West Side Story (film)

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West Side Story
West Side Story poster.jpg
Directed by Robert Wise
Jerome Robbins
Produced by Robert Wise
Screenplay by Ernest Lehman
Based on West Side Story 
by Jerome Robbins
and Arthur Laurents
Romeo and Juliet 
by William Shakespeare (uncredited)
Starring Natalie Wood
Richard Beymer
Rita Moreno
George Chakiris
Russ Tamblyn
Music by Leonard Bernstein
Cinematography Daniel L. Fapp, A.S.C.
Edited by Thomas Stanford
Production
company
Distributed by United Artists
Release dates
  • October 18, 1961 (1961-10-18)
Running time 152 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $6 million
Box office $43,700,000

West Side Story is a 1961 American romantic musical drama film directed by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins. The film is an adaptation of the 1957 Broadway musical of the same name, which in turn was inspired by William Shakespeare's play Romeo and Juliet. It stars Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Russ Tamblyn, Rita Moreno, and George Chakiris, and was photographed by Daniel L. Fapp, A.S.C., in Super Panavision 70.

Released on October 18, 1961 through United Artists, the film received high praise from critics and the public, and became the second highest grossing film of the year in the United States. The film was nominated for 11 Academy Awards and won 10, including Best Picture (as well as a special award for Robbins), becoming the record holder for the most wins for a movie musical.

Plot synopsis[edit]

In the West Side's Lincoln Square neighborhood in Manhattan, there is tension between a Caucasian gang, the Jets, led by Riff, and a Puerto Rican gang of immigrants, the Sharks, led by Bernardo. After a brawl erupts ("Prologue"), Lieutenant Schrank and Officer Krupke arrive and break it up. The Jets decide to challenge the Sharks to a rumble at an upcoming dance for neighborhood control.

Riff decides that his best friend Tony, the co-founder of the Jets who left the gang, should fight ("Jet Song"). Riff invites Tony to the dance, but Tony is uninterested. He tells Riff that he senses something important will happen, which Riff suggests could have correlation with the dance ("Something's Coming").

Bernardo's younger sister, Maria, tells her best friend and Bernardo's girlfriend, Anita, how excited she is about the dance. Anita jokes that Maria has only moved to America to marry Chino, and Maria confesses that she doesn't love Chino.

At the dance, the gangs and girls refuse to intermingle ("Dance at the Gym"). Tony arrives and he and Maria fall in love at first sight and briefly kiss. However, Bernardo angrily demands that Tony stay away from her. Riff proposes a meeting with Bernardo at Doc's drug store. Tony leaves the dance alone and wanders the neighborhood streets, lovestruck ("Maria").

Maria is sent home, and Anita argues that Bernardo is overprotective of Maria, and they compare the advantages of Puerto Rico and the United States ("America").

Tony discreetly visits Maria on her fire escape, where they reaffirm their love ("Tonight"). Krupke, who suspects the Jets are planning something, visits them and warns them not to cause trouble, for which the Jets mock him after he leaves ("Gee, Officer Krupke"). When the Sharks arrive, both groups agree to have the showdown the following evening under the highway, with a one-on-one fist fight. When Schrank arrives, the gangs feign friendship. Schrank orders the Sharks out and unsuccessfully tries to divulge information about the fight from the Jets.

The next day at the bridal shop, Maria's friends notice that she is acting strangely, and she explains that she is in love ("I Feel Pretty"). Anita accidentally tells Maria about the rumble while they close shop for the night. Tony arrives to see Maria, which shocks Anita. They profess their love and Anita warns them about the consequences if Bernardo learns of their relationship. Maria makes Tony promise that he'll prevent the rumble. Tony and Maria fantasize about their wedding ceremony ("One Hand, One Heart").

The Jets and Sharks approach the area under the highway ("Quintet"). Tony arrives to stop the fight, but Bernardo antagonizes him. Unwilling to watch Tony be humiliated, Riff initiates a knife fight. Tony tries to intervene, which leads to Bernardo stabbing Riff, killing him. Tony kills Bernardo with Riff's knife and a melee ensues. Police sirens blare and everyone flees, leaving behind the dead bodies of Riff and Bernardo.

