Brandon (James Mason) and Jessie Bourne (Barbara Stanwyck) are a very happily married couple and part of Manhattan’s elite. Things weren’t always so happy for them, though. Brandon has a history of infidelity, but Jessie is the only woman he loves and he’s determined to leave the past behind. All is going well for them until one night, he visits a nightclub and finds out Isabel Lorrison (Ava Gardner), his former girlfriend, is back in town. She wants to pick things up with him again and Brandon fights hard to resist her advances.
While at the club, Brandon ends up getting into a fight with Isabel’s date for the night. Rosa Senta (Cyd Charisse) witnesses the fight and tries to help Brandon since she respects Jessie and doesn’t want to see the incident splashed across the society page. Sure enough, though, the story makes the paper and some of Jessie’s friends are worried about what Isabel’s return could mean for their marriage. Jessie goes to meet Rosa to thank her for helping Brandon and gives her a ride to the airport so she can pick up her boyfriend Mark Dwyer (Van Heflin).
It just so happens that Mark is the guest of honor at a party being thrown by some of Jessie and Brandon’s friends. But just before the party, Isabel convinces Brandon to come see her at her apartment. Although he has every intention of ending things with her once and for all, he ends up staying so long that Jessie has to go to the party alone. But while at the party, she gets to know Mark some more and he begins to fall in love with her.
The next day, Jessie gets a call from Isabel and goes to her apartment to confront her. Isabel swears up and down that she’s the one he really wants, and Jessie begins to worry she might be right, but then she gets a call from Brandon telling her that Isabel has been murdered. Naturally, Brandon gets brought in for questioning, and even though he’s cleared in the matter, the incident forces Jessie to make up her mind whether or not she wants to stay with Brandon.
I was surprised that East Side, West Side got pretty mediocre reviews on my cable guide and the TCM website, because I really enjoyed it. If it had been made with a lesser cast, I don’t think I would have been nearly as good, but everybody was completely on point here it absolutely made the movie. I loved Barbara Stanwyck and Van Heflin together. Ava Gardner was one deliciously conniving other woman; she truly revels in making you hate Isabel. Even Cyd Charisse was good, which might be surprising to a lot of people since this isn’t a musical.
My only complaint was that I was getting bored during the scenes where Van Heflin puts on his detective hat to figure out who killed Isabel. Those scenes didn’t seem to fit in very well with the rest of the movie. It was almost like they came out of some other movie. First it was a drama about marriage, then all of a sudden it turned into a murder mystery, and then it went right back to being a drama again.
But that issue aside, I was very surprised by just how good East Side, West Side was. Definitely keep an eye out for this one, I don’t think it really gets the credit it deserves.