mapol (mapol) wrote in westsidestory,

West Side Story (the 1961 film)--a Beautiful Movie-Musical that's Got Everything:

The original 1961 film version of West Side Story is a film that I never get tired of seeing over and over again, be it on TV, or, especially on a great, big wide screen, in a real movie theatre with the lights down low, and sharing the experience with a whole bunch of other people, whether one knows them or not. West Side Story, both on stage and on screen, is a musical that's got everything, ranging from the constant racial and ethnic tensions that result in frequent playground skirmishes between the White European Ethnic American Jets and the newly-arrived Puerto Rican Sharks, to someone looking for a way out of gang life and a street-wise lifestyle and ultimately finding his love at a dance, to romance that can and sometimes does sizzle and then fizzle, due to extreme tensions and enmity between the two gangs, to conflict with the law, and to outright urban gang warfare that ultimately results the near-rape of Anita by the Jets when she goes to Doc's Candy Store where the Jets are protecting Tony, who's hiding in the cellar, and in death, and ultimately, a ray of hope in the form of (at least fleeting) understanding in tragedy resulting in some semblance of unity and the hope of reconciliation between the two gangs.

The whole way in which the film version of West Side Story was made caused all the characters, including Richard Beymer's Tony, who comes off as being even more vital and alive when West Side Story is shown on a great big, wide movie theatre screen.

The intensely brilliant Leonard Bernstein musical score serves as a great background score that emphasizes every action, emotion and consequence, as does the combination of filming of the screen version of West Side Story on location (on the Upper West Side of 1950's-1960's Manhattan), and many other sound-stage scenery/sets that were cleverly designed by (the late) Boris Leven to look uncannily like a rough, run-down urban area.

The cast also made West Side Story a very strong movie, and all the actors' and actresses' roles in this great movie/musical classic suited their personalities and their looks, and acting abilities..perfectly. Rita Moreno's role as Anita was well suited for her, given her acting ability, her personality, and her looks, and the same could be said for George Chakiris in his role as Bernardo, the Shark Gangleader, and Chino, his right-hand man and friend, who was also a Shark gang member.

Tucker Smith, who played the part of Ice, who eventually takes over the Jets gang leadership after Riff is stabbed to death during the Rumble, also played a role that was suited to his looks and his personality. Tucker Smith had the tough-but-tender look (he was very handsome.), and the cool, calm and collected personality that not only earned him the part of Ice, but Ice suited him as a nickname, as well.

Russ Tamblyn had the dancing and acting ability, as well as the exuberant personality that was just as aptly suited for the role of the tough but exuberant, intelligent, cocky, arrogant, and somewhat insolent Riff, the Jets gang leader. Susan Oakes had the perfect personality and looks for Anybodys, the Jets wannabe and tomboy, who, through her persistence, ultimately gets accepted as an equal by the Jets. Carole D'Andrea and Gina Trinkonis are also perfectly suited, through their looks and personalities, for the roles of Velma (Ice's girlfriend), and Graziella, the girlfriend of Riff. David Winters was perfect as A-Rab, and so was Eliot Feld, as Baby-John, the youngest and most immature of the Jets. So was Jose De Vegas, as Bernardo's best friend and right-hand man, Chino.

Tony Mordente was fabulous as Action, the Jets gang member who really and truly lived up to his name, by being an instigator and a trouble-maker who was always itching for Action, and had to be kept in check by Ice, who was a much cooler, more mature and more emotionally stable member of the Jets than Action, and many, if not most of the other Jets were.

Simon Oakland was excellent as the bigoted, bitter and cynical cop, who clearly didn't like the Jets that much better than he liked the Puerto Rican Sharks, but equally important, had a bitter and cynical attitude towards people, generally. Simon Oakland also had the looks for a tough, embittered and cynical cop, as well, so his role in the film West Side Story as Lt. Schrank suited him perfectly. Ned Glass was also excellent as the philosophical Doc, who tried to steer the Jets and Sharks in a better direction, and so was Bill Bramley, as the equally cynical, but quieter Officer Krupke.

