When it's good, very good; when it's bad, a stinker. WEST SIDE STORY is the filmed version of the hit Broadway musical inspired by "Romeo and Juliet." Jerome Robbins, who conceived the stage version, gets co-director credit here. He was originally slated to direct the entire film, but his
perfectionism meant twice the budget. United Artists brought in Robert Wise after less than a month of rehearsals, assigning him direction of the non-musical sequences. Before long, Robbins was booted all together. The numbers he choreographed remain the most inventive, energetic sequences in the
film: the lengthy opening sequence (including "The Jet Song"), "America," "I Feel Pretty" and "Cool". If Robbins had done the whole of it, we might be left with a more dynamic and explosive film. But there's no discounting that whenever WEST SIDE STORY proclaims the leads' love it goes predictable
on us--musically, first and foremost, so no director could entirely change that. Wise saddled these moments with all the usual--soft-focus camera work, stars in the sky, Rodgers and Hammerstein ballet. Nor is this helped by Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer (dubbed by Marni Nixon and Jim Bryant).
When they're not mouthing like fish in tanks, they're wrestling the awkward dialogue of these sequences. Lucky for us, everything--and everyone--else is first-rate; especially the three meaty supporting parts played by Moreno (alas, dubbed also, by Betty Wand--but Moreno acts with fire and can
dance), gorgeous, pantherine Chakiris and winning Tamblyn.
Sticking closely to Arthur Laurents's original book, the film follows the escalating tensions between rival teenage gangs the Jets (who are white) and the Sharks (who are Puerto Rican) as they battle for turf in Manhattan's Upper West Side. The Sharks are led by Bernardo, boyfriend of the
tempestuous Anita; the Jets follow Riff (Tamblyn). Caught in the middle are Bernardo's sister, Maria (Wood), who has just arrived from Puerto Rico, and Tony (Beymer), a member of the Jets who is Riff's best friend. Tony and Maria fall in love, despite the hatred between their friends and
relatives, but the romance is destined to end tragically.
WEST SIDE STORY became one of the most popular film musicals in history, largely on the strength of its youth appeal and the aforementioned Robbins's choreography--a spectacular combination of ballet, acrobatics, and jazz excitingly adapted for the camera. The score by Leonard Bernstein (with
lyrics by Stephen Sondheim) has become an acknowledged and much-beloved classic.
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- Review: When it's good, very good; when it's bad, a stinker. WEST SIDE STORY is the filmed version of the hit Broadway musical inspired by "Romeo and Juliet." Jerome Robbins, who conceived the stage version, gets co-director credit here. He was originally slated t… (more)