Maria waits for Tony on the rooftop of her apartment building, when Chino arrives and tells her about the fight. When she asks if Tony was hurt, Chino angrily shouts that Tony has killed Bernardo, and leaves. Tony arrives and explains what transpired and asks for her forgiveness before he turns himself in to the police. Maria confirms her love for him and asks Tony to stay with her ("Somewhere").

The Jets have reassembled outside a garage, with their new leader, Ice, having them focus on reacting to the police ("Cool"). Anybodys arrives and warns them that Chino is now after Tony, and has a gun. Ice sends the Jets to warn Tony.

Anita enters the apartment while Tony and Maria are in the bedroom. Tony and Maria arrange to meet at Doc's, where they will pick up getaway money to elope. Anita spots Tony leaving through the window and chides Maria for the relationship ("A Boy Like That"), but Maria convinces her to help them elope ("I Have a Love").

Schrank arrives and questions Maria about the rumble. To cover for Tony, Maria sends Anita to Doc's in her stead to tell him that Maria has been delayed from meeting him. When Anita reaches Doc's, the Jets harass her, until Doc intervenes. Shaken and angered, Anita declares that Bernardo was right about them and that Chino has killed Maria in a jealous rage. Disgusted with their behavior, Doc banishes the Jets and delivers Tony his getaway money and Anita's message. Tony runs into the streets, shouting for Chino to find him and kill him as well.

In the playground next to Doc's, Tony spots Maria and they run toward each other, only for Chino to emerge and shoot Tony. The Jets and Sharks arrive to find Maria holding Tony, who dies ("Somewhere (Reprise)"). Maria stops the gangs from fighting and takes the gun from Chino and threatens everyone, blaming their hate for the deaths of Riff, Bernardo, and Tony. Schrank, Krupke, and Doc arrive. When the Jets raise Tony's body, the Sharks rush forward to help them, and together with Maria they form a funeral procession. The police arrest Chino and lead him away ("Finale").

Cast[edit]

  • Natalie Wood as Maria Nuñez, Bernardo's younger sister, Chino's fiancée, in love with Tony Wyzek
  • Richard Beymer as Tony Wyzek, inactive co-founder of the Jets with best friend Riff, works at Doc's drug store, in love with Maria Nuñez
  • Russ Tamblyn as Riff Lorton, leader of the Jets, best friend of Tony
  • Rita Moreno as Anita del Carmen, Bernardo's girl, Maria's closest confidante
    • Betty Wand as Anita's low notes during "A Boy Like That" (she ended up with throat nodules as a result[2]); Marni Nixon during parts of the "Quintet".
  • George Chakiris as Bernardo Nuñez, leader of the Sharks, older brother of Maria
  • Simon Oakland as Lieutenant Schrank, neighborhood police lieutenant
  • Ned Glass as Doc, drugstore owner, Tony's boss. He tries to talk sense to Tony and the Jets, but they rarely listen.
  • William Bramley as Officer Krupke, neighborhood cop, Schrank's right-hand man
  • John Astin as Glad Hand, social worker
  • Penny Santon as Madam Lucia, owner of neighborhood bridal shop

Jets[edit]

  • Tucker Smith as Ice, Riff's lieutenant, singing voice of Riff in "Jet Song"[3]
  • Tony Mordente as Action, a Jet who is easily provoked and often in an angry state
  • David Winters as A-Rab, Baby John's best friend
  • Eliot Feld as Baby John, the youngest, and good member of the Jets,
  • Bert Michaels as Snowboy, the comedic member of the Jets
  • David Bean as Tiger
  • Robert Banas as Joyboy
  • Anthony 'Scooter' Teague as Big Deal
  • Harvey Evans (Harvey Hohnecker) as Mouthpiece
  • Tommy Abbott as Gee-Tar

Jet Girls[edit]

