West Side Story, as a movie-musical, is unforgettable. I still remember a conversation that I engaged in with my late dad over dinner, shortly after my arrival home from a six-week trip to Europe one summer back in the early 1970's, after I'd mentioned my wish to see the film again. Although I'd been introduced to the music of West Side Story through the soundtrack to the original Broadway stage production during the summer of 1962, at a day camp out in Tucson, AZ, prior to entering the sixth grade, I didn't get to see the film version until around Christmastime of 1968, as a high school Senior, during a national re-release of the film, at a now-defunct cinema north of Boston, and the town that my siblings grew up in, and I fell in love with the film immediately.
In the summer of 1972, however, three years after graduating from high school, another person in the group that I travelled to Europe with had brought along a cassette tape of the soundtrack to the film version of West Side Story. It was played almost every evening, during free hours, and that was how my love for a beautiful classic film was re-awakened in earnest. When the film West Side Story showed on TV just two days before Thanksgiving of that year, I watched it on my parents' little black-and-white TV, which whetted my desire to see it on a great big, wide screen, in a real movie theatre.
West Side Story, as a movie-musical, is hauntingly beautiful all around, not just simply because of the very story behind it, but because of the way in which this hauntingly beautiful story is told, through an intensely brilliant Leonard Bernstein musical score, the beautifully choreographed dancing by Jerome Robbins, the richly colored costumes and cinematography, and the uncannily beautiful combination of on-location filming in truly run-down urban areas, on-stage filming, and sets that had been masterfully created by the late Boris Leven to look uncannily like parts of a rough, run-down parts of a large American City, and a very strong cast overall, and the lyrics that were masterfully written by Stephen Sondheim, as well as good directing by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins (who, btw, Robert Wise ended up firing towards the end of the filming of West Side Story, due to his constant insistence on perfection, which, happily for this film, caused Jerome Robbins to go over schedule and over the budget for the filming.), and the beautiful use of color in this film, as well. All of the above-mentioned factors in the filming of West Side Story were combined to tell a hauntingly beautiful story, in a hauntingly beautiful way.
The fact that West Side Story, as a movie-musical, tells the story and the various emotions in it through dance, and many other factors is what makes it stand out from other musicals. The subject matter of West Side Story, too, makes it hauntingly beautiful, because, although it's fiction, it's close to reallity, as a neighbor put it one day ten years ago, when I was on my way to a sing-a-long screening of this film at a movie theatre not far from where I lived. While I do sing along with some of the songs during such screenings, I prefer to mainly watch the film, although I've taken to singing some of the songs from WSS during my singing lessons.
West Side Story is also hauntingly beautiful as a movie-musical, because it goes from light to dark and a little bit back again, through the whole movie, with even a certain amount of black comedy thrown in, as well. The Officer Krupke scene is a perfect example of that. In addition to being rather relevant even today despite its being fiction, West Side Story is a true-blue work of art that, while it's enjoyable on TV, cries to be seen in a real movie theatre with the lights down low, on a great big, wide screen, as it's truly meant to be viewed. That, imo, is the best way to really appreciate what a hauntingly beautiful work of art that the film West Side Story really is.
Unlike most movie-musicals that seem to be a victim of much outdoor movie filming, the on-location scenes and the staged sets are combined in a masterful way, uniting both of these into a really creative rough and run-down urban setting. One would never know that parts of West Side Story were filmed on a gigantic sound stage, with masterfully designed and built sets, and combined masterfully with on-location filming scenes.
As a movie-musical, West Side Story is hauntingly beautiful due to its being so unforgettable. There's something about West Side Story that beckons me to see it any time it comes around, whether it be on TV, or in a movie theatre (the latter of which is even more exciting.) The cast, overall, despite some dubbing, is unforgettable. Unlike some people, the dubbing is something that I'm more than willing to overlook, due to my intense love for this film. The cast, overall, too, is unforgettable, but Russ Tamblyn, Simon Oakland, Tucker Smith, Tony Mordente, George Chakiris, Rita Moreno, and Jose De Vegas, as well as David Winters and Eliot Feld are even more unforgettable, due to the fact that they played the roles of characters in West Side Story that really were pillars in this movie-musical.
Rita Moreno and George Chakiris really stand out as the firebrand Anita, and the equally fiery but sardonic Shark gangleader, Bernardo, and it's especially difficult to forget them, especially since they both won Academy Awards for the Best Supporting Actor/Actress the year that the film West Side Story canme out. The same is true of Russ Tamblyn, who played the role of the exuberant but tough, cocky and arrogant Riff beautifully, as did Tony Mordente, who played the hot-tempered instigator-troublemaker, Action, who certainly lived up to his name and had to be kept in check by Ice, a cooler Jet gang member, who eventually took over the Jets gang leadershsip after Riff's death during the Rumble.
Tucker Smith, too, played his role as the calm, cool and collected Ice beautifully. (Too bad he died too young, too soon.) It would've been cool if they, too, had all won Academy Awards. The same can also be said for Simon Oakland, who did a bang-up job at playing the role of the bigoted, bitter and cynical Lt. Schrank, who made it clear that he hated both the Puerto Rican Sharks and the European-American Jets (but probably hated the Jets just a tad or so less than he hated the Sharks) with no small amount of bellicosity and passion. Simon Oakland, too, should've have won an Award. So should've Eliot Feld and David Winters, due to their fine jobs of playing the role of the youngest and most immature Jet member, Baby-John, and his buddy, A-Rab, who was sort of weasly.
What also made the film West Side Story so hauntingly beautiful is the fact that the cast members, on the whole, were incredible believable in the roles that they played. So was Susan Oakes, who played the tomboy/Jets wannabe, Anybodys, who, through her persistence, gained acceptance as an equal by the Jets, at least in part for her proof that she, too, could take care of herself. George Chakiris, as Bernardo, and Rita Moreno, as Anita, were really believable, as was Tony Mordente, as Action. Tucker Smith, in both looks and personality, was also quite suitable and believable as the tough but calm, cool and collected Ice, especially when he kept the Jets cool when then hid out in a garage after fleeing the police after the rumble and the stabbing deaths of Riff and Bernardo, and after learning, through Anybodys (who'd been in and out of the shadows.), found Tony, gave him the message, and then told the other Jets, too, that Chino was gunning for him. Jose De Vegas, too, as excellent, and very believable as Chino, the antithesis of Bernardo: shy and more reserved, although he had a definite change in demeanor after the rumble, and after Bernardo's death.
Another thing about West Side Story is the fact that much is left to the audience's imagination. Nobody knew where the Sharks hid out after fleeing the police after the rumble and the stabbings, and nobody knew where Anita, in the end, either. The same thing is true of Ice, when he supposedly "went out back to check the alleys for Tony"., either.
At the end of West Side Story, nobody knows what happens after Tony's death, when Chino, who shot and killed him, was escorted to a waiting police car by Schrank and Krupke, or if the Jets and Sharks really came to a truce. This, too, is what makes West Side Story a hauntingly beautiful movie-musical classic, as does the fact that, when West Side Story was transferred from stage to screen, it was preserved as a larger-than-lifesized piece of theatre.
Unlike other classics, which I can forget until I'm about to go see one of them, West Side Story is totally unforgettable, and the MGM quote: "Unlike other classics, West Side Story grows younger." rings so true!