West Side Story (film)

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West Side Story
File:West Side Story poster.jpg
Directed by Robert Wise
Jerome Robbins
Produced by Robert Wise
Screenplay by Ernest Lehman
Based on West Side Story 
by Jerome Robbins
Leonard Bernstein
Stephen Sondheim
and Arthur Laurents
Romeo and Juliet 
by William Shakespeare (uncredited)
Starring Natalie Wood
Richard Beymer
Rita Moreno
George Chakiris
Russ Tamblyn
Music by Leonard Bernstein
Irwin Kostal
Cinematography Daniel L. Fapp, A.S.C.
Edited by Thomas Stanford
Distributed by United Artists
Release dates
  • October 18, 1961 (1961-10-18)
Running time
152 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $6 million
Box office $43.7 million

West Side Story is a 1961 American romantic musical drama film directed by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins. The film is an adaptation of the 1957 Broadway musical of the same name, which in turn was inspired by William Shakespeare's play Romeo and Juliet. It stars Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Russ Tamblyn, Rita Moreno, and George Chakiris, and was photographed by Daniel L. Fapp, A.S.C., in Super Panavision 70.

Released on October 18, 1961 through United Artists, the film received high praise from critics and the public, and became the second highest grossing film of the year in the United States. The film was nominated for 11 Academy Awards and won 10, including Best Picture (as well as a special award for Robbins), becoming the record holder for the most wins for a movie musical.


In the West Side's Lincoln Square neighborhood in Manhattan in late summer of 1957, there is tension between an American gang, the Jets, led by Riff, and a gang of Puerto Rican immigrants, the Sharks, led by Bernardo. After a brawl erupts ("Prologue"), Lieutenant Schrank and Officer Krupke arrive and break it up, warning both gangs to cease fighting or they will all be arrested. Despite the warning, the Jets decide to challenge the Sharks to a rumble for neighborhood control at an upcoming dance.

Riff decides that his best friend Tony, the co-founder of the Jets who left the gang, should fight ("Jet Song"). Riff invites Tony to the dance, but Tony is uninterested. He tells Riff that he senses something important will happen, which Riff suggests could have correlation with the dance ("Something's Coming").

Bernardo's younger sister, Maria, tells her best friend and Bernardo's girlfriend, Anita, how excited she is about the dance. At the dance, the gangs and girls refuse to intermingle ("Dance at the Gym"), despite attempts by social worker Glad Hand. Tony arrives and he and Maria fall in love. However, Bernardo angrily demands that Tony stay away from her. Riff proposes a war council with Bernardo at Doc's drugstore, which he accepts, and Tony leaves the dance, in awe about his new found love("Maria").

The Sharks leave the dance, and Bernardo sends Maria to bed. Anita argues that Bernardo is overprotective of Maria, and they join the rest of the Sharks on the roof of their apartment building and compare the advantages of Puerto Rico and the United States ("America"). The Sharks leave the building because Bernardo reminds them about the war council, and they're late, while the girls get ready to go to bed.

Tony discreetly visits Maria on her fire escape, where they reaffirm their love ("Tonight"). Before parting, she tells him to come to the bridal shop after closing. Meanwhile, the Jets wait for the Sharks outside of Doc's drugstore and are visited by Krupke, who warns them not to cause trouble. After he leaves, the Jets pass the time by lampooning him ("Gee, Officer Krupke!"). The Sharks arrive and the war council begins. At Tony's insistence, both groups agree to have the showdown the following evening under the highway, with a one-on-one fist fight between Bernardo and Ice. Schrank arrives, forcing the gangs to feign friendship. He doesn't buy it, orders the Sharks out and unsuccessfully tries to divulge information from the Jets about the fight. When Schrank leaves, Tony tells Doc about his love for Maria, and Doc realizes that she's the reason Tony made it a fair fight. Doc tries to warn Tony about how rough things are, but Tony shrugs it off.

The next day at the bridal shop, Maria tells her friends how wonderful it is to be in love ("I Feel Pretty"). After closing, Anita accidentally mentions the rumble to Maria. A few moments later, Tony arrives to see Maria and Anita is shocked. As they profess their love, Anita warns them about the consequences if Bernardo learns of their relationship. Now alone with Tony, Maria tells him that she has heard about the rumble and, despite that it has been reduced to a fist fight, makes him promise to stop it altogether. Tony gives his word, then he and Maria fantasize about their wedding ceremony ("One Hand, One Heart").

