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Review: West Side Story (1961)

The Cynic | 09 January 2012 | DVD/BluRay Reviews, Movie Lounge | , , , , , , | 2 Comments   

Review: West Side Story (1961)

Reviewed By: The Cynic

Directors/Writers: Directed by; Jerome Robbins & Robert Wise. Written by; Earnest Lehman & Arthur Laurents. Original play conceived by Jerome Robbins.

Starring: Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Russ Tamblyn, Rita Moreno, George Chakiris, Simon Oakland, Ned Glass, William Bramley, Tucker Smith, Tony Mordente, David Winters, Eliot Feld, Bert Michaels, David Bean, Robert Banas, Anthony Teague, Harvey Evens, Tommy Abbott, Susan Oakes, etc… (Look, I could name them all, but you should know by now, they’re amazing.)

Plot: An award winning adaptation of a classic romantic tragedy, about two warring New York City gangs – the white Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks. When the leader’s best friend (and former Jet) Tony, and the leader of the Sharks’ younger sister Maria, meet at a dance, no one can do anything to stop their love. Maria and Tony begin meeting in secret, planning to run away. But when a war begins to gain control of the streets, Maria sends Tony to stop it, hoping it can end the violence. Truly remarkable and memorable story ensues.

Critique: Music! It carries the tune of life in every keystroke, every drumbeat, and every pull of a string. It carries a tune throughout the universe and tells the heavens that life is beautiful and the universe is alive! Growing up, I discovered this fact at a very early age. For as long as I could remember, I found myself more of a fan of the musical genre than any other genre out there. Over time that changed as I became a solid sci-fi/fantasy fan. But still, the love I had for musicals would never dissipate or fade. And how could it, musicals are all around us, waiting to be seen on Broadway, waiting to be recognized on the silver-screen, and waiting to be remembered now and always by its true fans.

That brings me to my current title of wonder; West Side Story. Based off a wonderful play, the live-action adaptation is, well… remarkable to say the least. And that IS saying the least. I cannot find the right words to describe just how floored I was by this film. From its terrific opening score, to its amazing one-shot dance number by the Jets, I truly loved the passion for acting and art that Riff and the boys brought to their opening number. It just comes together so perfectly, especially once they start head to head with Bernardo and the Sharks. I love the feel of the classic turf-war-feud meets dramatic-dance-off moments between them. It doesn’t hurt that these guys not only act well, dance well but also sing well for that matter too.

I love the introduction of Tony. Richard Beymer is a very talented actor and singer. It conducts himself perfectly in West Side Story. His most memorable moments will no doubt have me humming his songs for years to come. The meeting between he and Maria is very classy and I love the whole segregated dance number between the Whites and the Puerto Ricans. It was racist, yet extremely entertaining, lol. Anita on the rooftop with the girls performing America was very well done. I actually back stepped to see that particular scene twice. Well, to be honest, I did the same thing for most of the musical numbers, so I can’t really point one out in particular, sorry. What can I say, it’s great music!

Aside from the amazing musical numbers, there is the story, the visual effects and most importantly, the charisma between Tony and Maria. They just go together so well, regardless of their background differences. You’ll find yourself hoping for a happy ending for them from the moment they first meet, which isn’t usually the case for me in most romantic dramas. It usually takes me a while to see how the character “A” and character “B” should fit together and why. But here, I’m almost instantly sold on their connection to one and other. I think that has to do mostly with the fact that next to Richard Beymer, Natalie Wood was also an amazing actress and brought a great deal of chemistry to the role of Maria.

There is just so much positive elements to be discovered in this film, and I am speechless for having had the opportunity to see such a wonderful film and witness these elements for the very first time… yes, please don’t judge me, this is my first time. I think I just felt comfortable in my little bubble of favorite musicals that I feared ever venturing outside of that and discovering new forms of wonderful masterpieces. But no more; I am awakened by the sound of the universe in the form of West Side Story, and I feel alive, more so now than ever, for seeing it. Stunning, in every conceivable way, this is a film to be shared among friends, family and most of all, that special someone in your life. I highly recommend adding this film to your collection of favorites!

Final Say: One of the best musicals I have ever had the pleasure seeing, I just feel ashamed to say that it took me this damn long in my life to actually come across it. I knew about it, I wanted to see the play, but in the end, I never got around to seeing it until now. I shouldn’t be so quick to call myself an addicted musical fan anymore… At least, not until I prove myself worthy.

End result: ****/****

2 Comments

  1. mplo on 15 January 14, 11:02am

    West Side Story is such a beautiful movie and it’s aged extremely well, imho. I,too believe that this great classic film deserves 5 stars, and I tend to give WSS fives every time I review it. I still remember my initial introduction to West Side Story through the musical score of the original Broadway stage production, back in the summer of 1962, prior to entering the sixth grade, while attending day camp out in Arizona. West Side Story-mania was in the air that summer, and the kids in camp would roam the halls, sometimes in packs, snapping their fingers, and singing all the songs from WSS on the bus to and from day camp.

    I did not get to see the movie West Side Story until around Christmastime of 1968, during a big national re-release of this film, when I was a high school Senior. Since I was still a teenager when I saw this film, I identified with the Jets, the Sharks and their girls regarding kids being kids and so on, but when I got a little older, I began to appreciate West Side Story for the piece of art that it really is, for its strengths, and its beauty. Riff, Ice, Bernardo, Anita and Lt. Schrank, not to mention the extremely hot-tempered Action, were among the strongest characters in the film, but all of the characters contributed beautifully to this great classic. West SIde Story, imho, earned every single Academy Award, including Best Picture, that it received that year, and, given the fact that extremely violent, graphic and junky films such as Ben Affleck’s “The Town”, are coming out and are a way of the movie life these days, I have to admit that I appreciate “West Side Story” all the more.

  2. mplo on 02 October 16, 10:07am

    I recently saw the film “West Side Story” once again…this time in 70mm, when it came to a local movie theatre as part of a 10-day 70mm film festival. My friend, my sister, her friend and I all had a wonderful time, and we loved every minute of this film. When shown in 70mm, West Side Story is made to look more 3-dimensional all around, the music is more punchy, and in one’s face, like it’s supposed to be, and it’s even easier to really get into this film overall. I laughed aloud at the funny parts along with everybody else, smiled at the more exuberant parts, ended up at the edge of my seat during the more tense parts (i. e. the pre-Rumble Ensemble, the Rumble itself, and even the “Cool” scene, which also made me smile, as well). and teared up at the sadder parts. Yet, I saw a ray of hope at the end, when several Jets and Sharks came together to carry Tony’s body off after he’d been shot. This, imho, was a hint of possible intergroup reconciliation.

    The film West Side Story is a film that I never get tired of seeing over and over again. The people who said that there’d never be another film like it were a hundred percent right. My mom used to say that “West Side Story” was more than a movie for me. The more I think about it, the more I think that she was probably right, at least to some degree.

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