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A soap opera about infidelity and murder among New York socialites, East Side, West Side (1949) boasts a superlative cast and M-G-M's usual high gloss production values. The East Side is represented by wealthy Jessie (Barbara Stanwyck), who learns that her philandering husband Brandon (James Mason) is once again seeing his former mistress Isabel (Ava Gardner). Distraught, Jessie turns for comfort to former cop and working-class West Sider Mark (Van Heflin), who investigates when Brandon is implicated in a murder.
This was the third film together for Stanwyck and Heflin, and according to Ella Smith in Starring Miss Barbara Stanwyck, they are "an excellent screen team - extremely natural together. They make acting look deceptively easy." Stanwyck's work in East Side, West Side is particularly subtle, playing a quiet character who keeps her emotions in check. There is nothing showy or flamboyant about what she does, but she manages to convey her inner turmoil. As Smith writes, "She has a way of holding tears or strong emotion back - and then letting her voice break on the last word of a line.....The technique is a standard one, but difficult to do; unless it is supported by real emotion it will not convince."
The showy role in East Side, West Side belongs to Gardner, playing the predatory Other Woman. By the time she was cast in the film, Gardner had been under contract at M-G-M for seven years, and had advanced from playing bit parts to second leads, or leading lady roles opposite more important male stars. She had had her breakout role in The Killers (1946) at Universal, but was not yet a considered top-tier star at her home studio of M-G-M. Nevertheless, she held her own with Stanwyck in their climactic scene together in East Side, West Side. The scene may have been art imitating life. Gardner had had a torrid affair with Stanwyck's real-life husband Robert Taylor when they worked together on her previous film, The Bribe (1949). It's not clear whether Stanwyck was aware of the affair, but she and Taylor divorced the following year.
James Mason had been appearing in British films since the early 1930s. In the 1940s he became one of Britain's biggest stars, playing flamboyant roles in period melodramas, often as a suave villain. In 1947, he decided to try his luck in Hollywood, but refused to sign a studio contract because he did not want to be typecast. East Side, West Side was one of four American films released in 1949 in which he appeared. One English critic said his voice in the film sounded "as if muffled in fold after fold of felting." Mason later admitted that he was insecure about attempting an American accent, and "may have been trying out a Mid-Atlantic accent." Over the next decade, Mason would become an international star, and one of the busiest and most respected actors in Hollywood.
Mason was not the only one working outside of his comfort level. Dancer Cyd Charisse had been under contract at M-G-M for five years, but played her first straight dramatic part in East Side, West Side as a model in love with Heflin. This was the first film that Nancy Davis made, although it was released after her second film, The Doctor and the Girl (1949). It was during production of East Side, West Side that director Mervyn LeRoy introduced Davis to the recently-divorced Ronald Reagan, who was working on an adjoining set. The critics weren't too fond of East Side, West Side, but for Nancy Davis, it was a life-altering experience. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Producer: Voldemar Vetluguin
Director: Mervyn LeRoy
Screenplay: Isobel Lennart; Marcia Davenport (novel)
Cinematography: Charles Rosher
Art Direction: Randall Duell, Cedric Gibbons
Music: Miklos Rozsa
Film Editing: Harold F. Kress
Cast: 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).
BW-108m. Closed captioning.
by Margarita Landazuri