Jessie Bourne (Barbara Stanwyck) is alone in her New York apartment one night when she gets an odd phone call. She picks up and greets the caller, only to hear the line go dead as soon as she speaks.
Meanwhile, Jessie’s husband Brandon (James Mason) is out having a jolly old time at a night club. He flirts with Rosa Senta (Cyd Charisse), but is soon interrupted by Isabel Lorrison (Ava Gardner), his former mistress.
Isabel is back in town after a long stay away, and she’s ready to pick things with Brandon up right where they left off. Though he was flirting with another woman no more than a few seconds ago, Brandon insists to Isabel that he’s now faithful to his wife.
Will persistent Isabel win Brandon’s affections again, or will he and Jessie patch things up?
East Side, West Side was directed by Mervyn LeRoy. The screenplay was written by Isobel Lennart, adapted from a novel by Marcia Davenport.
This film is sort of what The Women would be if you added men to the cast and zapped out the humor. It’s a drama of upper-class infidelities and personal problems. It even has the required fashion show sequence (and gorgeous costumes by Helen Rose)!
The cast is great, featuring the talents of not only Barbara Stanwyck but also Ava Gardner, Van Heflin, and James Mason. There are tensions and baggage between many of the characters, making for a gripping watch. The leads and supports get in on the action, cheating husband James Mason sharing some particularly tense scenes with Gale Sondergaard as Jessie’s mother.
Stanwyck’s character is an interesting one. She’s strictly non-confrontational with her husband, due to her own parents’ history of heated arguments, but she’s devastated by Brandon’s actions. The viewer really roots for her, especially when Van Heflin swoops in with the sweetest character I’ve seen from him, showing the viewer (and Jessie) just how much better her life could be without her disloyal husband.
While Stanwyck’s character is quite reserved and shares several syrupy scenes with Heflin, she does also stand up for her self against rival Ava Gardner. Ava’s character is a real snake, a persistent “other woman” unwilling to give up her pursuit of a married man. It’s a character I can easily see Stanwyck having played herself, especially earlier in the decade.
Ava does a great job with it. Their confrontation is one of the most gripping scenes of the film. “Want a drink?,” Isabel asks Jessie when they meet at Isabel’s apartment. “I have your husband’s favorite brand.” For all of her sneakiness and cruelty, the viewer also gets the sense that Isabel has emotional issues of her own to contend with, though they aren’t explored thoroughly by the film.
A bit twist comes mid-film when Isabel winds up murdered. The tone shift is well-executed, and plenty of time is left to explore the consequences of her death, though the resolution of the mystery comes a bit too conveniently.
If you’re a fan of melodrama, this is definitely one to tune in for. The characters easily grab hold of the viewer, and great performances assure that the viewer’s attention remains held throughout the entire film. While this isn’t one of Stanwyck’s top films, I really enjoyed watching it and would certainly recommend it!