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
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
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