West Side Story ★★★★★

One of my 1000 recommended films.

Recently I saw the beautiful new print of this film directed by Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise, with music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and can report that after fifty years it still looks amazing, with vibrant colours, a remarkably rich score, and performances that linger long in the memory.

The doomed romance of the modern Romeo and Juliet, Polish American Tony (Richard Beymer, all teeth and eyelashes and so pretty and earnest) and Puerto Rican Maria (Natalie Wood, sweet and innocent) still has the ability to move even the hardest of hearts in the film’s conclusion.

(And I know it isn't them singing - but it hardly matters ...).

The arrogant posturing of those amazing dancers who make up the Jets – Russ Tamblyn, all acrobatic as Riff, Tucker Smith, piercing eyes and long limbs as Ice, David Winters and Tony Modente showy and full of character as A-rab and Action, Eliot Feld showing the promise that would turn him into one of the 20th century’s greatest ballet choreographers as Baby John – still looks as fresh and new as it must have done at the show’s premiere.

The resentment of the Sharks, displaced from their island home to a country where they will always be second-best as long as they allow themselves to be, is depicted variously by the smouldering George Chakiris as Bernardo, fiery and passionate Rita Moreno as Anita, Jose de Vega as Chino (sweet and quiet but a dancing powerhouse), and others who make a smaller impression (like Suzie Kaye as Rosalia).

I can’t forget the small roles for the ‘adults’ in this film either – our Friar Laurence is Doc of the drug store (Ned Glass); the Prince and justice is represented by the racist Lt Schrank (Simon Oakland). Both are excellent and act as a counterpoint to the main young characters in their gang war.

However the star of this stunning restoration is the cinematography of Daniel L Fapp and his crew, and the vision of directors Robbins and Wise.

Rarely has colour played such an essential role in a story, whether it is muted filters, a sunset streaming through into a shop which becomes a dream chapel, or in the green lights which reflect onto rainy pavements as Tony sings joyfully of his new found love, Maria. Every frame is a joy. Every movement is an education.

This film will easily play for another fifty years as audiences discover it, or rediscover it as I did on the big screen, falling in love with Tony all over again and watching the world of the young lovers fall apart.

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