“Only rarely does any one time stand out so that we remember it and say, ‘That’s when everything changed.’”
East Side, West Side is a 1949 urban noir drama based on a novel by Marcia Davenport. James Mason and Barbara Stanwyck star as Brandon and Jessie Bourne, a New York City couple whose marriage is plagued by a past infidelity. At the start of the film, Brandon goes out one night without Jessie, and she later learns that his former mistress, Isabel Lorrison (Ava Gardner), has returned to the city after some time away—and Jessie is right to be concerned. Jess is supported by Rosa Senta (Cyd Charisse), through whom she meets Mark Dwyer (Van Heflin), with whom she develops a friendly relationship. Mark—with his nice-guy charm, receding hairline, and genuine interest in Jess—is a clever foil to the debonair, cocktail-swirling, mistress-chasing Bran. The characters’ relationships swirl as friendships are made and lusts are pursued, culminating in betrayal, dissolution, and murder. As the title implies, vague tensions between east-side elites and west-side working-class community roil amid the drama.  With a screenplay by Isobel Lennart, the film was directed by Mervyn LeRoy, with art direction by Randall Duell and Cedric Gibbons, set decoration by Edwin B. Willis, and some textiles designed by Dorothy Liebes, including screens, draperies, and upholsteries.
Throughout the film, textiles adorn various interiors and serve to characterize space and people. Liebes weavings have a particular impact in two interiors: the Del Rio nightclub and Isabel’s apartment. Both are glamorous, bright, and chic, with a hint of scandal. (These interiors contrast with the Bournes’ apartment, which is grand and traditional with floral fabrics, wingback and tufted club chairs, crown molding, chinoiserie, carved-marble fireplaces, and grand staircases.) Liebes often deployed color vibrantly in her textiles, but the technology of the day required her to work within the constraints of black-and-white film. She therefore chose metallic and textural materials that would animate or evoke in gray scale while still achieving an effect that is uniquely Liebes.
In the Del Rio nightclub—to which Bran escapes on that initial, consequential night away from Jess and encounters Isabel—Liebes’s textiles are almost immediately recognizable as Isabel sashays through the club and they shimmer into frame. Floor-to-ceiling panels about six feet wide flank the club’s interior entrance, in addition to sectioning off other areas of the space (Fig. 1). Horizontal rods are connected by metallic threads in contrasting tones and variable widths, creating a symmetrical striped pattern across each panel. A slight space exists between the suspended rods, offering a peekaboo effect into the club. Though the movie was filmed in black-and-white, the light gray suggests a light or muted color from which the metallic threads sparkle. It’s as if the metallic actually comes through on the screen, with the sparkling effect enlivened by the movement of the camera.  The club is outfitted with other modernist touches, including mirror-framed doorways, a tiled glass panel above the bandstand, and an Isamu Noguchi–esque mobile suspended above dining and drinking clubgoers.
The next day, Bran is confronted by Isabel in his office and is coaxed to her apartment (he warns her to think with her brain, which he himself is not doing). For Isabel’s apartment, Willis and Liebes incorporated both metallics and texture into the textiles. The use of the metallic threads, in the curtains, again brings a glamor to her space but also associates it with the nightclub and the potential for drama that entails. Throughout the living room, eclectic accessories, such as Blackamoor lamps and a Corinthian column–supported glass-top table, pose amid sumptuous but streamlined furniture.
As Isabel and Bran argue over the status of their relationship (she’s a “yes!” and he’s a “no! but actually not no!”), she transitions to a couch. In the couch and accompanying pillow upholstery, rows of long, lustrous pile create a restrained, fur-like texture that welcomes touch and conveys elevated comfort (Fig. 2).  As Isabel questions why Bran has not yet left the apartment despite his resolution to stop associating with her, she reclines on the couch, removing her earrings and shoes. “Earrings off? Shoes off? Same old routine,” Bran responds to her unsubtle seduction, adding, “Aren’t you getting a little obvious, darling?” Isabel allows her coiffed hair, structural face, and slender frame to nestle invitingly into the fabrics. After some further dialogue, the scene cuts away, and Mr. Bourne does not make it home to his wife for dinner that evening.
“When a guy ditches a girl, why is he always the one with the long, suffering face?”
