Tuesday 11 December 2018

Movie Review: East Side, West Side (1949)

A marriage, infidelity and murder story, East Side, West Side is a star-laden drama with a decidedly weak script.

In New York City, couple Jessie and Brandon Bourne (Barbara Stanwyck and James Mason) have patched up their marriage a year after he had an affair. She is a calm and patient housewife, while he is a playboy businessman unable to control his lust. Now his mistress Isabel Lorrison (Ava Gardner) has returned to town, and Brandon is quickly back under her trance and succumbing to his philandering instincts.

As Jessie struggles to decide whether she can ever trust Brandon again, she befriends department store model Rosa Senta (Cyd Charisse), and through her meets former police officer and now international investigator Mark Dwyer (Van Heflin). He immediately senses Jessie's inherent loneliness. Their lives are thrown into turmoil when a murder is committed, with no shortage of suspects with motives.

A glossy MGM production designed to showcase the sordid secrets of the rich elites, East Side, West Side features current and future stars in every meaningful role. The talented cast cannot save a feeble by-the-numbers script by Isobel Lennart, based on the Marcia Davenport novel. The dialogue is stiff, most of the actors go about their business in a mechanical trance, and director Mervyn LeRoy adds little to the drama.

With Stanwyck in particularly subdued form and Mason struggling to convince as a playboy not in control of his libido, the will-she-or-won't-she-leave-him dilemma never gains traction. Only Gardner adds some heat as the other woman, but her smoldering mannerisms land flat opposite Mason's lethargy. Heflin and Stanwyck are supposed to create an undercurrent of potential romance in the final act, but the absence of chemistry means they come across as friends at best.

The murder sub-plot arrives really late, suddenly lurching the film into a police procedural. A couple of hitherto barely seen marginal characters in the form of hoodlum Dawning (Douglas Kennedy) and icy blonde Felice (Beverly Michaels) become involved. And just as quickly, the case is tidied up, having contributed little to the central drama.

The film's title refers to the two halves of New York, upper class and working class. A brief sojourn by Mark and Jessie to his neighbourhood roots is thrown in to justify the reference, but like the rest of the movie, it's a perfunctory gesture.

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