West Side Story ★★★★★

Kicking off my Musical Monday series for 2016 (letterboxd.com/martinjacob49/list/2016-musical-monday/) is West Side Story, winner of 10 Academy Awards including Best Picture of 1961, often regarded as one of the finest in the musical genre, and directed by the talented Robert Wise. It is a modern (as in the 1960s) reimagining of the Romeo and Juliet story but instead of tragic love set against the backdrop of rich white royalty, here we have two star-crossed lovers torn between two feuding gangs (one white and the other Latino). It'd the addition of tackling racism that makes West Side Story the brilliant film it is. Sure the film does often feel like a product of the 60s with the slang and dated slurs the characters of both sides use, but the message still rings true today. Countless of cultures living in America today (whether its Latino, black, Arab, Jew, or Christian) still feel like they are being persecuted and denied a shot of the American Dream. And it's a crying shame, like shown in West Side tory, that it takes an extreme tragic event for people to eventually get along. And while the romance of Tony and Maria, like Romeo and Juliet still feel forced because of the crap going on around them (I'd say worse this go round), its the tragedy of young love that makes the story and themes compelling to watch.

The performances in this movie are outstanding. Russ Tamblyn as Riff, Rita Moreno as Anita, George Chakris as Bernado all excel in what they are given, playing characters fueled by prejudice and hatred. Richard Beymer gives one knockout performance as the tragic lover Tony, and while it is odd seeing Natalie Wood in a Latino role like Maria, her accent is convincing and still does an excellent job in the role, even when logic says that someone else in that background probably should have gotten the role instead. But considering Natalie Wood was (and still is) the biggest star related to West Side Story, it was probably the best way the studio could sell audiences to see the movie. I guess it worked, and I really like Natalie Wood, and she does a great job, so I can't complain too hard. Just a minor nitpick.

As a musical, West Side Story truly delivers in some of the greatest songs in the whole genre. Scored by Leonard Bernstein with the songs written by one of the best in the business Steven Sondheim, its the music aspect of this movie that make it the masterpiece it is. Songs like "Maria", "Tonight", "America", "Somewhere", gets us into the characters mindsets and gets us pumped for the eventual outcome. I especially love the "Quintet" number that builds up the rumble scene in the movie, a sequence filled with optimism to some and hatred for others. Powerful sequence to watch indeed. The choreography from Jerome Robbins is outstanding; it's amazing that the 20-minute dance sequence that opens the film introduces the rivalry and hatred between both gangs in an entertaining way, and getting by with Rita Moreno and Latino ensemble dancing to a hard-to-go time signature (I think it gets up to about 25 beats per measure by the end of the sequence) during the "America" number deserves a gold star!

West Side Story is a brilliant musical film with stellar performances, phenomenal choreographed and scored musical numbers, compelling themes, a depressing and tale yet one with a strong moral for all, and it's one of my favorites in the genre. It definitely feels like its of the 60s, but if one overlooks the slang and looks to have a great time with some of the best dance numbers put on film and a powerful storyline, West Side Story comes highly recommended.

"Oh, I know. It's a free country and I ain't got the right. But I got a badge. What've you got?"


Direction: 9/10
Writing: 10/10
Cast and characters: 9/10
Production values: 10/10
Cinematography: 9/10
Editing: 9/10
Depth: 10/10
Music: 10/10
Rewatchable: 9/10
Overall: 9/10

94/100

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