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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 Citymarker, mainly in the area where the Lincoln Center for the Performing Artsmarker campus of Fordham Universitymarker now stands. Jerome Robbins, who had directed the stage version, was responsible for planning and directing all music and dance sequences in the film, as well as all the fight scenes. When approximately 60% of principal photography was complete, the producers 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.

The film was released on October 18, 1961, 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 1950s. 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 police arrive and the gangs disperse.

Later, the Jets discuss challenging the Sharks to one last all out fight, or "rumble", that will decide who gets control of the streets, and they will deliver the challenge to the Sharks at a dance later that night. Riff and the other Jets sing about their gang pride ("Jet Song"). Riff decides that his best friend Tony, a co-founder of the Jets who has left the gang to work at a local store, would be the best member of the Jets to present the challenge to the Sharks, despite opposition from Action (Tony Mordente). When Riff visits Tony (Richard Beymer) at the store, Tony tells Riff that he senses something very important is about to happen to him ("Something's Coming"). Tony initially refuses Riff's request to meet with the Sharks, but he later changes his mind.

At the bridal shop where she works, Bernardo's sister, Maria (Natalie Wood) complains to Bernardo's girlfriend, Anita (Rita Moreno) and other coworkers. Maria believes that Bernardo is overprotective, never allowing her to have enough fun. Bernardo arrives and takes her to the dance. At the gym, the Jets, Sharks and girls are greatly enjoying themselves ("Dance At The Gym"), but the rival gang members and their girlfriends remain apart. 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. Bernardo angrily interrupts them and orders Maria home, and tells Tony to stay away from his sister. Tony leaves in a happy daze, singing of his newfound love ("Maria"), while Riff challenges Bernardo to the "war council", for which they agree to meet at Doc's drug store.

At the Sharks' apartment building, Anita and other girls 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".

Tony discreetly visits Maria outside the fire escape at her home and they confirm their love ("Tonight"). They arrange to meet the next day where Maria works. Later that night, as the Jets gather before meeting with the Sharks, they are visited by Officer Krupke (William Bramley), 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 in the song "Gee, Officer Krupke". The Sharks arrive and they begin their "war council". Tony arrives and demands that they have a fair one-one fist fight instead of a rumble, and 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).

The next day at the 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. Suddenly Tony arrives to see 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, demands that Maria be home soon, then leaves to prepare for a planned date with Bernardo after the rumble. Maria pleads with Tony to prevent the rumble altogether, even if only a fist fight is planned, and Tony promises to do so. Then Tony and Maria, using clothes in the bridal shop, fantasize about their wedding ("One Hand, One Heart").

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. At the the rumble, the fight begins between two rival gang members. Tony arrives and tries to stop the fight, 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, their duel ending with Bernardo killing Riff. Enraged, Tony kills Bernardo with Riff's knife. A full-fledged melee ensues, but the gang members flee as police sirens are heard, leaving behind the bodies of Riff and Bernardo.

Blissfully unaware of what has happened, Maria is waiting for Tony at home. One of the members of the Sharks, Chino (Jose DeVega), arrives and angrily tells Maria that Tony killed her brother, and then he leaves. 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").

Ice has taken over as leader of the Jets. He tells them they will have their revenge on the Sharks, but must do it carefully ("Cool"). Anybodys (Susan Oakes), a tomboyish girl who is desperate to join the Jets, arrives and warns them that Chino is now after Tony with a gun. The Jets scatter to find Tony and warn him.

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. Tony escapes through the bedroom window and flees, but Anita sees him. Anita chides Maria for the relationship ("A Boy Like That"). 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. Anita 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 makes up a lie to cover for him. To deceive the policeman, Maria sends Anita to Doc's drugstore on the pretense that she is sending her to fetch a 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 has now taken 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 lies and says to deliver a message to Tony that 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.

Wandering onto a playground, Tony sees Maria, and they begin to run toward each other with joy. However, Chino appears and shoots Tony. Maria and a severely wounded Tony reaffirm their love ("Somewhere"), but Tony dies in her arms. The police arrive, along with other Jets and Sharks. Maria takes the gun from Chino and blames the rival gang members for causing the deaths with their hate. When the gang members see Tony dead, some of the Jets lift his body, and the Sharks join them to carry him off. 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, "Jet Song" ends, "...on this whole ever mother-lovin' street." In the film, it ends, "...on this 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.
  • On stage, it is Riff who sings "Cool" and Action who sings "Gee, Officer Krupke."
  • On stage, during the Quintet, it is actually Tony who Riff sings to, not Ice.
  • "I Feel Pretty" actually appears at the beginning of Act II after the rumble in the stage musical.
  • It is actually Action who takes over as leader of the Jets in the stage show, not Ice.
  • 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.




Larry Kert, who originated the role of Tony, was 30 around the time of the production, and the producers wanted actors who looked believable as teenagers. Carol Lawrence, at 29, was considered to be 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 looking 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. 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 Congressmarker 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 Academy Award wins (10 wins), including Best Picture (three other films each won 11 Oscars, 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.

Rita Moreno was the only cast member who was actually of Puerto Rican descent.


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