At sunset, the Jets and Sharks get ready for the rumble, Anita prepares for her evening with Bernardo, Tony finishes work at Doc's and Maria blissfully waits at home for her evening with Tony ("Quintet"). In a fenced area under the highway, the gangs arrive and the fist fight between Bernardo and Ice gets underway. A moment later, Tony arrives to stop the fight as he promised Maria, but Bernardo antagonizes him. Tony's further attempts to bring peace between the gangs subject him to more taunting by Bernardo and the Sharks. Unwilling to watch Tony be humiliated any further, Riff strikes Bernardo and the gang leaders draw their switchblades and a fight between them begins ("The Rumble"). Tony tries to intervene, but is held back by Ice and Tiger. Just when Riff has Bernardo where he wants him, he raises his knife to kill him, but Tony pulls him off. Riff breaks loose and runs back to the fight, only to be fatally stabbed by Bernardo. Riff collapses and dies after handing Tony his knife, and Bernardo looks in disbelief and guilt at what he'd just done. In quick retaliation, Tony grabs Riff's knife and thrusts it into Bernardo, killing him, and leading to a free-for-all melee. Police sirens start blaring and everyone flees, except Tony, whose in complete devastation about what he's caused. Anybodys, a tomboy who tags along with the Jets, shows up, grabs the knives, and she and Tony flee, leaving behind the bodies of Riff and Bernardo.

Maria waits for Tony on the rooftop of her apartment building when Chino arrives and tells her what happened. Tony arrives and explains what transpired and asks for her forgiveness before he turns himself in to the police. Maria won't let him do so; she confirms her love for him and asks Tony to stay with her ("Somewhere").

Meanwhile, the Jets, with Ice now in command,reassemble in an alleyway outside a garage. Action wants revenge for Riff's death, but Ice shoves them into the garage and tells them to focus on how to react to the police upon the recent incidents ("Cool"). Anybodys arrives and warns them that Chino is now going after Tony with a gun. Ice sends the Jets different directions to find Tony and warn him.

Meanwhile, Tony and Maria are in her bedroom sleeping together, when a teary-eyed Anita enters the apartment with Bernardo's jacket. When they wake up, Tony tells her to meet him at Doc's store, where he will pick up getaway money to elope. Tony leaves through the window, but moments later, Anita spots him in the alleyway (being warned by Anybodys about Chino) and chides Maria for the relationship ("A Boy Like That"), but Maria convinces her to help them elope ("I Have a Love").

Schrank arrives and questions Maria about the rumble. To cover for Tony, Maria has Anita go to Doc's to tell him that she is detained and will meet him as soon as she can. She covers up the story by telling him she danced with a boy named Jose from Puerto Rico.

When Anita reaches Doc's (where Tony is now taking refuge in the cellar), the Jets (except Ice, whose out checking the back alleys for Chino) refuse to believe she's trying to help Tony, and physically harass her before she can deliver Maria's message. They held her down, and were about to throw Baby John on top of her, but Doc shows up and breaks it all up. A shaken and enraged Anita declares that Bernardo was right about them and gives them a different message: that Chino killed Maria out of revenge for her romance with Tony.

Doc furiously banishes the Jets from the drugstore and delivers Anita's faux message to Tony. Stunned, Tony runs into the streets, shouting for Chino to kill him as well. Suddenly, from one end of the playground next to Doc's, Tony spots Maria at the other end and they run toward each other. Just as suddenly, Chino steps out of the shadows, points his gun at Tony and shoots him. Upon hearing the shot, the Jets, Sharks and Doc arrive to find Maria holding Tony, who dies as they are reaffirming their love ("Somewhere (Reprise)"). Just as the gangs are about to start in on each other again, Maria stops them. She takes the gun from Chino and threatens everyone, blaming their hatred of each other for the deaths of Tony, Bernardo, and Riff. She's prepared to shoot as many of both gangs as she can, as long as she has one bullet left for herself, but she can't bear to do such a thing, drops the gun, and falls to the concreate crying. Schrank and Krupke arrive on scene, but do not intervene. Maria kisses Tony's lifeless lips, then three of the Jets start lifting Tony's body, but when they lose one side, two of the Sharks rush over to help, showing that their feud is finally over. As they carry Tony out, several Jets and Sharks follow in a funeral procession. Baby John puts Maria's black scarf on her head, and she follows the funeral procession. When the rest of them are gone, Doc walks off, and Chino is arrested for shooting Tony by Schrank and Krupke, who lead him to the car to take him into custody ("Finale") as the scene fades.


