West Side Story

The screen achieves one of the great entertainments in the history of motion pictures.

Crime Drama Romance
151 min     7.256     1961     USA


In the slums of the upper West Side of Manhattan, New York, a gang of Polish-American teenagers called the Jets compete with a rival gang of recently immigrated Puerto Ricans, the Sharks, to "own" the neighborhood streets. Tensions are high between the gangs but two romantics, one from each gang, fall in love leading to tragedy.


John Chard wrote:
Why do you kids live like there's a war on? West Side Story is directed by Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise. It stars Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Russ Tamblyn, Rita Moreno, George Chakiris, Simon Oakland and Ned Glass. Music is by Leonard Bernstein (lyrics by Stephen Sondheim) and cinematography by Daniel L. Fapp. In the less affluent areas of the upper West Side of Manhattan, New York, a gang of Polish-American teenagers called "The Jets" are in conflict with a rival gang of immigrated Puerto Ricans called "The Sharks". They each thirst to own the neighborhood streets, but with tensions reaching peak point, two kids, one from each rival gang, fall in love... A Multi Oscar winner, West Side Story is a musical update of Romeo & Juliet. Set in the 50s in a steamy gangland New York, pic unfurls in a blaze of booming colour and scintillating choreography (Robbins). It has very much become a film that musical lovers can rejoice in, for even though it has problems, when it soars it soars far and away. Problems come with the crossed gang lovers played by Wood and Beymer, the actors dubbing is poor, their dialogue delivery also itchy. It doesn't help that the film's quality noticeably dips when this fall in love axis of the story (as key as it is) shows up - stretching the run time to a nearly unbearable and unjustified length. Yet it remains a joyous experience even today, you can forgive it for its ills when you get songs like "America" (Moreno the best thing in the film by far) that transport you up there on the screen. Or that the choreography is like a ballet version of circus acrobatics in full effect. In short, if you have any kink for musicals in filmic form, this is a must see. 8/10
r96sk wrote:
Not one for me. I did not enjoy 1961's 'West Side Story', unfortunately. I felt almost everything about it to be kinda crappy if I'm honest. For one I didn't feel any chemistry with the cast, with no standout performer in sight; and that's on top of the iffy casting itself. None of the music - aside from that one tiny bit of "Tonight" - hits and the story comes across as forced. The musical numbers are also extremely staged, the whole thing feels like a stage performance rather than a film; in fact, I genuinely assumed that the actors were just Broadway performers - à la 'Jersey Boys'. New York City also doesn't feel real or, away from the main characters, lived in. Admittedly musicals aren't my go-to, though I'm more than capable of enjoying them. This, however, just didn't work for me at all. I wouldn't class it as anything awful, it's just simply quite poor - in my eyes, of course. Many, including the Oscars apparently, disagree! With all that said, I'm still interested in checking out the 2021 remake at some point to see what Steven Spielberg did (or didn't do) with it.
Filipe Manuel Neto wrote:
**An old musical with some hints of ethnic prejudice, and it didn't seem as good as I thought it would be.** This is one of those films that, honestly, I find difficult to understand. It is a production that brought to the cinema an interesting Broadway musical, which is still shown in several places today, and which tells a story similar to Romeo and Juliet in the context of youth gang wars in New York in the mid-20th century. The idea is seductive, and developing it from Shakespeare's source material is a point of quality. But sixty years have passed, and it is worth rethinking some things. The film was directed by Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise, and makes great use of the action and music of the theatrical version, having achieved resounding box office and critical success, in addition to a plethora of awards, including ten Oscars (Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Director, Best Art Direction in a Color Film, Best Editing, Best Cinematography in a Color Film, Best Costume Design in a Color Film, Best Film, Best Soundtrack for a Musical Film, Best Sound). Since then, it has placed on the list of the greatest and most memorable musicals ever made. It is understandable, therefore, the film's impact at the time and its classic status. The studios spared no expense, taking advantage of their budget to create a huge visual and sound spectacle, in a luxurious production with impeccable cinematography and magnificent light, color and filming work. Taking advantage of all the Broadway material, the film inherits Leonard Bernstein's songs accompanied by exuberant dance numbers by magnificently choreographed groups, something challenging and innovative for this time. I think it goes without saying that the melodies and songs can stand on their own and have its proper value. In addition to all this work, the film has good sets and costumes. Although all of these are enormous qualities, I have to be honest, even though it will offend some people: while watching the film, I didn't feel empathy for the characters or enjoy the story. The steering is decent, but it doesn't go beyond that. The script is the same as the original musical play, but it is not engaging or convincing, and that romance seemed forced and far-fetched. If the two dance groups are dangerous gangs of delinquents, they are certainly harmless and only use their knives to peel fruit. But worse than all these are the Puerto Ricans: the group was represented according to unacceptable ethnic and cultural prejudices, with racist contours. This makes it even more insulting that they chose painted-faced Anglo-Saxon actors for several of the Latin roles, with Natalie Wood being the most obvious case. This brings us to talk about the cast. As it turns out, for me, Wood was a total casting mistake. She may be the right age, the smile, but she's not even Latin, she doesn't even sing a note, she doesn't even know how to dance. She simply took the opportunity to be part of a great film. Richard Beymer, her love interest, does a better job, but is still very bland and not very interesting. Russ Tamblyn and Rita Moreno do positive work, but they don't help much.