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   EAST SIDE, WEST SIDE (1949) 

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CAST
Barbara Stanwyck
James Mason
Van Heflin
Ava Gardner
Cyd Charisse
Nancy Davis
Gale Sondergaard
William Conrad
Raymond Greenleaf

DIRECTED BY
Mervyn LeRoy

PURCHASE


DVD




Time: 108 mins.
Rating: Not Rated
Genre: Drama


With a less talented cast this marital melodrama/murder mystery wouldn't be half as compelling as it is. Cast in his first major Hollywood role, James Mason plays a philandering husband caught between his reverential love for his wife and uncontrollable lust for his ex-mistress. His marriage survived the initial affair, but is put in jeopardy once again when Isabel Larson (Gardner) returns to town. Brandon tries to stay away, to stay true to the promise he made to Jessie (Stanwyck); however, Isabel's bad girl allure and relentless stalking wear down his resolve. Jessie wants to believe that Isabel won't come between them again, that Brandon's changed. Unfortunately, the evidence against him is pretty damaging. Her newly-minted friendship with Mark Dwyer (Heflin), a journalist and a gentlemen, opens her eyes to how shoddily she's been treated and that she allowed it because she thought the world would stop if they weren't together.

Everything comes to a head when Brandon finds Isabel dead, placing him in trouble with the police and destroying the final vestiges of trust between he and Jessie. His guilt or innocence in Isabel's murder means nothing to Jessie. That he was in Isabel's apartment when he was supposed to be going away with her proves to be the final straw. The final act has many questions to answer: Will Jessie forsake Brandon and find love with Mark? Or will she forgive Brandon now that Isabel's out of their lives forever? If Brandon isn't Isabel's killer, who is? All are answered, though none of the outcomes are very surprising. What begins as an emotional rollercoaster of desire, betrayal and forgiveness, ends on a somewhat formulaic note with everything tied into a neat little package. Jessie regains her dignity and control of her life, Brandon loses the one thing he wanted most and Isabel got what was coming to her. The murder is meant to add intrigue and tension, but only muddles the affair since it really has nothing to do with either Brandon or Jessie. Once Isabel's out of the picture all the emotional tension leaves as well.


"I'm not 19. I've heard a rumor that people don't always get what they want...and that happiness is not the natural stare of man."

As much as I love Barbara Stanwyck, she could have played this "perfect wife" role in her sleep. She's everything any man would want – rich, smart, sexy, charming – and makes Brandon's straying seem perfectly crazy. That is until you get an eyeful of Ava. She's deliciously wicked playing the vixen with a heart of stone who will stop at nothing to get her man. Why she's so enamored with James Mason is the one mystery the film failed to illuminate for me. Sure, he's kind of suave and charming, but in a sleazy, low class sort of way. He also never really captured the emotional turmoil necessary for the role, playing it a bit too stiff for my tastes. However, the talent of his female co-stars more than make up for his limitations. EAST SIDE, WEST SIDE is entertaining while it explores the dangerous implications of adultery and less so when it succumbs to murder to solve the dilemma. By taking the easy way out, the entire exercise in regaining trust, finding forgiveness and attaining redemption becomes moot. One to watch merely to see Stanwyck and Gardner do what they do best – play strong, determined women.



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