Classic Review – West Side Story (1961)

Title – West Side Story (1961)

Directors – Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise (The Sound of Music)

Cast – Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Russ Tamblyn, Rita Moreno, George Chakiris

Plot – Young lovers Maria (Wood) and Tony (Beymer) face an uphill battle to be together due to the fact they are associated to two rival New York City gangs, hell-bent on rumbling to become the kings of the city.

“Juvenile delinquency is purely a social disease”

Review by Eddie on 30/01/2019

With Steven Spielberg well under-way on construction of his long-mooted and finally happening reimaging, I thought it was about time I finally sat down and watched Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise’s well-regarded musical from start to finish (4 minute plus opening title sequence included), all 150 minutes of toe-taping, gloriously over the top melodrama of it.

The West Side Story (winner of 10 Oscars), a name that will be recognisable to many a cinephile and those that prefer the Broadway side of showbiz, as its well and truly one of the most colourful, silly and undeniably kitschy musicals in cinema history and these almost 60 years on from its initial release have done nothing to dampen the fun the film provides, even around its campy dialogue and questionable casting/acting.

A brilliantly fun and colour-filled reimaging of the New York street scape, Robbins and Wise’s take on the Romeo and Juliet doomed romance tale sees late actress Natalie Wood’s Maria (playing a migrant!) meet and instantaneously fall in love with Richard Beymer’s proud American Tony, as the two find themselves torn between a racial war between two factions that are keen to battle it out once and for all in the spare time they find themselves when they aren’t singing, dancing and clapping their way around the films fabulous sets.

It’s all highly predictable, done in a way typical of its time and place but Wise’s and Robbin’s direction is filled with energy and creativity that works well with esteemed songwriter Stephen Sondheim’s now mostly iconic songs (America and I Feel Pretty a highlight) and Leonard Bernstein’s booming and almost constant score, which help make West Side Story a winner despite its aged flaws and certain inceptions.

Watching the film today well-after the fact, its clear to see how such a vibrant, charismatic and fun film would’ve inspired a whole new generation of filmmaker’s looking to tell their stories in ways that would’ve previously seemed impossible or too over the top and its exciting to think about the possibilities this world provides a filmmaker like Spielberg to envision for the big screen and fans of musical cinema have every right to be excited about what the great bearded one’s remake is likely to do.

It might not be the best movie musical ever made, but its one of the most easily accessible and enjoyable and a very clear touchstone for many that followed, even the colour and tone of modern classic La La Land can be found here in this epically staged ride.

Final Say –

Not for everyone and the victim of some unfortunately aged tendencies, West Side Story is still a major piece of cinematic history that takes a relatively small-scale story and turns it into something grand, operatic and exciting. A worthy member of top-class movie musicals, Wise’s and Robbins film is worth a re-visit or like me a first time viewing, you’ll be guaranteed a toe-tapping good time!

4 policed dances out of 5  

6 responses to “Classic Review – West Side Story (1961)

  1. the 1961 film version of West Side Story is super awesome and in far too special a class by itself to justify a re-make of it by ANYBODY, including Steven Spielberg. Having seen some of the cast that Spielberg has selected, and having an utter distaste for re-makes of older classical films, generally, due to their being totally devoid of the charm, believability and personalities of the original films, I plan to boycott Spielberg’s re-boot of the 1961 film version of West Side Story when it hits the movie theatres next year.

    • I see where you are coming from mate but I actually think this new take should be quite enjoyable.

      If anyone can do big screen spectacle and tell a good story, its Mr. Spielberg.

      • Frankly, Eddie, I don’t see how a re-make of the 1961 film version of “West Side Story” by anybody, including Steven Spielberg can or will hold up to the original. Re-makes/re-boots of older classic films generally don’t, and I don’t see a re-boot of the film “West Side Story” being any better, in that respect, regardless of who’s doing the re-boot.

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