|Leonard Maltin/Plot synopsis:
Vivid film adaptation of the landmark Broadway musical, updating Romeo and Juliet story to youth-gang atmosphere of late 1950s N. Y. C. Wood and Beymer lack charisma, but everything surrounding them is great: Robbins' choreography, Leonard Bernstein-Stephen Sondheim score (including ``Maria,'' ``America,'' and ``Something's Coming''). Script by Ernest Lehman, from Arthur Laurents' play. Winner of 10 Academy Awards including Best Picture, Direction, Supporting Actor and Actress (Chakiris, Moreno), Cinematography, Costumes, Art Direction-Set Decoration, Editing, Scoring; Robbins earned a special award for his choreography. Super Panavision 70.
(out of 5 stars)
Set on the pulsating, finger-snapping West Side of 1960's NYC, WEST SIDE STORY is a beautiful movie/musical about a love and romance that develops, only to be tragically felled by the racial, ethnic and cultural prejudices between the white ethnic American JETS, and the newly-arrived Puerto Rican SHARKS. Although tensions between the JETS and SHARKS had been escalating for some time, the sparks really begin to fly when TONY, the founder and ex-JET leader, who is looking for something other than gang life, but doesn't know WHAT he's looking for, meets and falls in love with MARIA, the sister of BERNARDO, the SHARK gangleader,
at a dance at the local gym that he's attended at the pursuasion of his old friend, RIFF, who's now the JETS leader. The escalating tensions between the two gangs ultimately culminate in a deadly showdown-the RUMBLE, resulting in the deaths of RIFF, BERNARDO, and, ultimately TONY.
Although WEST SIDE STORY is enjoyable on TV or DVD, there's absolutely NOTHING like seeing this great classic film on a great big, wide screen, in a REAL movie theatre with the lights down low. The film seems to take on a magical, almost 3-dimensional quality. The scenery appears more expansive and one can see all of everything, and the richly-colored costumes and photography,
along with the great dancing and Leonard Bernstein's fabulous musical score appear to be even more intense. The various characters in WEST SIDE STORY, from TONY and MARIA, to the warring JETS and SHARKS, seem to come even more alive, and to move much more freely and fluidly in a wider, more open space. The dance numbers THE JET SONG/PROLOGUE, AMERICA, COOL, THE DANCE AT THE GYM, the OFCR KRUPKE song, the pre-rumble QUINTET and the RUMBLE itself, in no particular order, seem especially powerful and intense on a great big wide movie screen.
Rita Moreno does an excellent job playing the part of the fiery ANITA, and George Chakiris, who plays the equally fiery BERNARDO does equally well, as does Russ Tamblyn as the exuberant RIFF, David Winter as A-RAB, Jose De Vega as CHINO,
Tucker Smith as the calm, cool and collected ICE. Tony Mordente is also great as the hot-tempered instigator, ACTION, and so is Eliot Feld as the more timid BABY-JOHN and Sue Oaks as the tomboy ANYBODYS. Simon Oakland is fabulous as the bigoted, cantankerous LT. SCHRANK, who clearly doesn't like either the JETS or the SHARKS. Ned Glass does a good job playing the philosophical DOC. Natalie Wood is all right as MARIA, but Richard Beymer, unfortunately, plays a rather weak, lacklustre TONY.
However, Richard Beymer's weak performance is MORE than offset by the great performances of the other actors/acttresses in the film WEST SIDE STORY, and even TONY seems more vital and strong on the great, big wide movie screen. Equally wonderful are the girlfriends of the JETS and the SHARKS.
Whether one has never seen WEST SIDE STORY at all, or many times, or only on television, video, or a DVD, if this great classic ever comes to a revival movie theatre in your area to be shown on the great, big wide screen, jump at the opportunity! Seeing this great classic on the great big, wide screen in a real movie theatre is an experience that you'll never, ever forget.