Classics: West Side Story (1961) A Review

Oh Wow.  I have always heard amazing things about this film, and this 10 time Academy Award Winning film did not disappoint.

Certificate: PG

Director: Jerome Robbins, Robert Wise

Screenwriter: Ernest Lehman

Starring: Natalie Wood, George Chakiris, Richard Beymer

Genre: Dram, Musical

Runtime: 153 Minutes

Rating: 3.5 Stars

Reviewed by: Pearl

A smash on both the West End and Broadway and in 1961 a box office and awards smash, West Side Story has a lot hype built up around it before you even get started.  A classic Romeo and Juliet story with some of the most recognisable musical numbers of all time, this film is just a treat from start to finish.

A story of two warring gangs, the white Jets led by Riff and the Latino Sharks, led by Bernardo. Their hatred escalates to a point where neither can coexist with any form of understanding. But when Tony and Bernardo’s 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. Then the Sharks and Jets plan a rumble under the highway. Maria sends Tony to stop it, hoping it can end the violence. It goes terribly wrong; tragedy strikes and doesn’t stop until the climactic and heart-breaking ending. – From IMDB

Never for one second od you forget that you are watching a story that is designed to be performed on a stage, even the fight scenes are stylized to appear like dances.  The whole thing looks beautiful and the dancing is hypnotic to watch, and the amazing cinematography just adds to the beauty of the film.  When you hear phrases like ‘They Don’t Make Films like this any more’ this is the kind of thing film are talking about.  I can’t remember the last time a full on Musical was presented with this scope and this amount of heart.  La La Land was the last one that tried to recapture that feeling, and that was so deeply flawed, I don’t know I it counts.

This film is fabulously cast, and while there have been a lot of criticism about the main choices for Tony and Maria, and even though they apparently hated each other while filming, there isn’t a hint of that during the film at all. 

I don’t know if I think this film is worth the crazy amount of flawless reviews it gets.  There are definitely flaws to be found.  The questionable accent from Natalie Wood and the dubbed singing voice that is clearly not hers, at all.  The script is very much a product of it’s time as well, and while it’s very dated, I can chalk that up to adding to it’s charm for the most part, but it certainly hasn’t aged that well.

The other down side of films this prolific and stories this well known is that really there are no surprises.  You know exactly how this is going to go from beginning to end, and call me old fashioned, but still like my films to have a bit of mystery to them.  But as classic musicals go, this one is way WAY up there.

West Side Story is available for home media and digital downloads from most retailers now.

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