West Side Story (1961)

west side story poster 1961 movie
9.0 Overall Score
Story: 7/10
Acting: 9/10
Visuals: 10/10

Great looking movie with strong cast

Romeo & Juliet storyline is tired nowadays

Movie Info

Movie Name:  West Side Story

Studio:  The Mirisch Company

Genre(s):  Musical/Romance/Drama

Release Date(s):  October 18, 1961

MPAA Rating:  Not Rated

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Hey guys, want to play basketball?

The Puerto Rican Sharks find themselves at odds with Jets who feel they’ve moved into their home turf on the west side of Manhattan.  When Jet Tony Wyzek (Richard Beymer) finds himself in love with Maria Nuñez (Natalie Wood), the sister of Shark leader Bernardo Nuñez (George Chakiris), both Maria and Tony learn that their love cannot exist in their world.  An accident leads to the death and has Tony wanted by the law and the Sharks, and Maria and Tony’s love might not survive it.

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Oh yeah…this is going to work!

Directed by Robert Wise and Jerrome Robbins, West Side Story adapts the popular 1957 musical which takes it story from William Shakespeare’s classic play Romeo and Juliet.  The film is widely considered one of the best musicals of all time and the winner of number of awards.  It won Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (George Chakiris), Best Supporting Actress (Rita Moreno), Best Set Decoration—Color, Best Cinematography—Color, Best Costume Design—Color, Best Director, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score, and Best Sound and also received a nomination for Best Writing—Adaptation.  The movie also has been voted into the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for preservation.

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I won!!! Crap, no, I’ve been stabbed.

I am not a huge fan of traditional musicals, but West Side Story is one of those musicals you can even appreciate if you aren’t a fan.  It is a musical 100% in the traditional sense with everyone stopping and singing…complete with choreography, but West Side Story could be argued does it best.

The story is the weakest part of West Side Story.  The Romeo and Juliet story is a tired story, and I can’t imagine that even back in 1961, it wouldn’t have been old.  The only difference in the story of course is that they couldn’t go through with killing Maria and you get Natalie Wood’s big speech at the end.  I think the movie would have been better served if Maria had died.  The movie for the most part does follow the stage play but is a bit less edgy and plays with the order of some numbers.

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The least threatening gang…ever

The cast for the movie really scores through there was a lot of controversy and debate surrounding it.  Many felt that the original stage cast member should have come back for Maria and Tony, but the makers wanted them more age appropriate and younger.  Allegedly Elvis Presley was a lead contender for Tony by choice of Robert Wise but his manager Colonel Parker didn’t want him in the role.  A number of other stars including Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Ashley, Suzanne Pleshette, Jill St. John, Anthony Perkins, Warren Beatty, Burt Reynolds, Richard Chamerlain, and Bobby Darin were considered for the main roles.  Despite selecting Wood and  Beymer, both actors ended up having to be dubbed for their singing roles.  George Chakiris is a standout as Bernardo, but Rita Moreno really steals the show as Anita, Bernardo’s girlfriend and Maria’s best friend.  She just provides energy and fun to numbers like “America” but still can do the darker roles like the attempted rape scene (which did send her to tears due to a childhood sexual assault).

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Master cinematography for the numbers

The movie looks exceptional.  It was shot on the actual west side of Manhattan and Wise and Robbins really made the movie pop with color and shooting style.  It is full of bright colors and greatly choreographed scenes.  Granted, the Sharks and the Jets are the least threatening gang members ever, they could dance you to death.  Combine the great looks with the strong and memorable musical and you have a winner.

West Side Story is a movie that has had reaching influence so it is worth seeking out in this aspect alone.  Its record haul at the Oscars made it most Oscars for a musical and one of the biggest winners of all time.  Even if you aren’t huge into musicals, it can still be an enjoyed ride.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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