Thursday, November 1, 2007

EAST SIDE, WEST SIDE (MGM 1949) Warner Home Video

Based on the scintillating novel by Marcia Davenport, Mervyn LeRoy’s East Side West Side (1949) is a potent melodrama that takes a rather frank and unrelenting look at marital infidelity and the fallout incurred in the name of keep up appearances with faux respectability.

The story begins on New York’s fashionable east end with married couple Jessie (Barbara Stanwyck) and Brandon Bourne (James Mason) enjoying a ritual Thursday night feast at Jessie’s mother Nora Kernan’s (Gail Sondergaard) apartment. The gathering seems idyllic and quaint enough. However, as the couple departs for their own home – Nora suspects that all is not entirely well.

You see, Brandon was having a rather torrid romance with viper/mantrap, Isabel Lorrison (Ava Gardner) – an affair that Jessie forgave him. However, Isabel is back in town, and meaner, hotter and more sensually tempting than ever before. She lures Brandon away from Jessie at every chance, flaunting her success while certain that she will win her conquest in the end. Not that it matters either way to Isabel, who is currently seeing New York thug in a three piece, Alec Dawning (Douglas Kennedy); much to the chagrin of his other playmate, Felice Backett (Beverly Michaels).

In the meantime, Jessie has befriended former cop turned man of the people, Mark Dwyer (Van Heflin), on leave from his job in Italy. Dwyer’s girlfriend, Rosa Senta (Cyd Charisse) has been nursing a school girl’s crush and keeping her home fires burning for Mark over the last two years in the hopes that he will feel the same toward her upon his return to America. But Mark quickly develops a yen for Jessie instead.

The great curiosity and skill of LeRoy’s direction is how it manages to effortlessly shift from a seemingly conventional soap opera about six lives inexplicably and unpredictably intertwined, into a full blown film noir after Isabel’s body is discovered choked to death inside her apartment. LeRoy’s direction is strong and straight forward, though never pedestrian. He keeps the film moving, inserting comedic bits of business to break up the rather dark and brooding monotony of the more sinister plot twists.

The entire cast is superb. Mason, in particular, gives a brilliant read of this sort of ‘weak/troubled’ and utterly flawed, though handsome enough man about town that became his stock and trade during the 50s – most notably as Norman Maine in A Star Is Born (1954). There’s great conviction in Stanwyck’s performance as well, shifting atmospherically from doting, respectful and understanding wife to a woman who’s had enough of both her life and the man who pretends to occupy it with her.

Warner Home Video’s DVD is adequately rendered with minor flaws worth noting. Edge enhancement plagues the main title and end credit sequences. Age related artifacts are present throughout and, at times, heavier than expected. On the whole the gray scale has been impeccably rendered with fine gradation and a considerable amount of fine detail evident throughout. Blacks are solid and deep; whites, nearly pristine.

On several occasions image quality seems to have been sourced from a less than stellar print rather than the original camera negative (as in the scene where Mark takes Jessie to his old neighborhood and runs into a school mate he hasn’t seen in some time). Here, the image is briefly softer with lower contrast levels. On the whole, however, this transfer will surely not disappoint. The audio is mono as expected. Extras include a radio broadcast, several short subjects and the film’s original theatrical trailer. Recommended.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



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