Director: Robert Wise & Jerome Robbins
What an overblown unnecessarily long film West Side Story is – especially when you consider it was made long before 3 hour films became so commonplace. I mean it even had an intermission for goodness sake – something that I was expecting and resulted in me thinking either my DVD player or TV (or quite possibly both) had broken … the most exciting part of the film. As you may have guessed I’m not exactly rushing out telling everyone that they simply must watch West Side Story as soon as (and as often as) possible. In short the entire film dragged making its 2 and a half hour run feel more like five hours!
The singing is a tad iffy at times and it’s not one of the many musicals that I routinely sing or even listen to. The most famous song, “America” is at times unintelligible to me due to the very affected Puerto Rican accents a number of the company are sporting. The only thing less believably Puerto Rican than the accents is Maria herself played by Natalie Wood. She looks nothing like her female companions and is much too pure and innocent. Her naivety winds me up no end which doesn’t help with my enjoyment of the film.
“West Side Story stumbles by casting charisma-free Richard Beymer in the lead (the Colonel wouldn’t let Elvis play Tony) and can’t exactly pass the winning Natalie Wood off as Puerto Rican.” (384, Kim Newman, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) Tony has absolutely no charisma what-so-ever which again is to the detriment of the film. He’s a drippy, soft character and I cannot understand how he was once the leader of the Jets.
The only feature that held any of my attention was the Shakespearean element. Even at a young age it was obvious that West Side Story was Romeo and Juliet set to music. Now I see more of the Romeo and Juliet characteristics – although many of them have been altered. “An early instance of the Shakespearean approach to teen drama, getting in on the act decades before it was trendy, this Oscar-winning filming of the Broadway musical hit relocates the story of Romeo and Juliet among New York street gangs, with the Capulets and Montagues morphed into the Puerto Rican Sharks and the Polish Jets.” (384) Tony and Maria are clearly meant to be the tragic star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet although in reality Tony is more like the Mercutio character, whose death is the trigger for the events of the original play. The Sharks and the Jets replace the Capulets and Montagues. The one key difference is that Maria survives the film. The idea of transplanting two warring Italian families into an urban setting as two rival street gangs is an interesting one, that sadly has not been realized to its full potential here but one that I think Baz Luhrmann improved on in Romeo + Juliet (1996)
I was not very taken with West Side Story. it was much too long and far too dramatic for my liking. And for all the drama there is little tension or real jeopardy to the entire film. There isn’t even really much humor to lighten the mood. I can’t see myself watching West Side Story by choice again.