Movie Reviews - Featured Films » Epic Films - Musical

West Side Story Movie Review

tony robert robbins wise

1961 – Robert Wise, Jerome Robbins –

This energetic musical inspired by Romeo and Juliet places the familiar story in 1950s New York among rival street gangs, the Jets (composed of Anglos) and the Sharks (composed of Puerto Ricans). Exteriors were shot at the current site of the Lincoln Center Performing Arts complex. Based on the stage play written by Arthur Laurents and directed by Jerome Robbins and retaining the brilliant Leonard Bernstein/Stephen Sondheim score, West Side Story tells of the ill-fated love between Tony (Richard Beymer), former member of the Jets, and Maria (Natalie Wood), sister to the leader of the Sharks, Bernardo (George Chakiris). After falling in love at first sight while at a dance, Tony and Maria find themselves in the midst of increasing conflict between the two gangs as the lovers defy the loyalties and biases of their respective backgrounds. Ultimately, immature gang mentality, violence, and prejudice run their course and result in tragedy for the two.

On one level, West Side Story is intriguing for the way it utilizes and reinterprets the plot of Shakespeare's play to comment on street gang life in the mid-twentieth century. The real magic of the film, however, lies in its ability to transport the audience into the surrealistic world of its unfolding drama. With enjoyable songs that capture the mood of the moment, thrilling choreographed movements that turn fights into dances and dances into silent conversations, and striking images that result from both the production design and the kinetic energy of the camera, West Side Story creates a fascinating backdrop for the tale of the “star-crossed” lovers. Even the love between Tony and Maria, which is at once magical, intense, and fervently devoted, manages to remain believable. Wood and Beymer had their singing voices dubbed by Marni Nixon and Jim Bryant, respectively, while Rita Moreno was vocally bolstered by Betty Wand.

Throughout the film, though especially during the musical numbers, directors Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins choreograph and edit smoothly paced sequences, each of which seems to tell a little story. The night of the rumble, for instance, includes a sequence prior to the actual confrontation that pieces together, in the form of continuing verses in the same song, parallel events from different characters' perspectives as they all prepare for the night; the flow of images, movement, and sound in this sequence is so harmonious and vibrant that the sequence could be described as a dance itself. The final scene brings the drama to an end with a somber sequence, also artistically choreographed, that closes the curtain on Tony's and Maria's struggle to love each other against all opposition, but it also offers a glimmer of hope that the tragedy may help lead to peace.

Songs: “Prologue,” “Jet Song,” “Something's Coming,” “Dance at the Gym,” “Maria,” “America,” “Tonight,” “One Hand, One Heart,” “Gee, Officer Krupke,” “A Boy Like That,” “I Feel Pretty,” “Quintet,” and “Somewhere.”

Cast: Natalie Wood (Maria), Richard Beymer (Tony), Russ Tamblyn (Riff), Rita Moreno (Anita), George Chakiris (Bernardo), Simon Oakland (Lieutenant Schrank), Ned Glass (Doc), William Bramley (Officer Krupke), Tucker Smith (Ice), Tony Mordente (Action), David Winters (A-Rab), Eliot Field (Baby John), Bert Michaels (Snowboy), David Bean (Tiger), Robert Banas (Joyboy), John Astin (Glad Hand) Screenwriter: Arthur Laurents, Ernest Lehman Cinematog-rapher: Daniel L. Fapp Composer: Leonard Bernstein Producer: Robert Wise and Saul Chapin for Twentieth Century Fox Running Time: 151 minutes Format: VHS, LV Awards: Academy Awards 1961: Art Direction/Set Decoration, Color Cinematography, Costume Design (Color), Director (Robert Wise, Jerome Robbins), Editing, Picture, Sound, Supporting Actor (George Chakiris), Supporting Actress (Rita Moreno), Scoring of a Musical; Nominations: Adapted Screenplay (Arthur Laurents, Ernest Lehman); Directors Guild of America Awards, 1961: Director (Robert Wise), Director (Jerome Robbins); Golden Globe Awards, 1962: Film—Musical/Comedy, Supporting Actor (George Chakiris), Supporting Actress (Rita Moreno); New York Film Critics Awards 1961: Film Box Office: $19M.

They Might Be Giants … Movie Review [next] [back] South Pacific Movie Review

User Comments

Your email address will be altered so spam harvesting bots can't read it easily.
Hide my email completely instead?

Cancel or