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West Side Story

film poster by Saul Bass
Directed by Jerome Robbins[1]
Robert Wise[1]
Produced by Robert Wise[1]
Written by Jerome Robbins
Arthur Laurents (play)
Ernest Lehman
Starring Natalie Wood[1]
Richard Beymer[1]
Rita Moreno
George Chakiris
Music by Leonard Bernstein (music)
Stephen Sondheim (lyrics)
Cinematography Daniel L. Fapp, ASC
Editing by Thomas Stanford
Distributed by United Artists
Release date(s) 18 October 1961
Running time 151:55
Country United States
Language English
Budget $6,000,000
Gross revenue $43,700,000

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

The action was filmed largely in Los Angeles on sets designed by Boris Leven, although the film's opening sequence was shot on the streets of New York City, mainly in the area where the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts campus of Fordham University now stands. Veteran director Robert Wise was chosen as the director and producer because of his familiarity with urban New York dramas, such as Odds Against Tomorrow. Wise had never directed a musical before and when it was suggested that Jerome Robbins, who had directed the stage version, be brought in to handle all the music and dance sequences in the film, Wise agreed. However, the gentlemanly Wise and the abrasive Robbins repeatedly clashed and by the first day of shooting, they weren't speaking. After the New York location scenes were shot, the Mirisch Company became concerned that the production was over-budget and Robbins was fired. His final contribution before leaving the film was to write the staging for the rumble.[2].The remaining dance numbers were handled by Robbins' assistants. But because of his creative input in the planning stages, Wise insisted Robbins be given co-directing credit, even though Wise directed the majority of the film himself.

The film was released on October 18, 1961,[1] through United Artists. It received praise from critics and the public, and became the second highest grossing film of the year in the United States. The film won ten Academy Awards in its eleven nominated categories, including Best Picture, as well as a special award for Robbins. The film holds the distinction of being the musical film with the most Academy Award wins (10 wins), including Best Picture. The soundtrack album made more money than any other album before it.



The film opens in the streets of Manhattan in the late summer of 1957. There is a mounting tension set to music ("Prologue") between a white American gang, the Jets, led by Riff (Russ Tamblyn), and a rival gang of Puerto Rican immigrants, the Sharks, led by Bernardo (George Chakiris). The Jets harass the Sharks and vice versa, culminating in a free-for-all on the playground. Soon, Lieutenant Schrank (Simon Oakland) and Officer Krupke (William Bramley[3]) arrive and break up the melee. Schrank orders the Sharks off the playground and the Jets "to make nice with them Puerto Ricans" or there'll be a price to pay. Once Schrank and Krupke are gone, the Jets discuss challenging the Sharks to an all out rumble that will decide who gets control of the streets. They will deliver the challenge to the Sharks at a dance later that night. Riff decides that his best friend Tony (Richard Beymer), a co-founder of the Jets who has left the gang to work at a local candy/drug store, would be the best member to present the challenge to the Sharks because he always came through for the Jets ("Jet Song").

Riff visits Tony at the store and asks him to come to the dance, but Tony is not interested. He tells Riff that he senses something very important is about to happen to him. After a litte cajoling from Riff, Tony changes his mind and agrees to meet him and the Jets at the dance. Perhaps it will be there that Tony will discover that "something" ("Something's Coming").

Bernardo arrives and takes her to the dance. At the gym, the Jets, Sharks and girls are greatly enjoying themselves ("Dance At The Gym"). The host of the dance, Glad Hand (John Astin), tries to get the members of the rival gangs to dance together. Even so, the rival gang members and their girlfriends remain apart. During a mambo, Tony and Maria see each other, become infatuated, almost going into a trance-like state and begin to dance, oblivious of the rivalry between their ethnic groups. They eventually kiss, but Bernardo angrily interrupts them. He orders Maria home and tells Tony to stay away from his sister. It's at this point where Riff proposes a "war council" with Bernardo, who agrees to meet at Doc's drug store after the dance. Tony leaves in a happy daze, singing of his newfound love. ("Maria").

Maria is sent home, and Anita argues with Bernardo that they are in America, not Puerto Rico. At the Sharks' apartment building, Anita along with other girls from Puerto Rico engage in a spirited argument with Bernardo in defense of Maria's right to dance with whomever she pleases. They debate the advantages and disadvantages of their country in the lively number "America". Eventually the girls and the men disperse as Bernardo and his gang go to the war council.