  • Susan Oakes as Anybodys
  • Gina Trikonis as Graziella, Riff's girl
  • Carole D'Andrea as Velma, Ice's girl

Sharks[edit]

  • Jose DeVega as Chino, Bernardo's best friend
  • Jay Norman as Pepe, Bernardo's lieutenant
  • Gus Trikonis as Indio, Pepe's best friend
  • Eddie Verso as Juano
  • Jamie Rogers as Loco
  • Larry Roquemore as Rocco
  • Robert E. Thompson as Luis
  • Nick Covacevich (using the name Nick Navarro) as Toro
  • Rudy Del Campo as Del Campo
  • Andre Tayir as Chile

Shark Girls[edit]

  • Yvonne Othon (using the name Yvonne Wilder) as Consuelo, Pepe's girl
  • Suzie Kaye as Rosalia, Indio's girl
  • Joanne Miya as Francisca, Juano's girl
  • Maria Jimenez Henley as Teresita, Loco's girl (uncredited)

Musical numbers[edit]

Production[edit]

Veteran director Robert Wise was chosen to direct and produce because of his experience with urban New York dramas such as Odds Against Tomorrow (1959). Since he had no experience directing a musical, Wise agreed that Jerome Robbins, who had directed the stage version of West Side Story, would direct the musical and dance sequences. After about one-third of the movie had been shot, the Mirisch Company, concerned that the production was running over-budget, dismissed Robbins. According to Saul Chaplin, Robbins nearly suffered a nervous breakdown during the time he worked on the film. The remaining dance numbers were directed with the help of Robbins' assistants. Recognizing Robbins' considerable creative contribution to the film, Wise agreed that Robbins should be given co-directing credit, even though Wise directed the greater part of the film. The ending title sequence was created by Saul Bass, who is also credited as "visual consultant" on the film.

Casting[edit]

Because the producers wanted actors who looked believable as teenagers, they did not consider 30-year-old Larry Kert, the first Tony on Broadway, or 29-year-old Carol Lawrence, the first Maria, but some had experience in stage productions Tony Mordente, who played A-Rab on stage, was cast as Action in the film, and George Chakiris, Riff in the London stage production, played Bernardo in the film. Tucker Smith, who joined the Broadway production several months into its run, played Ice, a role created for the film. David Winters, the first stage Baby John, played A-Rab,[4] Eliot Feld, an ensemble member and understudy for Baby John on Broadway, played Baby John. Jay Norman, Juano on stage, appeared as Pepe. Reprising their stage roles in the film were Carole D'Andrea as Velma, Tommy Abott as Gee-Tar, and William Bramley as Officer Krupke.

Elvis Presley was approached for Tony, but his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, strongly believed the role to be wrong for Elvis and made him decline in favor of other movie musicals. According to legend, the Colonel didn't want Elvis associated with gang warfare and knife crime, although three years earlier, Elvis' character Danny Fisher stabbed and killed the small-time gangster 'Shark' played by Vic Morrow in the movie King Creole. When the movie became a hit and earned 10 Oscars, Elvis regretted having given up the part. Others who auditioned for the part included Warren Beatty, Tab Hunter, Anthony Perkins, Russ Tamblyn, Burt Reynolds, Troy Donahue, Bobby Darin, Richard Chamberlain, Dennis Hopper, and Gary Lockwood.

Bobby Darin made a strong impression on the producers at his audition and was, at one point, in talks for the role. However, he turned it down due to his concert and recording commitments. Tab Hunter, then 30, and Burt Reynolds, nearly 26, were also considered, due to their Broadway and singing credits, but they were dismissed because of their age. Richard Chamberlain was also thought too old at age 26. The producers settled on their "final five": Warren Beatty, Anthony Perkins, Russ Tamblyn, Troy Donahue, and Richard Beymer. Although he was 28 before filming began, Perkins' boyish looks and Broadway resume seemed to make him a contender for the role, and he was trying to avoid getting typecast after the success of Psycho. Robert Wise originally chose Beatty for the role, figuring that youth was more important than experience. Ultimately, Beymer, the most unlikely of the candidates, won the part of Tony. Tamblyn, after several callbacks, impressed the producers and was given the role of Riff.