  • Natalie Wood as Maria, Bernardo's younger sister, Chino's arranged fiancée, in love with Tony
  • Richard Beymer as Tony, inactive co-founder of the Jets with best friend Riff, works at Doc's drug store, in love with Maria
  • Russ Tamblyn as Riff, leader of the Jets, best friend of Tony
  • Rita Moreno as Anita, Bernardo's girl, Maria's closest confidante
  • George Chakiris as Bernardo, leader of the Sharks, older brother of Maria, Anita's man
  • Simon Oakland as Lieutenant Schrank, neighborhood police lieutenant
  • Ned Glass as Doc, drugstore owner, Tony's boss. He tries to talk sense to Tony and the Jets, but they rarely listen.
  • William Bramley as Officer Krupke, neighborhood cop, Schrank's right-hand man


  • John Astin as Glad Hand, social worker
  • Penny Santon as Madam Lucia, owner of neighborhood bridal shop


  • Tucker Smith as Ice, Riff's lieutenant,
  • Tony Mordente as Action, a Jet who is easily provoked and often in an angry state
  • David Winters as A-Rab, Baby John's best friend
  • Eliot Feld as Baby John, the youngest, and good member of the Jets,
  • Bert Michaels as Snowboy, the comedic member of the Jets
  • David Bean as Tiger
  • Robert Banas as Joyboy
  • Anthony 'Scooter' Teague as Big Deal
  • Harvey Evans (Harvey Hohnecker) as Mouthpiece
  • Tommy Abbott as Gee-Tar

Jet Girls

  • Susan Oakes as Anybodys, a tomboy and wannabe Jet
  • Gina Trikonis as Graziella, Riff's girl
  • Carole D'Andrea as Velma, Ice's girl


  • Rita Hyde d'Amico as Clarice, Big Deal's girl
  • Pat Tribble as Minnie, BabyJohn's girl
  • Francesca Bellini as Debby, Snowboy's girl
  • Elaine Joyce as Hotsie, Tiger's girl


  • Jose DeVega as Chino, Bernardo's best friend
  • Jay Norman as Pepe, Bernardo's lieutenant
  • Gus Trikonis as Indio, Pepe's best friend
  • Eddie Verso as Juano
  • Jamie Rogers as Loco
  • Larry Roquemore as Rocco
  • Robert E. Thompson as Luis
  • Nick Covacevich as Toro
  • Rudy Del Campo as Del Campo
  • Andre Tayir as Chile

Shark Girls

  • Yvonne Othon as Consuelo, Pepe's girl
  • Suzie Kaye as Rosalia, Indio's girl
  • Joanne Miya as Francisca, Toro's girl


  • Maria Jimenez Henley as Teresita, Juano's girl
  • Yvonne Wilder as Alicia, Chile's girl
  • Luci Stone as Estella, Loco's girl
  • Olivia Perez as Margarita, Rocco's girl

Musical numbers


Veteran director Robert Wise was chosen to direct and produce because of his experience with urban New York dramas such as Odds Against Tomorrow (1959). Since he had no experience directing a musical, Wise agreed that Jerome Robbins, who had directed the stage version of West Side Story, would direct the musical and dance sequences. After about one-third of the movie had been shot, the Mirisch Company, concerned that the production was running over-budget, dismissed Robbins. According to Saul Chaplin, Robbins nearly suffered a nervous breakdown during the time he worked on the film. The remaining dance numbers were directed with the help of Robbins' assistants. Recognizing Robbins' considerable creative contribution to the film, Wise agreed that Robbins should be given co-directing credit, even though Wise directed the greater part of the film. The ending title sequence was created by Saul Bass, who is also credited as "visual consultant" on the film.


Because the producers wanted actors who looked believable as teenagers, they did not consider 30-year-old Larry Kert, the first Tony on Broadway, or 29-year-old Carol Lawrence, the first Maria, but some had experience in stage productions. Tony Mordente, who played A-Rab on stage, was cast as Action in the film, and George Chakiris, Riff in the London stage production, played Bernardo in the film. Tucker Smith, who joined the Broadway production several months into its run, played Ice, a role created for the film. David Winters, the first stage Baby John, played A-Rab,[2] Eliot Feld, an ensemble member and understudy for Baby John on Broadway, played Baby John. Jay Norman, Juano on stage, appeared as Pepe. Reprising their stage roles in the film were Carole D'Andrea as Velma, Tommy Abott as Gee-Tar, and William Bramley as Officer Krupke.

