West Side Story (1961)


images“[singing] When you’re a Jet, you’re a Jet all the way! from you first cigarette your last dyin’ days” – Riff

Number of Times Seen – Too many to count (TV, Video, DVD 26 May 2013)

Brief Synopsis – In this modern day version of Romeo and Juliet, a boy and a girl from warring rival gangs fall in love and must try and figure out how to stay together against all odds.

My Take on it – As a kid, I saw the play on Broadway (or maybe it was off-Broadway) and I really enjoyed it. I recall as a kid watching this numerous times on a Sunday afternoons on TV.

The soundtrack is amazing, there was  a time when I knew all the songs by heart. I guess as a kid, I was intrigued by the fact that they could make a love story out of tense gang story.

It was only a few years later where I saw a book of Romeo and Juliet that had the story of WSS on the flip-side. (If you flip over the book and invert the book, you can read the other story). That was when I first realized that the basis of WSS was R&J.  I had once heard that one of the great things about Shakespeare’s novels was that just about all of them could be adapted to different times and places and still be as effective.  I was somewhat skeptical even after knowing about this one, but was convinced once I saw Hamlet (1996) with Kenneth Branaugh.

Remarkably, this movie was able to almost sweep the Oscars. It won 10 Awards (Picture; Director(s); S. Actor; S. Actress; Film Editing; Musical Score; Art Direction; Cinematography; Sound Editing; Sound) and only lost 1 (best adapted screenplay which was won by Judgement at Nuremberg (1962), another great movie).

Whats amazing is that it seems to have been so easy to take a story about feuding families and change it to racial tension between gang members of different ethnicities. Ironic that the one Oscar they didn’t get was for adapted screenplay 🙂

This was also the only time besides No Country for Old Men (2007) where 2 Directors won the Oscar for Best Director. Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins directed different aspects (Drama parts and Musical parts) of the film.  Only 4 times in Oscar history was a duo nominated for BD; WSS and NCFOM, Warren Beatty and Buck Henry for Heaven Can Wait (1978) and the Coen brothers again in 2010 for True Grit (2010).

Highly entertaining and highly recommended.

The one question I always ask myself whenever I watch this movie was “If these guys are suppose to be so tough, why are the dancing and jumping around NYC?”  🙂

Bottom Line – Great story, great adaptation, a bit corny 50 years later, but still a great musical. Excellent music and songs. Highly recommended!

Rating – Oscar Worthy

22 thoughts on “West Side Story (1961)

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  7. Oh, I love this movie, it’s the choreography and the Leonard Bernstein music that does it for me. I just recently posted the prologue on my secondary blog, Syncopated Stuff. If you see it as an operatic ballet then the dancing doesn’t conflict with the subject matter, at least not for me. The romance parts are soppy but I still prefer this adaptation of Romeo and Juliet to the later one with Clare Danes and Leonardo Dicaprio. (Hmm, I think I’ve misspelt both of their names.)

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