West Side Story (1961) Review

In the Upper West Side of New York City in the 1950s two teenage gangs struggle to gain control, The Jets and the Sharks going up against each other and when Maria and Tony from the opposite sides fall in love it would led to some very tragic circumstances.


The film is an adaptation of the 1957 Broadway musical of the same name, which was inspired by William Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet, so a musical version of the play is what you often see this film talked about. It was nominated for 11 Academy Awards and won 10 of them including best picture, considering I have such a love for musicals this was actually the very first time I have watched this film. I know that really does sound utterly shocking but given the hype that surrounds it all I think I was actually a little bit nervous about eventually watching it. Given all of that it was always going to be tough to not expect too much and in all honesty I wasn’t blown away by it as being outstanding. Don’t get me wrong it is a fantastic film musical and has some incredible songs, but I wouldn’t say the greatest of all time or anything like that especially when you realise that the actors were not actually singing and others were used as the singing voices (I know this was done a lot with older musicals).

Considering the story is pretty much Romeo and Juliet that really does not need to be explained at all, the star crossed lovers who love each other despite their family and friends not agreeing with the romance. I do always like that though as it always hits home that you cannot help who you fall in love with and its something that should never go against someone as its not like you decide you will fall in love with a rival or someone that your family are never going to like.

As I had never actually seen the film before I did know quite a lot of the songs. Maria, America, Tonight, I Feel Pretty and Somewhere being the ones I knew and they are extremely good! I didn’t know the rest of them but it was always nice to hear new ones. While I had heard the songs for them to be then seen in context of the story was enjoyable enough and seeing them in the impressive routines was good. The emotion put across through the songs is what really pushes this on and grows the story.

I actually thought Natalie Wood was truly outstanding, that is a thought I have whenever I catch up with any of her films. She was just so pure and amazing, such a shame her life was cut so short in horrendous circumstances. Such an amazing talent who is a joy to watch. Rita Moreno and George Chakiris both picked up academy awards in supporting roles of actress and actor respectively and really did deserve those awards.

West Side Story still holds the record for being the most successful musical film of all time when it comes to the Oscar wins and that is pretty impressive really, not many musicals win at the Oscars and for this to have done it back in the 60s was rather special. Even if it did just fall short of being 5 stars for me personally, I just feel that the hype and build up to eventually watching the film made me expect it to be even better than it actually was which is probably rather crazy considering it is a very good film just not outstanding like I expected.

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