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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
West Side Story, one of my personal favorite movies of all time and
without a doubt my favorite musical. Why do I love this film so much?
Because of it's high energy, great actors, terrific songs, awesome
dance numbers, and beautiful love story. As an updated Romeo and Juliet
story, we visit the streets of Manhattan, two gangs of different
ethnicities, Tony and Maria, the two fall in love by are torn apart by
the gang's hatred for each other. Sounds pretty basic, not to mention
we have dancing gangs, they don't really fight, they just dance, yeah
again sissy, but not in this story! The crew and cast put their heart
and soul into this film and it truly paid off as this is the best
picture of 1961.
In the streets of Manhattan the Jets, led by Riff, and a rival gang of Puerto Rican immigrants, the Sharks, led by Bernardo begin to rumble. The police arrive and tell the "hoodlums" to get off the streets. The Jets discuss challenging the Sharks to one last all out "rumble", that will decide who gets control of the streets, and they will deliver the challenge to the Sharks at a dance later that night. Riff decides that his best friend Tony, a co-founder of the Jets who has left the gang to work at a local store, would be the best member of the Jets to present the challenge to the Sharks. When Riff visits Tony at the store, Tony initially refuses Riff's request to meet with the Sharks, but he later changes his mind. At the bridal shop where she works, Bernardo's sister, Maria complains to Bernardo's girlfriend, Anita. Maria believes that Bernardo is overprotective, never allowing her to have enough fun. Bernardo arrives and takes her to the dance. At the gym, the Jets, Sharks and girls are greatly enjoying themselves, but the rival gang members and their girlfriends remain apart. Tony and Maria see each other, become infatuated, almost going into a trance-like state and begin to dance, then embrace in a kiss. Bernardo pushes them away from each other and orders Maria home, and tells Tony to stay away from his sister.
Tony discreetly visits Maria outside the fire escape at her home and they confirm their love. The next day at the bridal shop, Maria sings to her coworkers about how happy she is. Tony arrives to see Maria, she pleads with Tony to prevent the rumble altogether, even if only a fist fight is planned, and Tony promises to do so. At the the rumble, the fight begins between two rival gang members. Tony arrives and tries to stop the fight, but is met with ridicule and mockery from Bernardo and the Sharks. Unable to stand by and watch his best friend be humiliated, Riff angrily lashes out and punches Bernardo. Drawing their knives, Riff and Bernardo fight each other, their duel ending with Bernardo killing Riff. Enraged, Tony kills Bernardo with Riff's knife! Tensions are now at an all time high as both gangs want to get even and Tony and Maria's love is being torn apart by all the hate.
West Side Story is truly a special movie, I personally don't know why it's not on the top 250 IMDb movies, if you are going to watch a musical this is the one that I always recommend. We don't get musicals to this big scape any more, they don't have the same heart as West Side Story had. The actors are absolutely incredible, it's so weird when I watched a documentary on this movie, apparently Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer hated each other, but I guess that must help during the lust scenes because hate and love are practically in the same category when it comes to passion. But the true stars of the film are Rita Moreno as Anita and Russ Tamblyn as Riff, great performances from the both of them. West Side Story is a movie that has no flaws what so ever and anyone who wants to argue me on that, feel free to send me a message.
Although I think I've seen just about every musical there is from the
forties to the seventies, I'd never seen West Side Story until last
night. An amazing omission on my part, as having seen it, I just think
it's simply wonderful.
I bought the DVD "on spec" in a CD/DVD exchange store in Sydney for $10. I've had it in my hand a couple of times before but have always put it back on the shelf. This time I went through with the purchase and am now wondering what could have come over me, not buying it before.
Those here who have said you really need to watch it on the Big Screen are absolutely right. In my case I watched it using a video projector throwing the image, big, bright and beautiful, onto a 12 foot screen. The photography used the wide screen format uncompromisingly. There was no caution here to frame the action for possible television cropping, or even much consideration given to a 2.35:1 "Cinemascope" presentation. Super Panavision's aspect ratio is not as wide as Cinemascope's 2.35:1, and every square inch of screen space was used for one or another important element of composition.
