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USA 1961
Directed by
Robert Wise / Jerome Robbins
151 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

West Side Story

Although critics were divided when the Broadway play, a highly romanticized re-working of the Romeo and Juliet story, opened in 1957, Wise and Robbin's film stormed the Academy Awards in 1961, taking out 10 Oscars, and is often cited as the "best musical ever made" which is a meaningless if not inaccurate assessment of the film's merits.

Whilst there is no quibbling with the quality of Wise's direction, Jerome Robbins' balletic choreography, Leonard Bernstein's symphonic score, Stephen Sondheim's lyrics or Boris Leven's production design, the incongruity between form and content fatally flaws the film, more apparently today perhaps than when it was relesaed, a time when mainstream American films were still propagating a carefully sanitized view of the world. Of course, soul, funk and hip-hop were yet to be invented but passing off a bunch of men in tights as New York hoodlums borders on the trying, if not the outright ridiculous. The film was also poorly cast with Richard Beymer, Russ Tamblyn and George Chakiris having little screen presence. And the classically WASPish Natalie Wood may have had presence but is hardly credible as a Puerto Rican shopgirl. Only Rita Moreno as Anita, Maria's friend, delivers the right combination of skills and talent (Wood's singing was dubbed by the ever-present Marni Nixon).  The Bernstein/Sondheim songs live on but as a film West Side Story is hugely over-rated .

FYI: Trivia buffs will appreciate the appearance of John Astin of The Addams Family in a minor role.

 

 

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