West Side Story (film)

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West Side Story
West Side Story poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster by Joe Caroff
Directed by Robert Wise
Jerome Robbins
Produced by Robert Wise
Screenplay by Ernest Lehman
Based on West Side Story
by Jerome Robbins
Leonard Bernstein
Stephen Sondheim
Arthur Laurents
Romeo and Juliet
by William Shakespeare
Starring Natalie Wood
Richard Beymer
Rita Moreno
George Chakiris
Russ Tamblyn
Music by Leonard Bernstein
Irwin Kostal
Cinematography Daniel L. Fapp, A.S.C.
Edited by Thomas Stanford
Distributed by United Artists
Release date
  • October 18, 1961 (1961-10-18)
Running time
152 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $6 million
Box office $44.1 million

West Side Story is a 1961 American romantic musical tragedy film[2][3][4] 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 viewers, 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.

The film has been deemed "culturally significant" by the United States Library of Congress and was selected for the National Film Registry in 1997.[5]


In the late summer of 1957, in the West Side's Lincoln Square neighborhood in Manhattan, there is a growing tension between a white American street gang, the Jets, led by Riff, and a Puerto Rican gang, the Sharks, led by Bernardo. After a brawl erupts at the playground, Lieutenant Schrank and Officer Krupke arrive and break it up. Riff decides the gang will go to a dance that night and challenge the Sharks to a rumble ("Jet Song").

Riff recruits his best friend Tony, the co-founder of the Jets, to join them at the dance and subsequent rumble; Tony, who has since left the gang and is now working at Doc's Drug Store, is uninterested but agrees to come, confiding in Riff that he senses something big could happen in his life soon, and Riff suggests something could happen at the dance ("Something's Coming").

Bernardo's younger sister Maria tells Anita, her best friend and Bernardo's girlfriend with whom she works at a bridal shop, how excited she is about the dance as they work on altering Maria's dress. She also complains that she has no interest in Chino, a young Puerto Rican man Bernardo brought to the U.S. for her to marry. At the dance ("Dance at the Gym"), the gangs and girls refuse to mix. Tony arrives and he and Maria fall in love at first sight. Just as they share their first kiss, Bernardo pushes Tony away and sends Maria home ("Maria"), and then Riff parlays with Bernardo about setting up a war council. At home, Bernardo admonishes Maria for her naivete and argues with Anita about his being overprotective. On the roof of their apartment, Bernardo, Anita, the Sharks and their girls debate the pros and cons of living in America rather than Puerto Rico ("America").

Tony quietly meets Maria on her fire escape, where they solidify their love for each other ("Tonight"). At Doc's, the two gangs have their war council and both sides agree to a decisive best man one-on-one fair fight under the highway. When Schrank arrives, the gangs feign friendship; Schrank orders the Sharks out and unsuccessfully tries to cull details from the Jets about the rumble.

The next day at the bridal shop Maria is on Cloud Nine ("I Feel Pretty"), but then Anita unwittingly mentions the rumble. Tony then arrives, revealing their romance to Anita who initially objects warning them that Bernardo would never approve, but agrees to keep it secret and leaves Maria to close up the shop. After Maria makes Tony promise to stop the rumble, the two clandestine lovers fantasize about their wedding ceremony ("One Hand, One Heart").

The following night, the Jets and Sharks meet under the highway and the rumble begins as planned ("The Rumble") with Bernardo going up against Ice, Riff's lieutenant. Tony arrives to stop it, but Bernardo taunts him. Unwilling to watch Tony be humiliated, Riff steps in and both gang leaders whip out switchblades. Tony tries to intervene, which leads to Bernardo fatally stabbing Riff. In a fit of anger, Tony stabs Bernardo with Riff's blade and another brawl ensues until police sirens blare and everyone scatters leaving the bodies of Riff and Bernardo behind.

Maria is waiting for Tony on the rooftop of her apartment building when Chino arrives and tells her about the rumble; when she asks about Tony, Chino says only that Tony killed Bernardo and angrily storms off. Tony arrives moments later and tells Maria the whole story and asks her forgiveness before he turns himself in to the police. Maria again reaffirms her love for Tony and asks him to stay with her ("Somewhere").