Tony discreetly visits Maria outside the fire escape at her home and they confirm their love ("Tonight"). They arrange to meet the next day at the bridal shop where Maria works. Meanwhile, the Jets gather outside of Doc's store to wait for the Sharks. They are visited by Officer Krupke, who warns them not to cause trouble on his beat. After he leaves, they lampoon him and the various theories of how to deal with juvenile delinquency ("Gee, Officer Krupke"). Doc (Ned Glass) is about to close the store, but the Jets convince him to stay open. The Sharks finally arrive and the "war council" begins. In the middle of this, Tony arrives and calls them chickens for having to fight with weapons. He demands that they have a fair one-on-one fist fight instead of an all-out rumble. The gang leaders agree, with Bernardo representing the Sharks and Ice (Tucker Smith) representing the Jets (much to Bernardo's disappointment, as he was hoping to face Tony). They are soon alerted of Lieutenant Schrank's arrival, thus the gangs quickly intermix together and feign happiness and fun. Schrank pretends that it is a good thing that they are getting along and he might even get a promotion, but her knows what they are up to. Schrank orders the Puerto Ricans out then asks the Jets where the rumble is taking place, angering several members (especially Action) while doing so. Soon, the Jets disperse and Schrank leaves as well, leaving Tony and Doc alone in the store to clean up. Tony, who is in a good mood, surprises Doc and tells him about his love Maria. The day comes to an end as a distressed Doc closes the store and Tony leaves.

The next day at Madam Lucia's bridal shop, Maria sings to her coworkers about how happy and excited she is ("I Feel Pretty"). After everyone except Maria and Anita leaves, Anita tells Maria about the impending rumble accidentally. Anita tells Maria to go home, but Maria insists that she wants to close the store by herself because she "had work to do". Suddenly Tony arrives to see Maria, leaving both Maria and Anita in shock. Tony tells Anita of his and Maria's love, and Anita mocks Maria. Although Anita is initially shocked to see that Maria and Tony are having a romance, Anita shows some tolerance but worries about the consequences if Bernardo were to find out. Anita, who is also Maria's roommate, leaves to prepare for a planned date with Bernardo after the rumble. Maria pleads with Tony to prevent the rumble altogether, even if it is only a fist fight, and Tony promises to do so. Then Tony and Maria, using clothes in the bridal shop, fantasize about their wedding ("One Hand, One Heart"). They use the headless mannequins as their parents, best man (Riff) and Maid of Honor (Anita). They exchange wedding vows and kiss.

A musical montage ("Quintet") intertwines the feelings of the Jets and Sharks in anticipation of the rumble, Tony and Maria's anticipation of meeting each other, and Anita preparing for her date with Bernardo.

The Jets and Sharks arrive at their agreed destination for the rumble, a fenced dead-end under a stretch of New York highway. As the "fair fight" begins between Bernardo and Ice, Tony arrives and tries to stop it, but is met with ridicule and mockery from Bernardo and the Sharks. Unable to stand by and watch his best friend be humiliated, Riff angrily lashes out and punches Bernardo ("The Rumble"). Drawing their knives, Riff and Bernardo fight each other. Once Riff gets the upper hand, Tony stops him. However, Riff breaks away and runs straight in Bernardo's knife. Riff collapses while handing the knife to Tony and Bernardo looks shocked at what he has done. Enraged, Tony kills Bernardo with Riff's knife, resulting in a full-fledged melee. Suddenly, police sirens blare out and the gang members flee, leaving behind the bodies of Riff and Bernardo.

Blissfully unaware of what has happened, Maria is waiting for Tony on the roof of her apartment building. One of the Sharks, Chino (Jose DeVega), who is aware of Tony's love for Maria, arrives and angrily tells her that Tony killed her brother. Tony arrives, and initially Maria lashes out at him in anger, but Tony explains what happened and asks for her forgiveness before turning himself in to the police. Maria decides that she still loves Tony and begs him to stay with her. They reaffirm their love ("Somewhere") and kiss.

Meanwhile, the Jets (with Ice now in command and joined by the Jet girls) have reassembled outside a garage. Action demands revenge for Riff's death, but Baby John opposes it. Action yells at Baby John for being scared, then tensions flare amongst several Jets. Ice pulls them all into the garage and tells them they will have their revenge on the Sharks, but must do it carefully ("Cool"). Anybodys (Susan Oakes), a tomboy who is desperate to join the Jets, arrives after infiltrating the Sharks' turf and warns them that Chino is now after Tony with a gun. Ice sends the Jets to various locations to find Tony and warn him. Anybodys' persistence finally pays off as Ice asks her to search in and out of the shadows and commends her for her deed.

