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West Side Story

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: West Side Story

Starring: Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer
Director: Robert Wise
Rated: NR
RunTime: 153 Minutes
Release Date: October 1961
Genres: Classic, Music, Drama, Romance

*Also starring: George Chakiris, Rita Moreno, Russ Tamblyn, Tucker Smith, David Winters, Tony Mordente, Simon Oakland, John Astin

Review by Brian Koller
2 stars out of 4

"West Side Story" won ten Academy Awards, making it one of the most honored of Hollywood films. But it also one of the most over-rated.

The plot is an update of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. It involves two rival gangs co-existing in a slummy New York neighborhood. The Jets are Italian Americans, the Sharks are Puerto Rican. The gangs meet at a dance to discuss terms of a rumble. At the dance, former Jet leader Tony (Richard Beymer) falls mutually in love with Maria (Natalia Wood), who is the sister of Shark leader Bernardo (George Chakiris). Maria pleads with Tony to prevent the rumble, and Maria's relatives plead with her to avoid Tony, who is "one of them."

There are good things to say about "West Side Story." Some of the songs have good melodies, the sets are good, and I like the bigoted cop character (Bill Bramley). Natalie Wood is lovely, although, like most of the cast, she is too grown-up to be a convincing teen-ager.

The problems begin with the much-acclaimed dance numbers. I have this notion that gangs are a primitive form of organized crime, but the gangs in "West Side Story" are only guilty of showy, synchronized dancing. The rival gangs should forget about the rumble and hold a dance contest instead. The songs are also over-rated. While I like "I'm So Pretty", many numbers feature Tony and/or Maria mooning softly (and artificially) at length.

The film's basic message is that bigotry is wrong. This moral, while unarguable, is nothing new, and "West Side Story" makes its point far too many times.

Except for Chakiris, all of the cast was dubbed, even Rita Moreno. Choreographer Jerome Robbins was the original director, but was replaced with Robert Wise when the production fell behind. The film's Academy Awards include Best Picture, Best Director, Best Color Cinematography (Daniel Fapp), Best Supporting Actor (Chakiris) and Actress (Rita Moreno).

Copyright 1999 Brian Koller

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