West Side Story (1961)
Critic Consensus: Buoyed by Robert Wise's dazzling direction, Leonard Bernstein's score, and Stephen Sondheim's lyrics, West Side Story remains perhaps the most iconic of all the Shakespeare adaptations to visit the big screen.
This romantic musical update of 'Romeo and Juliet' won ten Oscars. The tale of a turf war between rival teenage gangs in Manhattan's Hell's Kitchen and the two lovers who cross battle lines has captivated audiences for four decades. The Stephen Sondheim/Leonard Bernstein score is just one of the reasons.
|Genre:||Drama, Romance, Musical & Performing Arts|
|Directed By:||David Winters, George Chakiris, Natalie Wood, Ned Glass, Richard Beymer, Rita Moreno, Russ Tamblyn, Simon Oakland, Tony Mordente, Tucker Smith, William Bramley, Robert Wise, Jerome Robbins|
|Written By:||Ernest Lehman|
|In Theaters:||Oct 18, 1961 Wide|
|On DVD:||Oct 20, 1998|
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as Lt. Schrank
as Officer Krupke
as Off. Krupke
as Glad Hand
as Mme. Lucia
as Baby John
as Big Deal
as Big Deal
as Del Campo
as Maria [singing]
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Critic Reviews for West Side Story
Natalie Wood, who was made a hit in the Kazan-Inge production of Splendor In the Grass and is the most promising young star of today, gives a fine dramatic performance.
West Side Story is a beautifully-mounted, impressive, emotion-ridden and violent musical which, in its stark approach to a raging social problem and realism of unfoldment, may set a pattern for future musical presentations.
Special mention, though, should go to Boris Leven's neo-expressionist production design and Daniel L Fapp's forceful cinematography: the crooked angles, pointed shadows and great swashes of red all heighten the mood of rabid fury.
Unhappily, the film shares a serious flaw in the essential conception of the show; both are founded on a phony literary analogy and on some potentially vicious pseudo-sociology.
Decent 1961 adaptation of the Bernstein-Robbins musical, if you can handle Richard Beymer and Natalie Wood in the leads.
Audience Reviews for West Side Story
The story is Romeo and Juliet set to music.
The film's highlights are the music and songs that give resonance to Shakespeare's classic tale and the wonderfully arresting performance by Natalie Wood.
What I don't like about the film is the choreography. Set against the rough and tumble backdrop of New York City slums, these dancers are performing balletic and graceful moves the majesty of which belie the film's themes and social and economic realities. In and of themselves, the dances are fun and enticing, but there is a true disconnect between them and the story.
Here is a thought that is as yet only a germ in my brain: I find it odd that the white characters' complaints about their environment are social and economic -- big world issues -- whereas the Latinas embrace the social and economic realities of American life. They feel honored to be here despite the racial realities with which they are faced. It is as though the film, in a strain of racism, won't permit its minority characters any reasonable revolt. As I said, I think I need to develop this thought more, but I'm still convinced there's something fishy about this film vis a vis race relations.
Overall, it's fun and good, but it's certainly not perfect.
It's a little weird. It's a classic, for sure, but the ballet-dancing, overacting, near-gangbangers are just a bit absurd. Vivid and frenetic choreography and music (with a few oversyncopated atonal hot messes like "Something's Coming" and "A Boy Like That/I Have a Love"), but the Puerto Rican accents sometimes slip, and the "brownface" make-up is disturbingly noticeable, especially in Rita Moreno's case. She, George Chakiris, and even Jose De Vega as Chino are fantastic, but I'm disappointed that the leads, Richard Beymer and Natalie Wood, had to be dubbed by what seemed like professional but deliberately handicapped singers.
In 1962, the film version of the popular musical "West Side Story" won not one, not two, but ten academy awards. The American Film Institute placed it second on it's list of the greatest film Musicals of all Time, right after "Singin' In the Rain" (and above The Wizard of Oz). Obviously a film of this caliber doesn't need me or my praise, but I will share my opinion regardless. The premise of the film (and I assume of the stage version) is simple: what if Romeo and Juliet took place in modern (1961) New York, and instead of rival families separating the two lovers, it was rival gangs? The Jets vs. the Sharks, Americans vs. Puerto Ricans, white vs. hispanic, the barriers separating the two factions are distinct and seemingly uncrossable. So Maria (Natalie Wood) and Tony (Richard Beymer) find themselves falling in love at first sight when they meet at a dance, oblivious to the world around them. I'm sure the film version has technical advantages over the stage version, and the "first meeting" scene is a perfect example of this. It's a great piece of direction and artistry, undeniable artistry. Whatever your feelings about singing, prancing gang members, it would be impossible to ignore the artistry of the film on display. Add to this musical numbers that have entered into the cultural lexicon, and you have a near flawless film.
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