Bernstein's music is a tour de force. Having watched On The Town only a few days back, it was interesting to contrast the two musicals. On The town is, of course, 15 years or so older than West side Story, but a comparison between the two scores is chalk and cheese. You could tell that Bernstein was holding himself back in On The Town. It wasn't his project. The numbers were almost self-censored. But West side Story was his baby, and it shows.
The sheer brilliance of the music, the enchanting daring of it, its raucous atonality coupled with sweetness of melody are awesomely impressive, as show-stopper after show-stopper is thrown onto the screen to continually up the amazement quotient, time after time.
I played West Side Story loud, very loud. The surround sound knocked my socks off from the opening aerial ambiance of Manhattan streets to the orchestrations themselves. I remember Bernstein in the documentary about the concert version of West Side Story saying, aside to the camera, after "Cool, Boy" was recorded, "You know, this is pretty good..." One of the great understatements, even if coming from the music's creator.
See this film. Play it loud. Watch it on a big screen if you can. If you do you may, like I did, sit there thrilled, swinging your head from one side of the Super Panavision screen to the other, trying to take in the overwhelming avalanche coming at your eyes, your ears and your heart. It was an almost perfect transfer from film to DVD: color, sharpness, depth.
It's been a long while since I've watched a film with a silly grin on my face right through, sometimes gasping at the sheer knock-out brilliance of what film-making can be at its best. West Side Story was one of those times.
It is a testament to the musical and theatrical brilliance of "West Side
Story" that this teenage urban love story, set to Shakespeare's classic
"Romeo and Juliet," has survived its outmoded 50s-style book (Arthur
Laurents) replete with "Dead End Kids" posturings and corny, streetwise
lingo (I still cringe when I hear the word "daddio"). For nowhere will
experience such electrifying, jaw-dropping choreography (Jerome Robbins).
Nowhere will you thrill to a more exhilarating, passionate, full-throttled
score (Leonard Bernstein, with Stephen Sondheim providing the libretto).
And nowhere will you find a more dynamic, better-crafted musical that
arguably surpasses its Broadway stage predecessor from overture to finale.
Maria, a lovely, innocent Puerto-Rican girl ("Juliet") and sister of a formidable gang leader, falls for an opposing though reluctant white-skinned gang member Tony ("Romeo") with tragic results. Set in a tough New York neighborhood where the two disparate groups, the Jets ("the Montagues") and Sharks ("the Capulets"), battle for street territory armed with knives, zip guns and rocks, the determined love affair sets off a calamitous chain of events that, in the end, manage to instill hope in diversity. Topical enough?
The strength of "West Side Story" is that it does not try to hide its stage roots. It still unfolds like a musical play. The film is expanded but the talented cast is not dwarfed by on-location surroundings or panoramic camera work ("South Pacific" fell victim to this). On the contrary, the cast lights up every single playing space with sure-footed aliveness and plenty of 'tude. Co-directors Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins stay true to the original, having the sense not to alter or butcher the score ("Man of La Mancha") or haul in a slew of new, untried songs ("On the Town", which actually worked for that musical). In a particularly "Wise" move (sorry), two numbers were repositioned to enhance or intensify the narrative flow. In the film version, the "Officer Krupke" number sparked by a goofy Three Stooges-like levity, is moved earlier into the proceedings BEFORE the serious rumbles start, serving neatly as a light and humorous anti-establishment statement. The tightly-coiled, finger-snapping "Cool" number is pushed way back, giving both song and situation a heightened impact as it goads and ignites the Jet's feelings of pent-up rage and retaliation AFTER their leader is murdered. Smart move, daddio.