There is a bar in East Side, West Side that serves as a stark contrast to the otherwise expensive, modern or traditional interiors presented throughout the film.  Mark meets Rosa there when she hopes he has time to spend the evening with her, but he only has time for one drink. The cheapness of this bar is partly conveyed through the non-Liebes, gingham-like checked tablecloths—the look is more “family picnic in the park” or “beers with your buddies” than elegant, impressive date night. All speaking women in this scene know that they are being dumped in one way or another. Mark admits to liking Jess so Rosa insists that her interest in him is a mere “kid’s crush”—at least that’s what she tells herself to make his rejection bearable. It is also here that Felice Backett (Beverly Michaels), a secondary love interest of Isabel’s sugar daddy, Alec Dawning (Douglas Kennedy), is officially introduced. “Are you sure that Lorrison dame won’t mind?” she angrily presses regarding his being there with her. Her feathered hat, pearl necklace, mink wrap, and long gloves look ridiculous and perturbed against the checked cloth.
“She threw a glass of champagne in his face and walked out.”
When getting a manicure, do you ever think, which color would be least conspicuous should I be implicated in a murder?
The story’s dramatic climax begins when Bran leaves a message for Jess to call him—at Isabel’s telephone number. He reports that he has found Isabel dead in her apartment. The characters quickly assemble at the crime scene to better understand the situation. As a member of law enforcement, Mark takes charge. In the bedroom with Isabel’s dead body, Mark sifts through a disheveled pile of fringe from a lampshade (possibly the murder weapon) until he finds a small, triangular, dark-colored chip that appears to be a broken-off fingernail (red, as is later stated and given the fashions of the time) (Fig. 3). He immediately checks the fingers of the deceased victim to see if it might be hers—no match. He returns to the living room, where Jess hurriedly approaches him and asks if everything will be okay. While he comforts her, he holds her hands and subtly inspects her tips: her unvarnished nails are intact.
Mark follows clues to the murder back to the Del Rio club. He learns that Alec has rented out the club for the early evening, during which Isabel and Felice had a confrontation. As Mark questions the situation with the club staff, Felice enters the club, disgruntled and framed by the sparkling Liebes panels (Fig. 4). The sparkle has become cinematic shorthand for a glamorous troublemaker. Mark convinces Felice to accompany him to a party, after which an uncomfortable physical altercation ensues that renders Felice unconscious. In the next scene, Mark enters the police precinct, closely followed by Felice, who is now conscious but seemingly in shock. Her long gloves have been removed to reveal that, in an anti-Cinderella moment, the broken nail from the crime scene matches the jagged break and color of her third fingertip.
Although Isabel’s murder is solved, Bran and Jess’s marriage is not saved. He claims that Isabel is no longer between them, and she retorts, “You’re not innocent of her death. You just didn’t kill her.” She leaves him, and the final shot of the film is of his back as he gazes at the view out their east-facing terrace.
Liebes textiles excel materially through the motion picture; despite being devoid of color, they still read as Liebes’s designs.  They also contribute to the use of modern design in film set decoration to characterize that which is anti-traditional, transgressive, and—in the case of East Side, West Side—glamorous and sexy.
Note on section header quotes: the first is said by Jess in her opening voice-over monologue; the second is said by Rosa to Mark before he breaks up with her; the third is said by the host at Del Rio, who is recounting Felice’s behavior before she left the club to go murder Isabel.
 In the 1940s, the Upper West Side of Manhattan was home to immigrants and the working class, in contrast to its current affluent, uptown status.
 Susan Brown, “Glitter,” in A Dark, A Light, A Bright: The Designs of Dorothy Liebes, eds. Susan Brown and Alexa Griffith Winton (New York: Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum; New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2023), 160–61.
 Susan Brown, “Texture,” in A Dark, A Light, A Bright: The Designs of Dorothy Liebes, eds. Susan Brown and Alexa Griffith Winton (New York: Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum; New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2023), 112–13.
 Later in the film, Mark’s working-class roots are also reinforced by a visit to his West Side neighborhood, depicted through brick walls and pavement of the streetscape—no sumptuous or sparkling textiles there.
 Alexa Griffith Winton, “Vibrance and Luminosity,” in A Dark, A Light, A Bright: The Designs of Dorothy Liebes, eds. Susan Brown and Alexa Griffith Winton (New York: Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum; New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2023), 74.