Meanwhile, the Jets reassemble outside a garage; most of them, especially Baby John and Riff's girlfriend Graziella, are badly shaken by Riff's sudden death, but the short-tempered Action is determined to get revenge on the Sharks. Ice, now their leader, teaches them to focus on not letting their emotions get the better of them ("Cool"). Anybodys, a tomboy and wannabe Jet, arrives and warns them that Chino is now armed and hunting for Tony, so the Jets split up and search for him.

As Anita arrives home after learning of Bernardo's death, Maria and Tony quickly and quietly agree to meet up at Doc's and leave town. When Anita spots Tony leaving she warns Maria to give him up and find someone else ("A Boy Like That"), but she has a change of heart after Maria reminds her of her love for Bernardo ("I Have a Love") and that when you have love, right and wrong don't matter. After the two exchange stories about Chino and Tony, Schrank arrives to question Maria about the flare-up at the dance, so Maria fakes a headache and asks Anita go to Doc's for her to "get medicine"; knowing Maria's real meaning, she agrees and leaves, while Maria covers for Tony by lying to Schrank.

At Doc's, despite her pleas to help, Anita is relentlessly harassed by the Jets who are guarding Tony in the basement until Ice can find Chino; Doc breaks it up and kicks them out, but not before Anita proclaims that Bernardo was right to hate them and says instead that Chino shot and killed Maria when he found out about her and Tony. When Doc delivers getaway money and Anita's "message", Tony bursts out into the street screaming for Chino to come and kill him too. Maria arrives and they run to each other in the middle of the playground, but just before they can embrace, Chino appears and shoots Tony who collapses and dies in Maria's arms ("Somewhere (Reprise)"). The Jets and Sharks converge on the playground and are about to fight again when Maria angrily stops them; she takes Chino's gun and blames them all for killing Riff, Bernardo, and Tony. Schrank, Krupke, and Doc arrive as Jets and Sharks join to carry Tony's body away, forming a funeral procession with Maria following. The police then arrest Chino and lead him away.


  • Natalie Wood as Maria, Bernardo's younger sister, and Chino's arranged fiancée, who falls in love with Tony
  • Richard Beymer as Tony, co-founder and one-time member of the Jets, but remains best friend of Riff; works at Doc's drug store, and becomes Maria's star-crossed lover.
  • Russ Tamblyn as Riff, leader of the Jets, best friend of Tony
    • Tucker Smith as Riff's singing voice for "Jet Song" (Tamblyn did his own singing for "Gee, Officer Krupke!" and "Quintet")
  • Rita Moreno as Anita, Bernardo's girlfriend, and Maria's closest confidante
    • Betty Wand as Anita's singing voice for "A Boy Like That" (Moreno did her own singing for "America" and "Quintet")
  • George Chakiris as Bernardo, leader of the Sharks, older brother of Maria and Anita's boyfriend
  • Simon Oakland as Police Lieutenant Schrank, a hard-boiled plainclothes detective
  • William Bramley as Police Sergeant Krupke, a brusque beat cop
  • Ned Glass as Doc, drugstore owner, Tony's boss; a decent, elderly man


  • John Astin as Glad Hand, well-meaning but ineffective social worker
  • Penny Santon as Madam Lucia, bridal shop owner

Musical numbers[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 opening titles and end credits sequences were created by Saul Bass, who is also credited for "visual consultation" on the film.[6]

Exterior shots used the buildings of Lincoln Square, which were vacant and about to be torn down, allowing them to be used as a set.


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 Diesel, renamed Ice for the film. David Winters, the first stage Baby John, played A-Rab,[7] 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.[8] 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 not considering her for the role of Maria at that time. 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.


Original teaser trailer for West Side Story.

West Side Story holds a 94% "Certified fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 62 reviews for an average rating of 8.3/10; the site's critical 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."[9]

Box office[edit]

The film earned $19,645,000 in North American rentals.[10] Because of profit participation, United Artists earned a profit of $2.5 million on the film.[11]

Accolades and honors[edit]

Its ten Academy Awards make it the musical film with the most Academy wins, including Best Picture. Three other films (Ben-Hur, Titanic and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King) won 11 Oscars, but they were not musical films.[12]

Academy Awards[edit]




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.[16]

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.[17] Bernstein found it "overbearing and lacking in texture and subtlety."[5]

Stephen Sondheim, who did not like the sequence 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; the song "I Feel Pretty" is also sung before the Rumble instead of after. 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 "Jet Song," "Gee, Officer Krupke", "America" and the "Tonight Quintet." Even the phrase "Womb to Tomb, Sperm to Worm" between Riff and Tony had to be replaced with "Womb to Tomb, Birth to Earth" between Riff and Tony near the beginning of the film[18] and "One-Two-Three, One-Two-Three" between Riff and Diesel in the Quintet.