Natalie Wood was filming Splendor in the Grass with Warren Beatty and was romantically involved with him off-screen. The producers were considering her for the role of Maria. When Beatty went to screen test for the role of Tony, Wood read opposite him as Maria as a favor because she had been practicing with him. The producers fell in love with the idea of Wood as Maria but did not cast Beatty.

Jill St. John, Audrey Hepburn, Diane Baker, Valerie Harper, Elizabeth Ashley, and Suzanne Pleshette were among the many actresses who lobbied for the role of Maria in the film. However, Hepburn later withdrew because she became pregnant.

Reception[edit]

West Side Story holds a 94% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 62 reviews for an average rating of 8.3; the consensus states: "Buoyed by Robert Wise's dazzling direction, Leonard Bernstein's score, and Stephen Sondheim's lyrics, West Side Story remains perhaps the most iconic of all the Shakespeare adaptations to visit the big screen."[5]

Box office[edit]

The film earned $19,645,000 in North American rentals.[6] Because of profit participation, United Artists earned a profit of $2.5 million on the film.[7] Wood, offered a choice between a share in the gross revenue and a fixed salary, chose the latter, a decision she regretted after the film proved a success at the box office. Eight years later, she agreed to star in Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice for a share of the gross, earning her a fortune after that film became a critical and commercial hit.[citation needed]

Accolades and honors[edit]

The film has been deemed "culturally significant" by the United States Library of Congress and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry in 1997.[8] Its ten Academy Awards make it is the musical film with the most Academy wins, including Best Picture. Three other films also won 11 Oscars, but none were a musical.[9]

Academy Awards[edit]

Wins[10][11]

Nominations

Others[edit]

  • Academy Award for Brilliant Achievements in the Art of Choreography on Film – Jerome Robbins

American Film Institute lists:

The film's cast appeared and was honored at the 50th anniversary of West Side Story at the 2011 Ventura Film Festival.[12]

Score and soundtrack[edit]

Leonard Bernstein was displeased with the orchestrations for the movie, which was the work of Sid Ramin and Irwin Kostal, who had orchestrated the original Broadway production. That show had been orchestrated for roughly 30 musicians; for the movie, United Artists allowed them triple that, including six saxophone parts, eight trumpets, five pianos and five xylophones.[13] Bernstein found it "overbearing and lacking in texture and subtlety."[14]

Jerome Robbins, who did not like the arrangement of the songs in the Broadway version, had the song "Gee, Officer Krupke" being sung before the Rumble in place of the song "Cool" which is sung instead, after the Rumble. Also, the song "I Feel Pretty" is sung before the Rumble instead. In addition, the song "America" was sung in-between the two love songs "Maria" and Tonight", instead of having the two love songs being sung consecutively. The "Somewhere" Ballet was omitted, because it slowed down the pace of the film, and was sung instead by Tony and Maria. Reprises of the lyrics were omitted as well, especially in the songs "One Hand, One Heart" and "A Boy Like That". Some lyrics were changed in order to avoid censorship, especially in the songs "Gee, Officer Krupke", "America" and the "Tonight Quintet". Even the phrase "Sperm to Worm" had to be replaced with "One, Two, Three" in the Quintet.

As provided in her contract, Wood prerecord her songs and allowed the production team to decide whether to use her voice or not. She found the songs challenging, but was allowed to film her scenes lip-synching to her own vocals and was led to believe that these versions would be used, although music supervisors Saul Chaplin and Johnny Green had already decided to use Marni Nixon's voice. Wood's singing voice is only heard during the reprise of the song "Somewhere" when Tony dies. Though Nixon had recorded the songs in the same orchestra sessions as Wood, she had to rerecord them to synch with Wood's filmed performances. Even the one song for which Wood had lip-synched to Nixon's voice, "One Hand, One Heart", had to be recorded again because Wood's lip-synching was unsatisfactory.[15] When Marni Nixon learned she had not signed a contract for participating in the recording, demanded a percentage of the LP record, but was told that all percentages had been allocated. Bernstein gave her 0.25% of his album royalties. This set a precedent for all future "ghost singers".[2]

