East Side, West Side 1949
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Isabel Lorrison is a good-time girl destined for a bad-time fate: a murder victim on a mortuary slab. But who killed her? A casual pickup? An envious girlfriend? A philandering husband with an eye for beauty? Or the man’s wife, who had every motive to put her hands around Isabel’s perfect neck and squeeze?
Barbara Stanwyck stars as the wronged wife in this sleek mystery-melodrama, giving a strong, sympathetic performance as a woman whose life is at a dramatic crossroads. Ava Gardner, at the start of her rise to stardom, sizzles as voluptuous Isabel. And James Mason, Van Heflin, Cyd Charisse and Nancy Davis round out the impressive cast to help make East Side, West Side a seductive Manhattan murder-go-round.
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Ava Gardner is good in the "bitchy" part, although her part lacks any ambiguity. But it is remarkable how openly she plays the vamp card. "Cheap, that's what you like", she says to Mason, knowing she's right. Therefore, this allegedly soapy tearjerker is also a deconstruction of masculinity. And it's the proof that Hollywood should not neglect actresses beyond the 40th birthday. In a film released in 1949, we have remarkable confrontations between Stanwyck (* 1907) and Gardner (* 1922) in which the former deliberately searches the direct duel, knowing that it will be very difficult for her to win. But there is no doubt that she's the lead in this picture, which unfortunately was difficult for women older than forty. They were offered minor parts, Bette Davis (whom I adore) made the campy "Beyond the Forest" in the same year, playing a too old vamp with a silly wig, but Stanwyck got that wonderful part and played it so skillfully and touching. This is why I love this movie, despite some obvious mistakes. For example, a murder and its solution in the last twenty minutes are rather abrupt, silly and nothing more than a plot device in order to reveal that Mason didn't keep his promise not to see Gardner again. But as I tried to explain, the essential is elsewhere.
The picture has an outstanding cast (Stanwyck, Mason, Van Heflin, Cid Charisse, Nancy Davis, and Gale Sondergaard) and is directed by MGM veteran Melvyn LeRoy. The DVD quality is good, but there is some background noise during the dialogue. Unfortunately there is no audio commentary, but a funny Tex Avery Cartoon as additional material.
Here is the way it played out, played out down and dirty, in this one. Former, or maybe not so former, playboy investment banker Brandon (played by a debonair James Mason) had been two-timing his West Side high society wife Jessie (played by Barbara Stanwyck) for years with a low-rent tramp Isabel, played by Ava Garner, a gold-digger from day one of her life probably, strictly from the East Side okay. He finally, or seemingly finally, decided that the staid and demur Jessie was for him and brushed Isabel off. Isabel healed her wounds in Paris for a while and then returned, returned to put her claws right back into Brandon. No prisoners taken this time. The replay of the past is what drives the first part of the story line. That and the introduction of Mark Dwyer, played by Van Heflin, an New York ex-cop now a very hush, hush governmental European agent (meaning CIA probably), who takes dead aim at the staid and demur Jessie.
Of course while Mark and Jessie are “playing house,” the no sex 1940s version of playing house Brandon had been entrapped (yeah, right) by the scheming Isabel. The battle was joined as Jessie was ready to fight tooth and nail for her man. Except a little problem came up-Isabel wound up dead, very dead in her upscale high rent apartment (paid for by some sweet man sugar daddy she had been hanging around with). And who is the number one suspect. No, not Jessie because she had an alibi in Mark. Yeah, Brandon was all set to take the fall, take the big step off up in Ossining. Is rich lover- boy Brandon though going take the fall for something he didn’t do? No way because Mark, for a little breather from heavy duty CIA work, has this one solved before dinner with time for a nap. The sometimes gold-digger girlfriend of the sugar daddy who was paying Isabel’s bills got sore and put the bang-bang dead on old Isabel.
Here’s the funny thing, the funny cultural thing you pick up from old films, the dame was continually called an Amazon, like very tall and statuesque, which was a “crime,” a social crime in those days when women were shorter than today. She would barely make a high school girls’ basketball team today. Here’s the even funnier part after all the flap over Isabel and her fate it turned out Jessie left Brandon high and dry. Didn’t really love the shell of a man he she had married. Maybe she will become Mrs. CIA over in Europe. Hey, not Barbara Stanwyck’s greatest flix (probably Double Indemnity is) but what can you expect from a melodrama, even one set in New York City.
Most recent customer reviews
Hot Toasty Rag, September 9, 2017
As everyone knows, I don’t like Ava Gardner, so usually if I like one of her movies, I say I like...Read more