As provided in her contract, Wood prerecorded 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 re-record 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.[19] When Marni Nixon learned that she had not signed a contract for participating in the recording and demanded a percentage of the LP record, she 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".[20]

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.[21] 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.[17][22]

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.

Remakes and legacy[edit]

The 2000 Bollywood film Josh is a loose adaptation of West Side Story. In 2014, director Steven Spielberg had expressed interest in directing a remake of the film.[23] In 2018, Spielberg announced that he was officially working on a remake to the film.[24]

In 2009, photographer Mark Seliger re-created scenes from the film for magazine Vanity Fair called West Side Story Revisited, using Camilla Belle as Maria, Ben Barnes as Tony, Jennifer Lopez as Anita, Rodrigo Santoro as Bernardo and Chris Evans as Riff. Portraying the Sharks are Minka Kelly, Jay Hernandez, Natalie Martinez, Brandon T. Jackson and Melonie Diaz. Portraying the Jets are Ashley Tisdale, Sean Faris, Robert Pattinson, Cam Gigandet, Trilby Glover, Brittany Snow and Drake Bell.[25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "West Side Story (AA)". British Board of Film Classification. January 12, 1962. Retrieved June 19, 2013. 
  2. ^ Thomas, Thompson (December 14, 1981). "Natalie's Tragic West Side Story". People. Retrieved June 24, 2018. 
  3. ^ M. Falcao, Andrew (June 2014). "Tragedy, Ecstasy, Doom: Modernist Moods of "West Side Story"". University of Western Ontario. Retrieved June 24, 2018. 
  4. ^ Holleran, Scott. "Movie Review: West Side Story". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 24 June 2018. 
  5. ^ a b Berson, Misha (2011). Something's Coming, Something Good: West Side Story and the American Imagination. Applause Theatre & Cinema Books. p. 155. 
  6. ^ Kirkham, Pat. "West Side Story". artofthetitle.com. Retrieved 24 June 2018. 
  7. ^ "David Winters Tribute Site". Davidwinters.net. 2003-04-01. Retrieved 2012-03-14. 
  8. ^ www.elvisechoesofthepast.com
  9. ^ West Side Story at Rotten Tomatoes Retrieved July 19, 2014
  10. ^ Internet Movie Database
  11. ^ Tino Balio, United Artists: The Company That Changed the Film Industry, University of Wisconsin Press, 1987, p. 177
  12. ^ Grant, Barry Keith (2012). The Hollywood Film Musical. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 100. 
  13. ^ "West Side Story (1961) – Awards". The New York Times. Retrieved December 24, 2008. 
  14. ^ "The 34th Academy Awards (1962) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 2011-08-22. 
  15. ^ Awards & Honors jeromerobbins.org
  16. ^ West Side Story 50th Anniversary at the Ventura Film Festival
  17. ^ a b Wakin, Daniel (September 6, 2011), "Classic Score by Bernstein is Remade", The New York Times, retrieved September 7, 2011 
  18. ^ West Side Story—"Something's Coming," YouTube
  19. ^ Nixon, Marni (2006). I Could Have Sung All Night: My Story. Billboard Books. pp. 132ff. 
  20. ^ Secret Voices of Hollywood. BBC4. 3 Jan 2014
  21. ^ "Path of Discovery: West Side Story at 50", Justin M. Craig, September 27, 2011, leonardbernstein.com
  22. ^ Sarah Waxman, "The History of the Upper West Side", ny.com
  23. ^ Nemiroff, Perri (2014-08-08). "West Side Story Remake Is Still on Steven Spielberg's Mind". Collider. Retrieved 2016-06-01. 
  24. ^ Yohana, Desta (January 26, 2018). "Steven Spielberg Is Officially Remaking West Side Story—and He's Looking for You". www.vanityfair.com. Vanity Fair. Retrieved June 24, 2018. 
  25. ^ Seliger, Mark (March 17, 2009). "West Side Story Revisited". Vanity Fair. Retrieved July 18, 2010. 

External links[edit]