West Side Story 4.0 stars

West Side Story movie poster

The Romeo and Juliet tragedy relocated amid Manhattan's juvenile gang wars — Puerto Ricans and whites at daggers with one another. The plot sits quite easily in its new surroundings (though some effective revisions have been dared, where they were not absolutely necessary), and the tale even acquires a fresh coloring by way of its demotion to slum-level society. Still, the project, reaching the screen under the escort of its Broadway mentor, Jerome Robbins, is an uneasy mixture: a classical love story combined with a liberal sociological dissertation on environmental determinism; stylized, exotically colored street-gang rituals photographed in authentic, gritty locales; and the troublesome Stephen Sondheim-Leonard Bernstein score, which vacillates between the soaring, the sweet, the sentimental, and the sassy, the sour, the satirical. Robbins was well advised to take on, as co-director, Robert Wise, who leans naturally toward realism and liberalism, but who owns enough filmmaking finesse to make a slick, vibrant spectacle of the feverish drama and the athletic, animalistic posing, strutting, stunting. With Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Rita Moreno, George Chakiris, and Russ Tamblyn. 1961.

Duncan Shepherd

This movie is not currently in theaters.

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