The beautifully-choreographed dancing in West Side Story, especially in the Prologue/Jet Song, the Dance at the Gym, America, the pre-Rumble Quintet, the Rumble itself and the Cool scene, also helped make this great movie/musical the dynamic little package that it is.

Natalie Wood was okay as Maria, and the fact that her singing voice was dubbed by Marni Nixon has never bothered me, for at least a couple of reasons:

A) My intense love for the film West Side Story.

B) The fact that the dubbing of voices was very common back during that general period.

The same thing can be said about the dubbing of Richard Beymer's singing voice by Jimmy Bryant, in Beymer's role of Tony, which, although considered rather weak by many people, had a great deal to do with how the original scripts for both the Broadway production and the film version of West Side Story had been written due to wanting Tony portrayed as a totally reformed, tender gang member who'd fallen in love, and certain directorial constraints that were pub on Richard Beymer by Robert Wise. The fact that Natalie Wood had an extremely hostile attitude towards Richard Beymer that she made absolutely no secret of also had a good deal to do with why Beymer didn't play a Tony with somewhat more of an "edge". It's also said that Beymer was so upset by his not being able to portray a Tony with somewhat more of an "edge" to him that he skipped the Premiere of the film West Side Story when it first came out.

The fact that West Side Story has everything and every emotion imaginable, ranging from ongoing tensions resulting in playground skirmishes between the gangs and conflicts with the law, as well as the romances between Bernardo and Anita and Tony and Maria, both of which are cut short by the constant enmity warfare between the Jets and Sharks, to the gentleness of romance itself, as well as anger, arrogance, hatred, hostility, hubris, exuberance, humor, concern and caring, death, and a ray of hope in the form of at least temporary unity after three leaders (i. e. Riff, Bernardo, and Tony, who tried to lead his gang into a better lifestyle, especially after falling in love with Maria) go down for the final count The true heroes of this movie/musical are the survivors, which are most of most the Jets and the Sharks, as well as Anita, Maria and Anybodys, but the fact that Chino murders Tony by gunshot and ends up being escorted by police to a waiting police car afterwards makes Chino not as much of a hero, who, due to the fact that he survived, ultimately got caught, if one gets the drift.

West Side Story is unique, both on stage and on screen, in that it has, literally everything. That's what makes this musical so beautiful and believable, on both mediums, if one gets the drift. I am a devout fan of the film, who's also seen some really good stage productions, but yet, for a number of reasons, viewed the revised, more up-to-date Broadway stage revival with a harder, more critical eye than many other people.

Because West Side Story is a movie/musical that's got everything in it, as well as being set in a rough, run-down urban area, and because so many of the events that take place in West Side Story happen, or have happened in real life, both in the past, and nowadays (i. e. urban gang warfare, racial/ethnic tensions that often result in hurt, anger, violence, assault and even death, people crossing the racial/ethnic/religion and color barrier to fall in love, date, and even intermarrying.) None of the right-above-mentioned things (racial tensions, violence, assault, gang warfare and the resulting death and physical and emotional injury) are good things, but I do think that West Side Story, as a movie/musical, does carry another message (albeit a double-edged one): That sometimes bad things have to happen before people can find even temporary understanding and unity with each other. Good can and will often follow the bad, inotherwords.

A long-time friend who passed away roughly ten years ago once said "There has to be war before there can be peace." This is very fitting, because conflict can eventually lead to people learning from and about each other, and therefore arriving at some sort of understanding. That, too, is something that can and does happen in real life. Yet, as West Side Story also indicates, constant conflict can also be very destructive, which is another frequent real-life event, as well.

Without all of the other things that happen in addition to the romance between Tony and Maria, however, West Side Story would not really be a story, or at least not one of substance. Even the bad things that happen in West Side Story lead up to a certain amount of good, and a ray of hope between the gangs after the conflict-related deaths of Riff, Bernardo and, ultimately, Tony.

West Side Story is also wonderful on screen in that there's no really super-graphic fight scenes, the use of guns, or explicitly steamy, graphic sex-scenes during either the romance of Tony and Maria, or between Bernardo and Anita, or any "blue" language. In short, West Side Story is a film that is a real treat on a great big, wide movie theatre screen, and, as some people say, a feast for the eyes, heart and mind.
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