The film follows two rival street gangs in the late summer of 1957 in Manhattan. The Jets, second generation American teenagers, and the Sharks, Puerto Rican immigrants. But problems arise when Tony (Richard Beymer), a co-founder of the Jets, and Maria (Natalie Wood), the sister of the Sharks’ leader, fall in love.
Natalie Wood Maria
Richard Beymer Tony
Russ Tamblyn Riff
George Chakiris Bernardo
Rita Moreno Anita
Ned Glass Doc
Simon Oakland Schrank
William Bramley Krupke
West Side Story is the film adaption of the popular Broadway musical, which opened in 1957.
The storyline was based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Originally it was intended to be about a Catholic boy who fell in love with a Jewish girl. But after a boom of Puerto Rican immigration to New York in the late 1940s and 1950s, the storyline was changed.
A lot of the original stage actors were considered too old to play teenagers in the film adaption. Although some did make the cut, they often played different parts. For instance, George Chakiris played Riff on stage, but he played Bernardo in the film.
A lot of actors and actresses were considered for the two leading roles. The most famous ones being Elvis and Audrey Hepburn. Elvis was advised by his manager to turn it down and Audrey Hepburn had to back out when she got pregnant.
Rita Moreno, as Anita, was the only actual Puerto Rican among the principal cast members.
The film initially had two directors: Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise. Robbins directed the musical numbers, but got so over budget and behind schedule, that Wise was asked to complete the film by himself.
This was Natalie Wood’s first musical and she was excited to sing. But what she did not know was that most of her singing was dubbed by Marni Nixon. She learned this only after the film was completed.
West Side Story was the first film to feature street gang life and the first musical without a lighthearted and happy storyline.
The film won ten Oscars, making it the biggest Oscar winning musical of all time.
Best Picture – West Side Story – 1962 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
Best Actor in a Supporting Role – George Chakris – 1962 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
Best Actress in a Supporting Role – Rita Moreno – 1962 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
Best Art Direction – Boris Leven and Victor A. Gangelin – 1962 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
Best Cinematography – Daniel L. Fapp – 1962 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
Best Costume Design – Irene Sharaff – 1962 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
Best Director – Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins – 1962 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
Best Film Editing – Thomas Stanford – 1962 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
Best Music – Saul Chaplin, Johnny Green a.o – 1962 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
Best Sound – Fred Hynes and Gordon Sawyer – 1962 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
Best Musical – West Side Story – 1962 Golden Globes
Best Supporting Actor – George Chakris – 1962 Golden Globes
Best Supporting Actress – Rita Moreno – 1962 Golden Globes
Best Soundtrack Album – West Side Story – 1962 Grammy Awards
Best Written American Musical – Ernest Lehman – Writers Guild of America
Best Writing – Ernset Lehman – 1962 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
Best Film – West Side Story – 1963 British Academy of Film and Television Arts
Best Motion Picture Actor in Musical/Comedy – Richard Beymer – 1962 Golden Globes
Best Motion Picture Director – Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins – 1962 Golden Globes
The stage musical was seen as innovative and influential and the film gave a whole new audience a chance to enjoy West Side Story. It remains loyal to the original storyline and immediately became a huge success. Not only did the film win ten Oscars, but the soundtrack album sold more copies than any soundtrack album before it, and more than the original cast album did. It proved to be popular overseas as well: it ran in Paris for a total of 249 weeks, making it the longest running film in French history.
Furthermore, it made an even bigger star of the already popular Natalie Wood. West Side Story is probably the film she is most remembered for.
But not only the film is iconic, the songs are as well. ‘Tonight’, ‘Maria’ and most notably ‘I Feel Pretty’ are tunes that practically everybody knows, even if they have not seen the film.
Still, fifty years after the fact, West Side Story is one of the most popular musical films, if not thé most popular musical film, ever made