Musical about two youngsters from rival NYC gangs who fall in love.
Jerome Robbins, Robert Wise
Musical, Romance, Drama
Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Russ Tamblyn, Rita Moreno, George Chakiris, Simon Oakland, Ned Glass, William Bramley, Tucker Smith, Tony Mordente, David Winters, Eliot Feld, Bert Michaels, David Bean, Robert Banas
Note the opening credits. I use the term “credits” loosely, because there aren’t any. There’s just a reddish orangish title card which changes colour ever so slowly while they play the overture. Now THAT takes courage. Obviously Wise was certain that Bernstein’s music provides so much interest on its own that it would have been redundant to do anything but play it. And he was right. Bernstein simply wrote better music than any other Broadway composer of his day – much better music – and whether or not “West Side Story” contains his very best music, it’s his very best musical. It would take a special effort to make a bad movie out of it.
In fact Wise handles things very well. We get the same silent sweep over New York that he later gave us over Austria in “The Sound of Music” – the sweep that says, “I’m going to show you New York” (or Austria, as the case may be). The filming and the colours are stark and intentionally artificial: it does feel as if we are being shown a city. Performances are all fine.
Of course, most of what makes this film great was already present in the musical. But what’s wrong with that? Surely Wise shouldn’t HAVE to spin straw into gold. A wise man – sorry – just accepts it with good grace when he is handed gold to begin with.