Elvis Presley was approached for Tony, but his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, strongly believed the role to be wrong for Elvis and made him decline in favor of other movie musicals.[3] According to legend, the Colonel didn't want Elvis associated with gang warfare and knife crime, although three years earlier, Elvis' character Danny Fisher stabbed and killed the small-time gangster 'Shark' played by Vic Morrow in the movie King Creole. When the movie became a hit and earned 10 Oscars, Elvis regretted having given up the part. Others who auditioned for the part included Warren Beatty, Tab Hunter, Anthony Perkins, Russ Tamblyn, Burt Reynolds, Troy Donahue, Bobby Darin, Richard Chamberlain, Dennis Hopper, and Gary Lockwood.

Bobby Darin made a strong impression on the producers at his audition and was, at one point, in talks for the role. However, he turned it down due to his concert and recording commitments. Tab Hunter, then 30, and Burt Reynolds, nearly 26, were also considered, due to their Broadway and singing credits, but they were dismissed because of their age. Richard Chamberlain was also thought too old at age 26. The producers settled on their "final five": Warren Beatty, Anthony Perkins, Russ Tamblyn, Troy Donahue, and Richard Beymer. Although he was 28 before filming began, Perkins' boyish looks and Broadway resume seemed to make him a contender for the role, and he was trying to avoid getting typecast after the success of Psycho. Robert Wise originally chose Beatty for the role, figuring that youth was more important than experience. Ultimately, Beymer, the most unlikely of the candidates, won the part of Tony. Tamblyn, after several callbacks, impressed the producers and was given the role of Riff.

Natalie Wood was filming Splendor in the Grass with Warren Beatty and was romantically involved with him off-screen. The producers were considering her for the role of Maria. When Beatty went to screen test for the role of Tony, Wood read opposite him as Maria as a favor because she had been practicing with him. The producers fell in love with the idea of Wood as Maria but did not cast Beatty.

Jill St. John, Audrey Hepburn, Diane Baker, Valerie Harper, Elizabeth Ashley, and Suzanne Pleshette were among the many actresses who lobbied for the role of Maria in the film. However, Hepburn later withdrew because she became pregnant.


West Side Story holds a 94% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 62 reviews for an average rating of 8.3; the consensus states: "Buoyed by Robert Wise's dazzling direction, Leonard Bernstein's score, and Stephen Sondheim's lyrics, West Side Story remains perhaps the most iconic of all the Shakespeare adaptations to visit the big screen."[4]

Box office

The film earned $19,645,000 in North American rentals.[5] Because of profit participation, United Artists earned a profit of $2.5 million on the film.[6] Wood, offered a choice between a share in the gross revenue and a fixed salary, chose the latter, a decision she regretted after the film proved a success at the box office. Eight years later, she agreed to star in Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice for a share of the gross, earning her a fortune after that film became a critical and commercial hit.[citation needed]

Accolades and honors

The film has been deemed "culturally significant" by the United States Library of Congress and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry in 1997.[7] Its ten Academy Awards make it the musical film with the most Academy wins, including Best Picture. Three other films (Ben-Hur, Titanic and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King) won 11 Oscars, but none was a musical.[8]

Academy Awards




  • Academy Award for Brilliant Achievements in the Art of Choreography on Film – Jerome Robbins

American Film Institute lists:

The film's cast appeared and was honored at the 50th anniversary of West Side Story at the 2011 Ventura Film Festival.[11]

Score and soundtrack

Leonard Bernstein was displeased with the orchestrations for the movie, which was the work of Sid Ramin and Irwin Kostal, who had orchestrated the original Broadway production. That show had been orchestrated for roughly 30 musicians; for the movie, United Artists allowed them triple that, including six saxophone parts, eight trumpets, five pianos and five xylophones.[12] Bernstein found it "overbearing and lacking in texture and subtlety."[13]

Jerome Robbins, who did not like the arrangement of the songs in the Broadway version, had the song "Gee, Officer Krupke" being sung before the Rumble in place of the song "Cool" which is sung instead after the Rumble; the song "I Feel Pretty" is also sung before the Rumble instead of after. In addition, the song "America" was sung in-between the two love songs "Maria" and Tonight", instead of having the two love songs being sung consecutively. The "Somewhere" Ballet was omitted, because it slowed down the pace of the film, and was sung instead by Tony and Maria. Reprises of the lyrics were omitted as well, especially in the songs "One Hand, One Heart" and "A Boy Like That". Some lyrics were changed in order to avoid censorship, especially in the songs "Jet Song," "Gee, Officer Krupke", "America" and the "Tonight Quintet." Even the phrase "Womb to Tomb, Sperm to Worm" between Riff and Tony had to be replaced with "Womb to Tomb, Birth to Earth" between Riff and Tony near the beginning of the film[14] and "One-Two-Three, One-Two-Three" between Riff and Diesel in the Quintet.

