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Kyle Kersten was a true friend of TCM. One of the first and most active participants of the Message Boards, “Kyle in Hollywood” (aka, hlywdkjk) demonstrated a depth of knowledge and largesse of spirit that made him one of the most popular and respected voices in these forums. This thread is a living memorial to his life and love of movies, which remain with us still.

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West Side Story (1961 film)--A Beautiful Combination of Many Things:

West Side Story Love & Romance Urban gang warfare Violence Death New York City Jets Sharks Natalie Wood Richard Beymer

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#1 miki

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Posted 12 July 2017 - 01:38 AM

West Side Story is a very rare and special musical that's in a class by itself.  Never has there been a musical that's so spectacular on both stage and screen alike.  Because of the subject matter, the intensely brilliant Leonard Bernstein musical score that combines jazz, pop, Latin, Calypso and classical music into one score, the beautifully-choreographed dancing by (the late) Jerome Robbins, as well as where the very story behind West Side Story is set,  West Side Storyis one of the few musicals that is not only equally successful on stage and screen, but is equally exciting, as well.  

 

There are some definite advantages to both film and live theatre.  Whereas film absolutely demands one's full attention due to looming larger than life-sized on a great big, wide movie theatre screen,  it takes more effort to maintain the wave of communication between real live actors/actresses on stage, due to the fact that stage productions require a much narrower focus and a higher amount of concentration to maintain that wave of communication.  In either event,  however, West Side Story  is a musical that automatically captures the attention of the audience and keeps the wave(s) of communication between the actors/actresses and audiences intact due to the overall exciting quality.  The fact that West Side Story was preserved as a larger-than-lifesized piece of theatre when it was transferred from stage to screen is one of the things that makes it so special--and exciting, and successful on screen, as well as on stage.  

 

Here's something else about West Side Story that bears mentioning, as well:   West Side Story  is a musical that requires a top-notch orchestra, a top-notch cast, and top-notch scenery that's well designed, as well as people who really know how to dance, sing and act.   Many people have grumbled about the fact that neither Natalie Wood or Richard Beymer knew how to act, dance or sing and that their voices had to be dubbed.   As a devout fan of the film version of West Side Story who's also seen several very good stage productions of the original  Broadway stage production and who's also fully aware that the dubbing of singing voices when making musicals into movies was quite common during that general period, and due to my intense love for the film version of WSS, I have been more than willing to overlook the fact that both Natalie Wood's and Richard Beymer singing voices were dubbed.  

 

Because the Beymer-bashing has gotten so out of hand in many circles, I have been more than willing to give Richard Beymer the benefit of the doubt, despite my having initially thought that he played a weak, somewhat lackluster Tony in the film version of West Side Story.  I realize that Richard Beymer was a stronger Tony than I originally thought, due to the fact that he was very tender in his romantic outlook towards Maria, and the fact that the old "street" Tony emerged in the end, when he retaliated against Bernardo after he'd stabbed Riff to death, by doing likewise to Bernardo.   West Side Story, in either instance, sends yet another, somewhat more sordid message:  That escaping one's environmental and familial upbringing is far easier said than done.  

 

Another thing that puts West Side Story in such a special class by itself is the fact that not only are there so many  intensely different emotions, ranging from exuberance, arrogance, toughness, cockiness, gentleness, love, romance, hatred,  violence, death, and possible reconciliation between the Jets and Sharks, but that they're expressed, quite  vividly and intensely,  through dance, as well as beautifully created scenery on both stage and screen.   As I've also pointed out, the message that West Side Story conveys is quite unique, despite the fact that it's a somewhat double-edged sword, which also makes this great movie/musical as special as it is.  

The people who said that there would never, ever be a movie/musical like West Side Story again were 100% right on their money, and I firmly stand by my conviction that no re-make of the film version of West Side Story could ever take the place of the original 1961 film,  or even the more-up-to-date Broadway stage version of WSS, will ever take the place of the original.



