalism -- and Stanwyck and Van Heflin are an appealing couple. Mason is rather a chump, however -- he seems to be underplaying to the point of lethargy, though his handsome charm surfaces here and there; yet he and Stanwyck, though matched in terms of age (she was younger by a couple of years) are not the type for each other; he doesn't suit her, screen-wise. Heflin's naturalism -- a performance of great charm and likability -- is more suited to Stanwyck's style and one longs for them to get together. Great use of sets to evoke New York, teeming with nightlife, and Leroy always had a knack for directing extras so that the city scenes seem peopled with real lives rather than populated with stand-ins. Costumes, though late 1940s, seem a bit recherche, as if the designer hadn't left the 1930s, with the women's gowns too ornate for such a sophisticated post-war milieu.
Not a great picture by any means, but a highly enjoyable one; a viewer wishes the director and screenwriter -- the talented Isobel Lennart, who later wrote "Two for the Seesaw," among many others -- had trusted more in the chemistry between Heflin and Stanwyck, and discarded some of the Marcia Davenport source material, juicy as it must have been. This is from Stanwyck's late-1940s string of women's flicks, which did not play to her strengths. But middling Stanwyck is usually better than anyone else's best. And the underrated Van Heflin is worth rooting for, too.
A fairly standard-issue formula melodrama comes alive thanks to capable acting and adept direction. Sheer professionalism keeps the unremarkable story afloat, with all concerned more than equal to their assignments.
`East Side, West Side' is told from the point of view of a lady of leisure (Barbara Stanwyck) whose husband (James Mason) is a habitual adulterer. Despite his deep love for her, he is unable to resist temptation, comparing it to an alcoholic's need for the bottle. All his efforts to clean up his act are for naught, however, when former mistress Ava Gardner returns to town determined to win him back, and willing to stop at nothing to do so. Meanwhile, Stanwyck incurs the affections of a highly decorated police officer (Van Heflin), who shows her the other side of the tracks where he grew up, and is surprised to learn that she did too. Their relationship blossoms, but when Gardner turns up dead and Mason and Stanwyck are suspected, it falls to Heflin to sort things out.
There's nothing here that hasn't been done before, but it is handled with such style and finesse that it's impossible to dislike, and the story is surprisingly involving. Heflin is provided with a strong character and ample opportunities to showcase his acting capabilities. The roles filled by Stanwyck and Mason are more burdensome because they serve to drive the plot, but both actors tackle them skillfully. Gardner is given only a few scenes to establish and develop her character, but she nonetheless makes a strong impression. Veteran director Mervyn LeRoy knows just how to handle such material, and he does so with poise and surefootedness. The proficiency of involved participants raises routine material above the ground and makes for engaging viewing, and this film is a case in point.
Two of Marcia Davenport's books - "Valley of Decision" and "East Side, West Side" have been adapted for the screen, neither with resounding success. The Greer Garson-Gregory Peck "Valley of Decision" only used half of the book - risky, since it was a huge best-seller. "East Side, West Side," which stars Barbara Stanwyck, Ava Gardner, James Mason, and Van Heflin, also leaves out valuable source material. The result is part melodrama/part murder mystery, with mixed results.
Stanwyck and Mason star as married couple Jessie and Brandon, and at the beginning of the film, despite a lovey-dovey scene in a taxicab, we can see what the problem is. He goes to a bar and seems to be trying to pick up Rosa (Cyd Charisse). When his picture makes the front page the next day for being in a bar fight, Rosa explains the situation to Jessie and the two become friends. She introduces Jessie to the man she loves, Mark Dwyer, and it's obvious from the beginning that he's attracted to Jessie. He's known Rosa since she was a child, doesn't have romantic feelings for her, and the two part friends. Jessie, however, wants her husband, and is panicked when she learns that the woman who nearly ruined their marriage, Isabel (Ava Gardner) is back in town. Brandon is obsessed with her - and Isabel knows it.
Heflin and Stanwyck make a great pair, and the audience wants them together right away. Mason exhibits no emotion throughout. Gale Sondergaard is excellent as Stanwyck's mother, though one wonders about the casting as she was only a few years older than Stanwyck. One comment stated that Stanwyck was too old for her role; I actually think Sondergaard was too young, as Mason, Heflin, and Stanwyck were within a few years of one another. One bit of casting that is interesting is Charisse, as she bore a resemblance to Gardner, so the initial attraction Mason has for Rosa bears out his obsession with Isabel.
Gardner provides all the excitement in "East Side, West Side" as a purely sexual being who lives off of men and enjoys exerting her power over them. She's absolutely gorgeous and just about burns a hole in the film with her steamy performance. Rita Hayworth and Ava Gardner were unique screen goddesses who had the whole package - beauty, body, voice, and an erotic sensuality.
Stanwyck is sympathetic in a familiar role for her, and Heflin's energetic performance is juxtaposed against Mason's, making one wonder why Stanwyck is wasting her time. Hollywood seemed to want to make Marcia Davenport's rich novels into ordinary screen stories. It succeeded.
An adaptation of a novel, 'East Side, West Side' is another example of genres merging together, with mixed success. On the one hand, we have the section of plot involving Ava Gardner. As everyone already knows, Ava was exquisitely beautiful, but in this movie she is very effective in her role as a typical noirish femme fatalle (the dangerous woman from the protagonist's past who threatens his future). She was a very competent actress in movies like this where she played the alluring vixen (see 'The Killers') or was part of a larger ensemble cast ('The Hucksters' and 'The Night of the Iguana'). Her freshness is a joy to watch, and matches anything that Stanwyck (overall considered as a better actress) gives here. One scene (and I think its the only scene) between Gardner and Stanwyck is a standout, as Gardner fervently describes the class contrasts between the two. Very convincing and restrained. There are some gorgeous shots of a (soundstage) city at night, replete with resplendent classic cars and neon signs. All very atmospheric, and the type of shots that one would associate more with a noir than a melodrama. The film can be divided really between Gardner's half which is film noir, and the portion involving Stanwyck which is sheer, trite melodrama. Without giving the plot away, note the treatment of Gardner's character for contemporary views of women like her.
The action firmly grinds to a halt with Stanwyck and Mason's boring (for us and them) marriage. Stanwyck had little chemistry with Mason (who sleepwalks through his part) and even less with Van Heflin. Casting wise, it just doesn't seem very convincing. Mason was characterised as vain and selfish - so why would he be so quick to put an end to his relationship with Gardner for Stanwyck who he seemed bored with anyway? He doesn't seem to genuinely love her. There's just too much going on towards the end, none of it particularly interesting. We're not given any reason to care for these people and during some scenes the dialogue felt so recited and flat that they may as well have been holding the scripts.
James Mason and Ava Gardner went on to appear in the dreadful 'Pandora and the Flying Dutchman' several years after this. 'East Side, West Side' (at least the parts with Mason and Gardner)is probably better than 'Pandora...' and certainly less pretentious. Recommended for fans of Ava and film students will possibly be interested in the movie's fluidity of genre.