Director: Robert Wise & Jerome Robbins
Somehow a simple message delivery very nearly turns into a gang rape. What the hell is wrong with these guys??
This musical retelling of Romeo and Juliet is pleasant enough, transposing the familiar story into the world of local and immigrant gangs on the streets of New York. The songs are a mixed bag, with some duds and some real winners, but none as memorable as those in some other musicals I’ve enjoyed in the past. Interestingly, I only recognised one song – ‘America’ – which suggests the rest haven’t reached the level of pop culture ubiquity so many songs from other musicals have. The beginning and ending are strong; the long middle is uneven, often brought up or down by the relative quality of the songs. The central romance is easy to get swept up in, helped by the charisma of the young leads, Richard Beymer and Natalie Wood, and the chemistry between them. Considering the setting and everything it’s supposed to represent, I could have done with more of New York itself; it often felt like I was watching Generic Place With Xenophobia Story rather than an actual West Side Story. It won many Oscars, including Best Picture; I wouldn’t call it a deserving winner, though to be honest I haven’t seen enough other 1961 releases to make a definitive call.