Starring: Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Russ Tamblyn, Rita Moreno, George Chakiris
Release Date: Oct. 18, 1961 (USA)
Running Time: 152 min
Genres: Musical, Romance, Drama
Commentary West Side Story is one of my favorite musicals. The music and dancing are exquisite, as well as the acting and storyline. The Leonard Bernstein soundtrack includes the following songs:
"Tonight" (Tony and Maria)
"America" (Sharks and Shark Girls)
"Gee, Officer Krupke" (Jets)
"I Feel Pretty" (Maria, Rosalia, Consuela, and Francisca)
The cinematography is also excellent and revolutionary in many ways, including the abstract image of lower Manhattan shown in the opening in various colors, the scene in which Tony and Maria fall in love at the dance and everything is blurred out except for the couple, and the credits at the end of the movie, portrayed as neighborhood graffiti.
Plot Summary West Side Story is basically a modern-day version of "Romeo and Juliet" which takes place in the West Side of Manhattan in the 1950s. The rivalry is between the Jets, an Italian and Irish gang, and the Sharks, a Puerto Rican gang, each of which is fighting over the turf. Tony (Richard Beymer), the former leader of the Jets, attends a dance along with his former gang as well as the Sharks. There he meets the lovely Puerto Rican girl Maria (Natalie Wood) and the two immediately fall in love. Their love proves to be ill-fated though, as it becomes intertwined with the extreme rivalry and violence between the two gangs. In the end, Tony ends up getting killed. Once Maria expresses her desire to avenge his death and kill herself as well, the two rival gangs part on good terms.
Social Relevance Although West Side Story is basically the same story as "Romeo and Juliet", the setting is much more relevant to American culture at the time the movie was made. West Side Story is one of the earliest films I know of to deal with prejudice as well as crime and injustice. The movie pokes fun at the police as well as the legal system regarding their treatment of juvenile delinquents as expressed in the satirical song, "Gee, Officer Krupke". Although West Side Story has a tragic ending, it has a powerful message regarding the dangers of hate and intolerance and that love is blind.
Here's the Jets' performance of "The Jet Song".
Here's Tony's performance of "Something's Coming".
Here's Tony's performance of "Maria".
Here's the performance of "Tonight" by Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer, inspired by the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet.
Here's the performance of "America" by the Sharks.