The late Natalie Wood has been crucified by critics for her ethnic portrayal of Maria ever since day one. It was not because of any political incorrectness at the time (reigning Hollywood white glamour queen goes Latino) for that hot issue didn't erupt until decades later. It was her limited range as an actress. But over the years, I have grown accustomed to Wood. Yes, despite the melodramatic leanings, the necessity of vocal dubbing (by the incomparable Marni Nixon), the flawed Puerto-Rican accent and the general overuse of Coppertone, I still feel for this Maria. What Wood does offer is utmost sincerity and heartfelt poignancy. So I'm one person who has gotten off the Natalie Wood-bashing wagon. Richard Beymer is another matter. An extremely weak, uncool choice for Tony, his toothy, freshly-scrubbed, chipmunk-like mug and awkward gait reads more like library assistant than gang member. Who would have thought Beymer would be the one to dazzle us much later in the totally cool and offbeat "Twin Peaks"? Still, Wood and Beymer commit themselves 100% and manage to create a credible, if not charismatic, love duet that doesn't get in harm's way.
Since the film's emphasis is really on dance, it's the flashy second leads who provide the real firepower. Rita Moreno's smouldering Anita ("The Nurse") is a spitfire of anger and attitude, while George Chakiris as her Shark leader boyfriend Bernardo ("Tybalt") demonstrates slick, controlled menace. Both Oscar-awarded here, Chakiris, in his debut, proved a lightweight acting talent himself, never finding a role like this again. Russ Tamblyn as Riff ("Mercutio"), the recently inaugurated leader of the Jets, is a hotbed of jaunty, scrappy impatience. Both he and Chakiris are riveting as they demonstrate poetry in motion, leading a pack of Edward Villela-like tough guys into athletic, gravity-defying dance moves.
"Romeo and Juliet vs. the 'Hood" should be required viewing for all grade-school children solely on the basis of art and education. The adults already know the value of this treasure.
Exceptional musical about the gangs--the Jets (Americans) and Sharks
(Puerto Ricans) battling it out for a small section in the west side on
NYC. Tony from the Jets (Richard Beymer) falls in love with Puerto
Rican Maria (Natalie Wood) whose brother Bernardo (George Chakiris)
belongs to the Sharks. Can their love survive? You probably know the
answer but I won't give it away.
An incredible musical--the songs have become legendary and the dance numbers are easily the most energetic and incredible ones ever caught on film. It was (partially) shot on location in NYC which helps and is full of color and life.
Unfortunately there are problems here: Natalie Wood hated Richard Beymer--and it comes through loud and clear. There's a unbelievable lack of sexual chemistry between them and Wood gives a rare bad performance. Beymer is tall, handsome, muscular--and a total blank as Tony. The poor guy is trying but Wood's attitude obviously bothered him. Still everything else about the movie is great. I have a few minor quibbles: How did Tony know where Maria's apartment was?; "I Feel Pretty" is actually hilarious--check out Wood's "dancing"; the "Cool" number is great to look at but brings the movie to a screeching halt.
But everything else works. Chakiris and Rita Moreno are just fantastic as Bernardo and Anita--their dancing and acting is just perfect--they richly deserved those Academy Awards they won. Russ Tamblyn is also very good as Riff (leader of the Jets) and shows some incredible dance moves. And look for John Astin in a hilarious bit at the dance.
All the dances and numbers are good and the lip syncing is pulled off by Beymer and Wood pretty well. But the show stopper is "America"--that number comes right out of the screen at you full force. The lyrics are sanitized from the Broadway show but who cares? It still works.
This won 10 Academy Awards--including Best Picture and Best Director(s). A true classic musical. I've seen it tons of times and I never get tired of it. A must-see. I give it a 10 all the way.
Note the opening credits. I use the term "credits" loosely, because there
aren't any. There's just a reddish orangish title card which changes
ever so slowly while they play the overture. Now THAT takes courage.
Obviously Wise was certain that Bernstein's music provides so much
on its own that it would have been redundant to do anything but play it.
