Sunday, November 16, 2008

Tonight's Movie: East Side, West Side (1949)

Jessie and Brandon Bourne (Barbara Stanwyck and James Mason) have patched their marriage back together after his affair with Isabel Lorison (Ava Gardner). Isabel's been out of town for an extended time, but has returned to New York ready to resume her relationship with Brandon. Thus begins EAST SIDE, WEST SIDE, a glossy, enjoyable MGM melodrama which is part "women's" picture and part murder mystery.

Van Heflin and Cyd Charisse are also in the large cast as Stanwyck's friends. Heflin pines for the married Stanwyck, while Charisse longs for Heflin to notice that she loves him. It's hard to imagine what Heflin's character is thinking, dumping the very available Cyd Charisse (!), but he and Stanwyck do have nice chemistry. They previously costarred in THE STRANGE LOVE OF MARTHA IVERS (1946) and B.F.'S DAUGHTER (1948).

The entire cast is very good, although Mason gives a bit of a one-note performance as the predictable cad who can't stay away from Gardner despite his promises to his wife. Stanwyck, Heflin, and Charisse are all sympathetic and likeable. Gardner is an absolute powerhouse in her role as the villainous seductress, stealing every scene she's in. The moment where she and Stanwyck have it out over which one of them will end up with Mason is a marvelous piece of acting by both actresses.

The excellent supporting cast includes Nancy Davis (Reagan) as Stanwyck's best friend; a sequence where Davis urges Stanwyck to be honest about her marital problems is one of the best scenes in the movie, along with the Stanwyck-Gardner argument. The cast also includes William Conrad as a police detective, Gale Sondergaard as Stanwyck's mother, and William Frawley as a bartender.

Paula Raymond has a scene as James Mason's secretary. In her next film she played the lead opposite Cary Grant in CRISIS (1950). She played Esther Williams' roommmate in DUCHESS OF IDAHO (1950), reviewed here. Raymond's other credits include two Anthony Mann films, DEVIL'S DOORWAY (1950) with Robert Taylor and THE TALL TARGET (1951) with Dick Powell.

Earlier today I reviewed a book by MGM chorus dancer and bit part player Norman Borine -- so it was fun to suddenly notice his face as a square dancer at a society party.

EAST SIDE, WEST SIDE was filmed in black and white and runs 108 minutes. The film has MGM class production values all the way, including photography by two-time Oscar winner Charles Rosher, gowns by Helen Rose, and musical score by Miklos Rozsa.

The movie was directed by Mervyn LeRoy, whose classic films include WATERLOO BRIDGE (1940), JOHNNY EAGER (1942), RANDOM HARVEST (1942), THIRTY SECONDS OVER TOKYO (1944), LITTLE WOMEN (1949), and QUO VADIS (1951), among many other great titles.

Given all the talent involved, perhaps the movie should have been even better than it is; it's a solidly entertaining film, though not a great one. Still, the attractive cast and MGM gloss make for fun viewing, and I'm sure I'll be watching it again sometime in the future.

EAST SIDE, WEST SIDE can be seen on DVD as a single-title release or as part of the six-film Barbara Stanwyck Signature Collection, which is described in more detail here and here.

EAST SIDE, WEST SIDE has also been released on VHS. It can be seen on cable on TCM. The trailer can be seen on the TCM website.

January 2017 Update: EAST SIDE, WEST SIDE is being reissued on DVD by the Warner Archive.


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