Not only is the very story behind West Side Story extremely dynamic, but the way in which this beautiful musical was translated from stage to screen was exceptional, imho. Since there were no expensive gadgets to create overly graphic special affects on film back then, the cinematic technology was all done by camera, with varying angles, and colors, all of which help to narrate the story behind West Side Story in a very visually telling and illustrious manner. From the warring Jets and Sharks to the romancing Tony and Maria, and from the very beginning to the very end of this great classic film, as well as both the local scenes of filming and the stage settings that were used in the film version of this great musical were uncannily realistic looking, and indicative of a run-down urban area, creating a background that added to the various characters of this movie-musical.
The brilliant Bernstein musical score also adds yet another dimension to this beautiful film, also illustrating the very story behind WSS, and indicates what's coming up next. The dancing in West Side Story, as well as the Jet gang whistles and the finger-snapping, is also an extremely integral part of this great musical. West Side Story, both on film and on stage, is a strong indication of how various emotions, and a story in itself, can be told through dancing. That, imho, makes this movie-musical a rare classic, albeit a very special classic that's in a very special class all by itself.
Unlike most other musicals, which tend to lose at least some of their "kick" when transferred from stage to screen, West Side Story is very successful on both stage and screen for the following reasons:
A) The very story behind West Side Story (i. e. love that grows and develops amid conflict between warring urban street gangs, only to be destroyed by jealousy, violence and death, but, as a story overall, came up again to hint of possible intergroup reconciliation, provided a good backdrop for a successful film made from what was a great musical on stage, as well.
B) Because West Side Story is set in a rough, run-down urban area (NYC's West Side, to be exact (that's how that part of NYC was back then.)!), the resources were right there at hand to make a successful film out of WSS possible. Also, Boris Leven, who designed the stage sets for some scenes of the film version of West Side Story managed, in countless ways, to design and create the sets so that they looked uncannily like run-down, rough sections of a big city.
C) Many of the people who were chosen for the cast in the film version of West Side Story had played in the original Broadway stage productions as well, which helped make this classic film even more 3-dimensional.
D) The richly-colored costumes and cinematography also added emphasis to an already-great story behind an already-great movie-musical, and added even more dimension to it overall.
E) Excellent actors/actresses, even those who hadn't played in any of the original Broadway stage productions of West Side Story, were chosen for this great classic film. George Chakiris, Rita Moreno, Tucker Smith, Russ Tamblyn, Simon Oakland, Ned Glass and Eliot Feld all played their parts fantastically, adding a special 3-dimensionality to this great classic film. Yet, with the exception of Richard Beymer and Natalie Wood, all of the cast was rather strong. I'll also add that David Winters also played the role of A-Rab (a Jet) with much aplomb and greatness, as well.
F) What was also wonderful about this film is that it was not overly graphic, bloody or violent, and the cinematographers were able to create wonderful special affects without the use of expensive gadgetry or computerized, cartoon-like illustrations.
G) Perhaps, in addition to all of the above-mentioned aspects of the film West Side Story put together to create a strong movie, is the fact that when West Side Story was transferred from stage to screen, it was kept as a larger-than-life-sized piece of theatre, which gave additional strength made this film even more three-dimensional. That being said, it doesn't bother me at all that the film West Side Story is also available in a High-definition, remastered, reprinted version that's meant for today's digital projection. In fact, I'm glad of it.
H) After all is said and done, the film West Side Story will be coming to the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline, MA, which is just a stone's throw from downtown Boston. I've purchased tickets for me and a longtime friend of mine...and we're looking forward to going.
I) Having said all of the above, the MGM quote "Unlike other Classics, West Side Story grows younger." rings so true!
Afterthought: I've posted the following afterthought on other threads, on here and on other forums, but it bears repeating here: West Side Story is a film that I never tire of seeing over and over again. The exuberance, the story, and the overall beat of this great classic, as well as everything else about it is why the film West Side Story beckons me to come and see it every time it comes around, especially on a great big, wide screen, in a real movie theatre, with the lights down low, and a sharing of the whole experience with a bunch of other people, whether one knows them or not.