And he was right. Bernstein simply wrote better music than any other
Broadway composer of his day - much better music - and whether or not
Side Story" contains his very best music, it's his very best musical. It
would take a special effort to make a bad movie out of
In fact Wise handles things very well. We get the same silent sweep over New York that he later gave us over Austria in "The Sound of Music" - the sweep that says, "I'm going to show you New York" (or Austria, as the case may be). The filming and the colours are stark and intentionally artificial: it does feel as if we are being shown a city. Performances are all fine.
Of course, most of what makes this film great was already present in the musical. But what's wrong with that? Surely Wise shouldn't HAVE to spin straw into gold. A wise man - sorry - just accepts it with good grace when he is handed gold to begin with.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Shakespeare's classic 'Romeo and Juliet,' is transported by Robert
Wise, beyond the conventional movie musical, to modern-day New York
Shakespeare's Montagues and Capulets become two rival teen-age street gangs: the 'American' Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks... The two young idealistic lovers enhance the attractiveness of two nice kids, caught in racial and ethnic barriers... They are victims of the intolerance, misunderstanding, and mistrust that seem to be ever-present in human society... The film (nominated for an incredible 11 Academy Awards) took home an incredible 10 Oscars including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (George Chakaris), Best Supporting Actress (Rita Moreno), and Best Direction (Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins).
The opening of West Side Story is very innovative... As the overture plays, an abstract design on the screen changes color and becomes a breathtaking aerial view of the island of Manhattan... The camera finally swings down to the West side of New York, where the Jets are snapping their fingers as they walk the streets... Their hated Puerto Rican rivals, the Sharks appear, charged with aggressive energy... Both gangs compete for the control of the poor and filth neighborhood...
Jerome Robbins's powerful choreography captures the explosive tension boiling in the big city slums... The streets (with their flick knives and razors) come alive with athletic young dancers... The tender lyrics and poignant music complement and balance the tough nature of the choreography... The songs advance the plot, and illustrate the action... They range from jazzy and feverish to lyrical to comical, and they are all richly evocative of the film's moods and characters...
In "Maria," Tony gives voice to his feelings about the girl he has come to love... In "I Feel Pretty," Maria describes her own reactions to the miracle of love...
Before their lives turn bleak, the two lovers express their joy in soaring music: Tony with his hopeful 'Something's Coming,' Maria with her entrancing 'I Feel Pretty,' accompanied by Anita and her teasing friends... Their love blossoms out on a poignant scene in "Tonight," and at a bridal shop ("One hand, One Heart") when both affirm their love for each other by celebrating a mock marriage ceremony...
'West Side Story' is a beautiful work of art with spectacular music and energetic dancing... It is surely the finest dance musical since 'Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.' The principal dance numbers are all terrific... The propulsive movement of Riff and the Jets as contrasted with the free movement of Bernardo and the Sharks...
Rita Moreno is spitfire as Anita... Her skillful dancing and Latin temperament are perfect for the character of Anita, a fiery lady who leads her girls in an exciting mambo dance... "Life is alright in America" is possibly the most triumphant sequence of the film... A welcome tone of mockery is introduced, and the 'mambo' atmosphere makes you want to jump out of your seat and dance...
'West Side Story' is a calculated milestone in screen musicals... It breaks new ground in its depiction of contemporary social issues in a musical... The motion picture explores with deep emotional resonance, a world of hate, violence and prejudice... It challenges all of us to struggle for understanding and justice...
History will remember Leonard Bernstein as the most important American musical force in the 20th Century... He is one of the greatest conductors that has ever lived... In 'West Side Story' his superb music communicates directly with the heart...
