Director: Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins
Year Released: 1961
I never was much of a fan of musicals (My Fair Lady should have stayed Pygmalion), and this isn't about to change my mind about the genre. The plot is ripped off of Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet, but 'modernized' with the dividing line between two lovers being their race. Essentially, it starts of with a story of two gangs in New York City - the Puerto Rican Sharks and the Anglo-Saxon Jets - who are in the middle of a dispute of who 'owns' the West Side territory, meanwhile the Romeo and Juliet fall in love, which only incites more discontent between the opposing masses, much fighting and singing and dancing take place, the leaders of both gangs get killed (the head of the Sharks being 'Juliet's' brother) and eventually, the Romeo gets killed, leaving Juliet behind, crying, to give an impassioned speech. While the dance numbers are flashy and well choreographed, the whole thing feels dated, and films like Menace II Society and Jungle Fever seem as if they've taken the whole racial topic to a different level. The turning of the Puerto Ricans into complete stereotypes is unnecessary, most of the characters in the film have little or no depth to them and a lot of it feels kitsch-y, taking a serious story and mixing it with apple sauce to feed to the general public. Both leads - the female being Natalie Wood, who was so damn good in Rebel Without A Cause and the male being Richard Beymer, a newcomer - are mediocre and flat in their acting. Rita Moreno won an Oscar for her outstanding performance, and the scene where she is almost gang-raped in a drug store is perhaps the most powerful in the whole picture.