In Maria's bedroom, she and Tony have a romantic encounter. The couple hear Anita arriving home, and Maria and Tony make quick, whispered arrangements to meet at Doc's drug store and run away together to marry. Anita hears through the door and knows that something is going on. Tony escapes through the bedroom window and flees, but Anita sees him running away. Anita chides Maria for the relationship ("A Boy Like That"). Anita says that a man who kills is bad, but she soon softens as Maria sings back. Maria's heartfelt love ("I Have A Love") wins over Anita, and despite her grief over Bernardo's death, Anita agrees to cooperate with a plan to help Maria and Tony run away and marry, because she is her friend. Anita quickly tells Maria that Chino is searching for Tony with a gun.

Lieutenant Schrank arrives and questions Maria about the events leading up to the rumble, but Maria is protective of Tony and lies to cover for him. To deceive the policeman, Maria sends Anita to Doc's drugstore on the pretense that she is fetching medicine for her headache—she asks Anita to say she has been detained, explaining she would have gone herself otherwise. Anita's real purpose is to tell Tony (who is found by Anybodys outside Maria's apartment and takes refuge in the cellar of Doc's drugstore) that Maria is detained from meeting him. But when Anita enters the drugstore and asks for Tony, the Jets mock and harass her until Doc stops them. Infuriated by the attack, Anita gives the Jets a different message for Tony: Maria is dead, shot by Chino for loving Tony. Doc reproaches the Jets, then delivers the message to Tony. In shock and despair, Tony runs to find Chino, shouting for Chino to kill him too.

Now on the playground next to Doc's store, Tony suddenly sees Maria and they begin to run toward each other with joy. Suddenly, Chino appears and shoots Tony. As the Jets and Sharks arrive, Maria and a severely wounded Tony reaffirm their love ("Somewhere"), but Tony dies in her arms. Maria takes the gun from Chino and blames the rival gang members for the deaths of Tony, Bernardo and Riff with their hate. Three of the Jets start lifting his body and two Sharks join them to help carry him off. Maria and several Jets and Sharks walk behind them in a funeral procession. As in Romeo and Juliet, tragedy has brought the feuding between the two sides to an end.

Differences from the stage show

  • In the stage show, it is A-Rab who gets beaten up by the Sharks at the beginning, before the free-for-all breaks out between the two gangs. In the film, it is Baby John who gets chased and beaten up after being caught changing some wall graffiti from 'Sharks' to 'Sharks stink'.
  • In the stage show, "Jet Song" ends, "...on the whole ever mother-lovin' street." In the film, it ends, "...on the whole buggin' ever-lovin' street."
  • In the stage show, Tony and Riff's friendship combination is "Womb to tomb. Sperm to worm." In the film, it is "Womb to tomb. Birth to earth."
  • In the stage show, "Tonight" (duet) and "America" are switched orders.
  • In the stage show, Anita and Rosalia sing the beginning of "America," not Anita and Bernardo; the boys are not in the number at all.
  • The lyrics of "America" are different in the film.
  • In the stage show, at Doc's drugstore, it is actually the song "Cool" that is sung and in the garage it is "Gee, Officer Krupke", but they were switched in the film at the request of lyricist Stephen Sondheim as the songs in changed order related more to the situations at those points in the film.
  • On stage, it is Riff who sings "Cool" and Action who sings "Gee, Officer Krupke."
  • On stage, during the Quintet, Riff sings to Tony, not Ice, (Ice was actually a character created for the film and was not present in the original Broadway production).
  • "I Feel Pretty" actually appears at the beginning of Act II after the rumble in the stage musical.
  • Action takes over as leader of the Jets in the stage show, not Ice (Ice was actually a character created for the film and was not present in the original Broadway production).
  • The character of Ice [Tucker Smith], who is actually written for the movie, was originally named Diesel in the stage show. However, both Diesel and Ice appear in the original novel.
  • The stage show features 11 Jets (including Tony) and 10 Sharks. The film features 12 Jets and 11 Sharks with the additions of Joyboy and Chile, respectively.
  • The stage show Sharks named Nibbles and Moose are renamed Del Campo and Loco in the film.