When they say they don't make movies like they used to, this is the
sort of film they are talking about. Despite its flaws (and there are
some), it is easily one of the best musicals ever made. Beginning with
the overture and the opening scenes of New York City, circa 1960, it
almost screams "classic." Some have criticized Natalie Wood's Maria
(her dubious accent and the dubbed-in singing) or Richard Beymer's Tony
(his slightly smarmy interpretation of the ex gang member gone
straight), but the fact remains, their wholesome, fresh-faced
characterizations defined the roles. And you simply can't top the
film's instrumental score, its great songs ("Maria," "Tonight,"
"America," "I Feel Pretty," "A Place For Us," "I Have a Love," and
"Officer Krupke"), its excellent choreography, or its very effective
cinematography. Rita Moreno, as Anita, delivers what was probably her
best performance in the movies, in particular her dancing and singing
in "America," while Russ Tamblyn, as Rif, the charismatic leader of the
Jets, is seldom given the credit he deserved. Natalie Wood on the
rooftop, anticipating another meeting with her newfound love, is a
vision of grace and innocence, while George Chakiris as her brother
Bernardo, the leader of the Sharks, is very convincing as the
persecuted immigrant/mean-spirited hoodlum. And its not as if these are
the only actors who did a great job. A number of the other supporting
roles are delivered with memorable professionalism, too. In fact, the
cast as a whole is superb.
This movie poignantly (if simplistically) explores the purity of first love, while tackling intolerance and racism head-on, avoiding the tired, politically correct clichés that movies of today too often wallow in. Despite the simplicity of the story, it is always an emotional experience, no matter how many times you've seen it. While it is true that the Academy Awards have become very politicized, and no doubt always were to a degree, this movie snagged ten of them when great movies were being turned out almost as often as mindless pap is today. Not to be missed.
As a now 50-year old, I first saw 'West Side Story' when I was about 7.
It may have been the first movie I ever saw outside home (actually at a
drive-in--remember those?), and it's certainly the most memorable of
movies I saw during that time of my life (although 'The Wizard of Oz'
and 'The Music Man' are right up there too). In fact, as I watch the
DVD now, I'm reminded why when asked, I typically cite it as my
favorite movie of all time. The story is hundreds of years old, and now
with the onset of drive-by shootings, the threat to the community
presented by the Jets and Sharks seems a little dated, but then there's
the amazing Bernstein score, and the fabulous Robbins' choreography,
heartbreaking songs by Sondheim like "One Hand, One Heart" and "I Have
a Love," innovative camera work by director Robert Wise, and
unforgettable performances by the luminous Natalie Wood and the
phenomenal Rita Moreno.
I'm not old enough to have seen the original Broadway play, but I saw a recent revival, and the movie even improves on the play by moving a couple of musical numbers around so they fit better with the plot. Great movie musicals are few and far between these days ('Chicago' sold well--I couldn't quite deal with Richard Gere as a song and dance man); I wish there was another 'West Side Story' in store to entertain me for the next 50 years of my life.
One of the truly great musicals of all time, its a shame that those who do
not care for musicals have to vote to bring it down. If you do not care for
musicals, then you should not vote a "1" just because you do not like ALL
That aside, a great musical score with a great story to back it up. Leonard Bernstein out does himself in this movie. This is definetly a movie to see; an classic for all time. Like its trailer says, "West Side Story does not grow old."
WestSide Story is an American icon, that reveals how today's world
became global, that every modern democratic country of the Earth has
every different culture mixed to live together in peace. So as you
might guess WestSide Story is one socio-political movie that symbolizes
post-modernism. This masterpiece also reveals the most frightening
question that non-Americans -and undemocratic- keep in their mind, but
afraid to ask: "What if America has never been existed?" Once you
watched WestSide Story, you'll realize how post-modernism changed the
world, that racism and vendetta are no longer conceptual.
As a matter of art, WestSide Story combines a walloping score with exuberant choreography and spectacular screenplay to create a transcendent fusion of Realism and Fantasy, that will forever be a feast for the eye, the ear, and ultimately the heart. As a matter of movie concepts, the story line has the perfect progress beginning with the introduction of the two confrontational 1950s' New York city gangs, continuing with the love occurring between a girl from an immigrant group and a boy from a fanatical nationalist group, ending with the death of the gang leaders and the lover boy. When the story begins to progress, it becomes more and more fascinating through focusing of the lovers struggling to come together. There we admire successful acting of Rita Moreno(supporting actress), Susan Oakes and George Chakiris.
9 out of 10.
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