East Side, West Side (1949)

East Side, West Side (1949) is melodrama crime film with noir overtones, starring Barbara Stanwyck, James Mason, Van Heflin, and Ava Gardner. 

It's a film of socialites and infidelity, one of these glimpse-into-the-lives of the rich and popular, and a look at their habits, drinks, dresses, affairs, apartments, moeurs and murders.

In this world it's always a beautiful morning, and the jewels and the dresses sparkle, and platonic relationships spring up, as does the rekindling of old flames. There is a club where they hang out, and a friendly barman called Bill — and it's always time for a straight Scotch.

It's Manhattan and it's the 1940s, and in this fun-loving cafe and cocktail society people from high society mixed with show biz types, in various clubs and watering holes where a party atmosphere was a requirement.

Manhattan at night with Ava Gardner and James Mason in East Side, West Side (1949)

More mannered than your average film noir, East Side, West Side (1949) hones in on the silly loves and daily lives of the New York socialites about whom it is hard to care.

Central is Barbara Stanwyck who suspects her husband Brandon of infidelity. Years before, his affair with party girl Isabel Lorrison had nearly wrecked the Bournes' marriage. 

Ava Gardner and James Mason in East Side, West Side (1949)

Now, Isabel's back, escorted around town by tough-guy Alec Dawning, a man with a short temper. When he sees Isabel with Brandon, he punches the latter outside a fancy nightclub. And the punch is recorded by a tabloid photographer, and Brandon is front-page news.

Cyd Charisse in East Side, West Side (1949)

As the action progresses, lust and revenge are teased out of what appears to be mere soap opera. 

The interlocking triangles of East Side, West Side are complex, and would on paper appear to be perfectly circuitous film noir fodder. Stanwyck is married to vain and self-centered Mason, who is infatuated with the beautiful Gardner, who knows it and who hangs out with nightclub owner Kennedy, whose other girl friend is a tough and as everyone says throughout — tall — blonde played by Beverley Michaels.

Beverley Michaels in East Side, West Side (1949)

Returning from Europe as a World War 2 correspondent is Van Heflin, a non-society man who falls in love with Stanwyck, although he in return is the object of a schoolgirl crush, that of Cyd Charisse, who is a fashion model whom Stanwyck knows from the shows she attends. And Charrise is the one who also saves Mason from an embarrassing newspaper scandal by rescuing him after he’s punched out by Kennedy.

Van Heflin in East Side, West Side (1949)

Finally a murder occurs, and this is where William Conrad comes in, once more playing a homicide detective. He smokes a mean cigarette and poses by the corpse, but this isn't really Conrad's case — and it's up the heroics of Van Heflin as the adventurous war reporter turned cop to find the clue, and solve the case.

Crime scene with Van Heflin and William Conrad in East Side, West Side (1949)

This case-solving involves Van Heflin tracking down and incriminating suspect Beverley Michaels, who is described as being built like the Empire State Building, and throughout the film constantly otherwise referred to for her height. Van Heflin has a wild bare-knuckle fist fight with her, and in her high heels she is indeed taller than he is.

Punch up in the front seat Beverley Michaels and Van Heflin
in East Side, West Side (1949)

The fight takes place in the front seat of a car, but it is surely one of the fiercest slugfests between a man and a woman that you will see in all of olde filme noire. Van Heflin does a pretend-to-be-drunk wise ass scene, but it's wise ass enough to trick Beverley Michaels — her character's name is Felice Backett — into his car where this intense and unique punch up takes place.

Beverley Michaels and Van Heflin in East Side, West Side (1949)

Isobel Lennart who wrote the screenplay for East Side, West Side from the novel of the same title by Marcia Davenport — was a member of the Communist Party between 1939 and 1944. She was of course called before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1952, and she became what was known as a ‘friendly witness’, naming 21 people as former party members.

James Mason in East Side, West Side (1949)

Gale Sondergaard who plays Nora Kernan on the other hand, was married to director Herbert Biberman and supported him when he was accused of communism and named as one of the Hollywood Ten in the early 1950s. 

After she was blacklisted with her husband in 1948, director Mervyn LeRoy cast her in East Side, West Side in a supporting role as Barbara Stanwyck’s mother in order to test industry reaction, but she didn’t appear in another major Hollywood film for 28 years. The couple sold their Hollywood home soon after completing Salt of the Earth (1954) and moved to New York where Sondergaard could work on stage.

Barbara Stanwyck in domestic bliss with James Mason — and Van Heflin
 in East Side, West Side (1949)

Barbara Stanwyck and Ava Gardner share a single scene in the film, though it's one of the best. It's like a super-cat-fight of verbals, as they calmly tear each other down, fighting over the rather weak and pliant Brandon, played by James Mason.  Barbara Stanwyck and Ava Gardner eventually died five days apart — Stanwyck on 20 January 1990 and Gardner on 25 January.

Ava Gardner burns a hole in the screen, despite not being in East Side, West Side (1949) that much. She is convincing through as a high-class man-chaser who used to be low-class but worked her way up and now won't take no for an answer.

Ava Gardner in East Side, West Side (1949)

The result is a combined film noir and woman's picture, perfectly likeable for the 1940s, and with a huge cast could in no way fail to please in its day, even if it remains forgotten today, hovering somewhere between the styles of noir and the aforementioned woman's picture.

The woman's picture was very much an important part of life in the USA in the 1940s. First of all of course, in 1942 eleven million men left for war, and the women at home took up new roles at home and at work — so much so that when they came back, the GIs found America was a transformed country. Its women had matured and expanded their horizons, and the film industry was a part of this story 

Barbara Stanwyck and James Mason in East Side, West Side (1949)

As a genre item, the woman's picture both constructed and enacted a most pressing struggle between female independence as contrasted with the desire for security in home and within the family. Mildred Pierce, for example, was released in the autumn of 1945, just as soldiers were returning home from war, at a time when a large number of working women would have been confused and maybe even guilty regarding their new roles — especially if they had been a success in those roles. 

Both sides are seen clearly in East Side, West Side (1949) simply because this was the norm. There are independent woman aplenty in East Side, West Side — one is even independent enough to get into a fist fight.

Barbara Stanwyck works the icebox in East Side, West Side (1949)

On the other hand Barbara Stanwyck is seen as the homemaker and wifelet, on several occasions. It's easy to see how such films contributed both to cultures of femininity and consumerism. 

The woman's picture then, as it came to be known, often ran with conflicts associated with sexuality, home, and family, and were commonly set in a middle-class environment. At the same time a typical  woman's picture might look at a woman's desire through her transgression of what could be seen as appropriate codes of female behaviour.

Van Heflin, Barbara Stanwyck, James Mason and William Conrad
in East Side, West Side (1949)

In 1940s Hollywood there was it turned out a deal of crossover between this style of picture — the woman's picture —  and film noir.

Ava Gardner reclines in East Side, West Side (1949)

Find within the sub-genre of the medical melodrama, in which a traumatised female character tells her story to a sympathetic male doctor — such as in Possessed, 1947.

Find too the the maternal melodrama, focusing on a mother-daughter relationship, typically narrated from the mother's point of view  — such as in Mildred Pierce, 1945.

Find the love story, telling of impossible choices, misunderstandings, and loss, all endured by a woman in love  —  as in Letter from an Unknown Woman, 1948.

And the paranoid woman picture, often with gothic overtones, in which a woman is troubled by fear and suspicion of the motives and behaviours of her husband  —  as in Secret Beyond the Door, 1947.

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