When you first start watching West Side Story, you’ll probably think to yourself, “Wow, this is probably the fruitiest movie I’ve ever seen,” but don’t worry, it gets better. The story is about two rival gangs in New York – the Jets and the Sharks.
The Jets have a small area of land they have deemed their territory, and the Sharks are trying to take it over. The main difference between the Jets and the Sharks is that while the Jets are white and were born in America, the Sharks are full-blooded Puerto Rican.
The Sharks hate the Jets for the sole reason that they are Americans. Ever since the members of the Sharks came to America they have been treated like scum simply because they are Latino, and therefore have a chip on their shoulder. Newer, bigger problems arise one night at a dance in which both gangs are in attendance.
Tony (Richard Beymer), is the co-founder of the Jets, but has since left the gang in order to pursue a more legitimate lifestyle. He notices Maria (Natalie Wood), who is the sister of Sharks’ leader, Bernardo (George Chakiris). Another problem is that she notices him. They are immediately drawn to each other, and it is truly love at first sight.
Tony doesn’t know who Maria is, and Maria doesn’t know who Tony is, and the thing is, they don’t care – they just want to be together. This spectacle upsets Bernardo immensely, and he now feels he has even more reason to hate Americans and the Jets. There is nearly a fight between the two gangs right there in the dance hall, but instead Riff (Russ Tamblyn), the leader of the Jets, and Bernardo set up a meeting in order to set up a brawl at a later date.
Maria and Tony see each other a few more times and fall deeply in love, but the idea of a brawl is very upsetting to Maria and she makes Tony promise to stop it. Unfortunately, both the Sharks and the Jets want to brawl badly. Tony trying to stop it just leads to more violence and even death. With the Sharks out for vengeance, Tony and Maria must get away before more senseless deaths occur.
Normally I cannot stand musicals, and for the first half hour or so I thought this was going to be the case with West Side Story, but the film really calms down and actually becomes a decent picture. It did bother me that Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer don’t sing for themselves. Someone else sings for them. The singing is dubbed – and quite obvious.
The ending was absolutely superb, with a great scene from Natalie Wood as she displays yet another instance of her thespian superiority. This is worth watching even if you don’t like musicals, but especially if you do.
Overall 3.0/4 Stars
Grade = B