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Brandon and Jessie Bourne have been married to each other for many years. A few years ago, Brandon had an extra-martial affair with Isabel Lorrison. Now she has returned to New York intending to start over with the relationship once again. Meanwhile, Jessie is attracted to Mark Dwyer, just arrived from a secret mission in Italy. Written by
Whatever it was, it's over!
[He walks away and she follows]
Maybe it wasn;t love. Maybe it was only chemistry or the right combination or a miracle, but most people drag through their whole lives without finding it. We both know that, don't we,Bran?
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Two of Marcia Davenport's books - "Valley of Decision" and "East Side, West Side" have been adapted for the screen, neither with resounding success. The Greer Garson-Gregory Peck "Valley of Decision" only used half of the book - risky, since it was a huge best-seller. "East Side, West Side," which stars Barbara Stanwyck, Ava Gardner, James Mason, and Van Heflin, also leaves out valuable source material. The result is part melodrama/part murder mystery, with mixed results.
Stanwyck and Mason star as married couple Jessie and Brandon, and at the beginning of the film, despite a lovey-dovey scene in a taxicab, we can see what the problem is. He goes to a bar and seems to be trying to pick up Rosa (Cyd Charisse). When his picture makes the front page the next day for being in a bar fight, Rosa explains the situation to Jessie and the two become friends. She introduces Jessie to the man she loves, Mark Dwyer, and it's obvious from the beginning that he's attracted to Jessie. He's known Rosa since she was a child, doesn't have romantic feelings for her, and the two part friends. Jessie, however, wants her husband, and is panicked when she learns that the woman who nearly ruined their marriage, Isabel (Ava Gardner) is back in town. Brandon is obsessed with her - and Isabel knows it.
Heflin and Stanwyck make a great pair, and the audience wants them together right away. Mason exhibits no emotion throughout. Gale Sondergaard is excellent as Stanwyck's mother, though one wonders about the casting as she was only a few years older than Stanwyck. One comment stated that Stanwyck was too old for her role; I actually think Sondergaard was too young, as Mason, Heflin, and Stanwyck were within a few years of one another. One bit of casting that is interesting is Charisse, as she bore a resemblance to Gardner, so the initial attraction Mason has for Rosa bears out his obsession with Isabel.
Gardner provides all the excitement in "East Side, West Side" as a purely sexual being who lives off of men and enjoys exerting her power over them. She's absolutely gorgeous and just about burns a hole in the film with her steamy performance. Rita Hayworth and Ava Gardner were unique screen goddesses who had the whole package - beauty, body, voice, and an erotic sensuality.
Stanwyck is sympathetic in a familiar role for her, and Heflin's energetic performance is juxtaposed against Mason's, making one wonder why Stanwyck is wasting her time. Hollywood seemed to want to make Marcia Davenport's rich novels into ordinary screen stories. It succeeded.
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