Beymer's vocals were performed by Jimmy Bryant. Tucker Smith, who played Ice, dubbed the singing voice of Riff in "Jet Song", instead of Russ Tamblyn. Tamblyn's own voice was used in "Gee, Officer Krupke" and the "Quintet". Rita Moreno was dubbed by Betty Wand in the song "A Boy Like That" because the song needed to be performed at a register that was too low for her. However, Moreno sang her own vocals in "America". Marni Nixon sang some of Moreno's parts in the "Quintet" when illness prevented Moreno from doing so. Wand was also ill on the day of final recording, and so Nixon recorded Anita's vocal line as well.

For the 50th anniversary of the film's 1961 release, a score closer to the Broadway version was created by Garth Edwin Sunderland of the Leonard Bernstein Office to be performed live at screenings of the movie with the score removed, but with the original vocals maintained.[16] The score's New York City premiere was presented at Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall, built atop the original film locations, which were razed in a late 1950s urban renewal project.[13][17]

The Stan Kenton Orchestra recorded Kenton's West Side Story, an entire album of Johnny Richards' jazz orchestrations based on the Bernstein scores in 1961. It was previewed at Capitol Records by the producers of the motion picture during the editing and mix down who lamented that, had they known of its existence, it would have been used as the musical foundation of the new film. The Kenton version won the 1962 Grammy Award for Best Jazz Recording by a Large Group. A still picture from the movie is the front cover of the Kenton LP.

Restoration[edit]

In 2011, the film was restored with digital cinema, an aspect ratio of 2.20:1, and Super Panavision 70.[citation needed]

Director Steven Spielberg has expressed interest in directing a remake of the film.[18]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "West Side Story (AA)". British Board of Film Classification. January 12, 1962. Retrieved June 19, 2013. 
  2. ^ a b Secret Voices of Hollywood. BBC4. 3 Jan 2014
  3. ^ "25 Things You May Not Know About West Side Story" by Gary Susman, moviefone.com, October 18, 2011
    "Dubbing drubbing" by Joe Baltake, The Passionate Moviegoer, April 9, 2014
  4. ^ "David Winters Tribute Site". Davidwinters.net. 2003-04-01. Retrieved 2012-03-14. 
  5. ^ West Side Story at Rotten Tomatoes Retrieved July 19, 2014
  6. ^ Internet Movie Database
  7. ^ Tino Balio, United Artists: The Company That Changed the Film Industry, Uni of Wisconsin Press, 1987, p. 177
  8. ^ Berson, Misha (2011). Something's Coming, Something Good: West Side Story and the American Imagination. Applause Theatre & Cinema Books. p. 155. 
  9. ^ Grant, Barry Keith (2012). The Hollywood Film Musical. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 100. 
  10. ^ "West Side Story (1961) – Awards". The New York Times. Retrieved December 24, 2008. 
  11. ^ "The 34th Academy Awards (1962) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 2011-08-22. 
  12. ^ West Side Story 50th Anniversary
  13. ^ a b Wakin, Daniel (September 6, 2011), Classic Score by Bernstein is Remade, The New York Times, retrieved September 7, 2011 
  14. ^ Berson, Misha (2011). Something's Coming, Something Good: West Side Story and the American Imagination. Applause. 
  15. ^ Nixon, Marni (2006). I Could Have Sung All Night: My Story. Billboard Books. pp. 132ff. 
  16. ^ "Path of Discovery: West Side Story at 50", Justin M. Craig, September 27, 2011, leonardbernstein.com
  17. ^ Sarah Waxman, "The History of the Upper West Side", ny.com
  18. ^ "Steven Spielberg Interested in Re-Making West Side Story" by Carey Purcell, Playbill, 19 March 2014

External links[edit]

Awards
Preceded by
Sayonara
Academy Award winner for
Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress
Succeeded by
The Last Picture Show