  • Natalie WoodMaria, Bernardo's younger sister, Chino's fiance
  • Richard BeymerTony, inactive co-founder of the Jets with best friend Riff, works at Doc's Candy Store
  • Russ TamblynRiff, leader of the Jets, best friend of Tony
  • Rita MorenoAnita, Bernardo's girl
  • George ChakirisBernardo, leader of the Sharks
  • Simon OaklandLieutenant Schrank, neighborhood police Lieutenant
  • Ned GlassDoc, drugstore owner
  • William Bramley — Officer Krupke, neighborhood cop; Schrank's right-hand man
  • John Astin -- 'Glad Hand', social worker
  • Penny Santon -- 'Madam Lucia', owner of neighborhood bridal shop


Jet Girls

  • Susan Oakes - 'Anybodys', tomboy who keeps pestering Riff to be in the Jets
  • Gina Trikonis - 'Graziella', Riff's girl
  • Carole D'Andrea - 'Velma', Ice's girl

There are at least two other Jet girls (unnamed) as shown in the "Cool" number.


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

Shark Girls

  • Yvonne Othon - 'Consuelo', Pepe's girl
  • Suzie Kaye - 'Rosalia'
  • Joanne Miya - 'Francisca'



Larry Kert, who originated the role of Tony on Broadway, was 30 around the time of the production, and the producers wanted actors who looked believable as teenagers. Carol Lawrence, who originated the role of Maria on stage, was now 29 and considered too old for Maria. This caused some controversy and dissatisfaction when some prospective audience members learned that she had been passed over in favor of a new actress. Tony Mordente (A-Rab on stage, Action in the film) and George Chakiris (Riff on stage in the London production, Bernardo in the film) were invited to act in the film version; as was Tucker Smith, who joined the Broadway production several months after its 1957 debut. Smith went on to play Ice, a role created specifically for the film. David Winters who originated Baby John, played A-Rab; Carole D'Andrea reprised her role as Velma; Tommy Abott reprised his role as Gee-Tar; Jay Norman (Juano on stage) appeared as Pepe, and William Bramley reprised his role as Officer Krupke.

Elvis Presley was originally approached for Tony. However, his manager, Colonel Parker, strongly believed the role to be wrong for Elvis and made him decline in favor of other movie musicals. When the movie became a hit and earned 10 Oscars, Elvis later regretted having given up the part. He was only one of many young stars that were in consideration for the role of Tony. Several Hollywood men auditioned for the part, including Warren Beatty, Tab Hunter, Anthony Perkins, Russ Tamblyn, Burt Reynolds, Troy Donahue, Bobby Darin, Richard Chamberlain, 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 as being too old. Richard Chamberlain was also thought too old at age 26, and chose to renew his contract for Dr. Kildare that same year.

When Elvis declined the role of Tony, and other actors either dropped out or didn't make it, the producers settled on their so-called "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, the former child actor Beymer (the most unlikely of the candidates) won the part of Tony. Having been invited for several callbacks, Tamblyn impressed the producers and was given the role of Riff.

The producers had not originally thought of Natalie Wood for the role of Maria. She was filming Splendor in the Grass with Warren Beatty and was romantically involved with him off-screen. 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, and Suzanne Pleshette were among the many actresses who lobbied for the role of Maria in the film adaptation. However, Hepburn later withdrew because she became pregnant.

Richard Beymer and Natalie Wood tried to do their own singing for the movie, but their voices were ultimately deemed to be too unrefined, and they were overdubbed by Jimmy Bryant and Marni Nixon, respectively. Wood's contract stated that she would pre-record all her songs, and she filmed to those recordings. During production, she was led to believe that her voice would be used, although music supervisors Saul Chaplin and Johnny Green had already decided that her voice would later be dubbed in by a substitute. Some of Rita Moreno's singing was also overdubbed by Betty Wand.


Awards 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. The film holds the distinction of being the musical film with the most Oscar wins (10 wins), including Best Picture (three other films also won 11 Oscars each, but they are not musicals).




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

American Film Institute recognition


The Stan Kenton Orchestra recorded Johnny Richards' West Side Story, an entire album of jazz orchestrations based on the Bernstein scores, in 1961. It was previewed by the producers of the motion picture, 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.


  1. ^ a b c d e f Munden, Kenneth W. "West Side Story (1961)". The American Film Institute Catalog of Motion Pictures Produced in the United States: Feature Films, 1961-1970. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. p. 1206. ISBN 9780520209701. OCLC 35667016. 
  2. ^ Vaill, Amanda (2006). Somewhere: The Life of Jerome Robbins. New York: Broadway Books. ISBN 9780767904209. OCLC 0767904206. .
  3. ^ William Bramley (1928-1985) at the Internet Movie Database
  4. ^ "West Side Story (1961) - Awards". Movies. The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-12-24. 
  5. ^ 'West Side Story Awards and nominations at the Internet Movie Database

External links

Preceded by
The Apartment
Academy Award for Best Picture
Succeeded by
Lawrence of Arabia


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