As provided in her contract, Wood prerecorded her songs and allowed the production team to decide whether to use her voice or not. She found the songs challenging, but was allowed to film her scenes lip-synching to her own vocals and was led to believe that these versions would be used, although music supervisors Saul Chaplin and Johnny Green had already decided to use Marni Nixon's voice. Wood's singing voice is only heard during the reprise of the song "Somewhere" when Tony dies. Though Nixon had recorded the songs in the same orchestra sessions as Wood, she had to re-record them to synch with Wood's filmed performances. Even the one song for which Wood had lip-synched to Nixon's voice, "One Hand, One Heart", had to be recorded again because Wood's lip-synching was unsatisfactory.[15] When Marni Nixon learned that she had not signed a contract for participating in the recording and demanded a percentage of the LP record, she was told that all percentages had been allocated. Bernstein gave her 0.25% of his album royalties. This set a precedent for all future "ghost singers".[16]

Beymer's vocals were performed by Jimmy Bryant. Tucker Smith, who played Ice, dubbed the singing voice of Riff in "Jet Song", instead of Russ Tamblyn. Tamblyn's own voice was used in "Gee, Officer Krupke" and the "Quintet". Rita Moreno was dubbed by Betty Wand in the song "A Boy Like That" because the song needed to be performed at a register that was too low for her. However, Moreno sang her own vocals in "America". Marni Nixon sang some of Moreno's parts in the "Quintet" when illness prevented Moreno from doing so. Wand was also ill on the day of final recording, and so Nixon recorded Anita's vocal line as well.

For the 50th anniversary of the film's 1961 release, a score closer to the Broadway version was created by Garth Edwin Sunderland of the Leonard Bernstein Office to be performed live at screenings of the movie with the score removed, but with the original vocals maintained.[17] The score's New York City premiere was presented at Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall, built atop the original film locations, which were razed in a late 1950s urban renewal project.[12][18]

The Stan Kenton Orchestra recorded Kenton's West Side Story, an entire album of Johnny Richards' jazz orchestrations based on the Bernstein scores in 1961. It was previewed at Capitol Records by the producers of the motion picture during the editing and mix down who lamented that, had they known of its existence, it would have been used as the musical foundation of the new film. The Kenton version won the 1962 Grammy Award for Best Jazz Recording by a Large Group. A still picture from the movie is the front cover of the Kenton LP.


In 2011, the film was restored with digital cinema, an aspect ratio of 2.20:1, and Super Panavision 70.[citation needed]


Director Steven Spielberg has expressed interest in directing a remake of the film.[19]

In 2000, West Side Story was remade in Bollywood as Josh, starring Shah Rukh Khan & Aishwarya Rai.

See also


  1. "West Side Story (AA)". British Board of Film Classification. January 12, 1962. Retrieved June 19, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "David Winters Tribute Site". Davidwinters.net. 2003-04-01. Retrieved 2012-03-14.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. www.elvisechoesofthepast.com
  4. West Side Story at Rotten Tomatoes Retrieved July 19, 2014
  5. Internet Movie Database
  6. Tino Balio, United Artists: The Company That Changed the Film Industry, Uni of Wisconsin Press, 1987, p. 177
  7. Berson, Misha (2011). Something's Coming, Something Good: West Side Story and the American Imagination. Applause Theatre & Cinema Books. p. 155.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Grant, Barry Keith (2012). The Hollywood Film Musical. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 100.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. "West Side Story (1961) – Awards". The New York Times. Retrieved December 24, 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. "The 34th Academy Awards (1962) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 2011-08-22.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. West Side Story 50th Anniversary
  12. 12.0 12.1 Wakin, Daniel (September 6, 2011), "Classic Score by Bernstein is Remade", The New York Times, retrieved September 7, 2011<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Berson, Misha (2011). Something's Coming, Something Good: West Side Story and the American Imagination. Applause.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. West Side Story—"Something's Coming," YouTube
  15. Nixon, Marni (2006). I Could Have Sung All Night: My Story. Billboard Books. pp. 132ff.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Secret Voices of Hollywood. BBC4. 3 Jan 2014
  17. "Path of Discovery: West Side Story at 50", Justin M. Craig, September 27, 2011, leonardbernstein.com
  18. Sarah Waxman, "The History of the Upper West Side", ny.com
  19. "Steven Spielberg Interested in Re-Making West Side Story" by Carey Purcell, Playbill, 19 March 2014

External links

Preceded by
Sayonara (1957)
Academy Award winner for
Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress
Succeeded by
The Last Picture Show (1971)