#2 jamesjazzguitar

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Posted 10 July 2017 - 08:27 PM

That's really weird....and petty.  It sounds as if the teacher wasn't worth it, overall.  

 

Well he was a good teacher and being the bro of a producer could have proved useful.   He did some things that really challenged me.    E.g. I was also part of the debate club and he lead that group.     Since I was so smug he challenged me to a debate,  with the topic being if the USA should continue on in Vietnam or get out of there.    Well he said he would only debate me if I took the 'pro' side (that we should stay).    He knew I was against the war (e.g. I would attend class with a black arm band as a form of protest against the bombings).       I took the challenge and it was a great debate.    The drama students and a few teacher scored the debate and I won.    He said something like 'of course you won,,,you were on the right side'.     Of course that is totally bogus because in debate tournaments one doesn't know if the are on the pro or con side until the debate begins (which means one has to prepare to take either side).  

 

Oh well,  I stuck to my principles and never meet Goldie.    :(



#3 miki

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Posted 10 July 2017 - 07:49 PM

Well I might have given up a career for the same reason.   When I was in High School in So Cal the brother of George Slaughter (producer of Laugh-In)  was my drama teacher.    I was one of the better drama students (best male in my humble opinion, ha ha),  and my teacher really liked my skills but he was rather conservative and didn't 'dig' long hair (I clearly had a hippie look).   His parents came to our class and 'mom' and I got along well.     He said he would introduce me to George but only if I got my hair cut!   Well I refused!  I wasn't going to conform!    

 

To this day I still dream about having an affair with Goldie.    :unsure:

 

That's really weird....and petty.  It sounds as if the teacher wasn't worth it, overall.  



#4 miki

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Posted 10 June 2017 - 08:37 AM

This is my favorite musical.

 

The songs and music are the most beautiful I have ever heard in Broadway or Hollywood history. While I admire Stephen Sondheim, I always felt his lyrics are better than his music, therefore having Leonard Bernstein put the music to the lyrics was a magical combination.

 

I love the cast, George Chakiris is tough and dignified as Shark leader Bernardo, Rita Moreno is fiery as Anita, Russ Tamblyn brings humor and astounding acrobatic skill as Riff. Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer have been criticized as Maria and Tony, but I think Wood is excellent at showing the sweetness and innocence of a new girl in  a strange land, she has a powerful final scene. Beymer may not be totally believable as a former street gang member, but he is good in the romantic scenes.

 

I love the cast overall, too, Det. Jim MacLeod.  Your points are spot-on, as well.  Richard Beymer, as Tony, was good in the romantic scenes, but the old "street" Tony  re-emerged after his buddy, Riff, was knifed to death by Bernardo, by stabbing Bernardo to death in retaliation for Riff's death.   Despite Tony's being gentle, tender and loving during the romance scenes between him and Maria, however, there were numerous times when the old "street" Tony seemed like he was waiting to re-emerge.


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#5 Kami Koren

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Posted 07 March 2017 - 10:24 PM

West Side Story really has it all.  Such an incredible film.  The music and lyrics are simply poetic, period.

For anyone interested, check out my more detailed review here: https://youtu.be/ZtBNQXZ28Mo



#6 johnm001

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Posted 06 March 2017 - 12:48 PM

I still think that Russ Tamblyn did a great job playing the role of Riff in the film version of West Side  Story, however, and that he should have also received an Academy Award.

I agree.  I really like him in it.



#7 miki

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Posted 05 March 2017 - 12:54 PM

Tamblyn got the role, when Michael Callan was unable to recreate his Broadway role, when Columbia refused to loan him for the film.

 

I still think that Russ Tamblyn did a great job playing the role of Riff in the film version of West Side  Story, however, and that he should have also received an Academy Award.



#8 johnm001

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Posted 04 March 2017 - 10:23 PM

 

 

Rita Moreno and George Chakiris received well-deserved Academy Awards as the Best Supporting Actress and Actor, but it would've been nice if Russ Tamblyn, too, had received that same Academy Award, because he, too, did such a wonderful job in his playing the role of Riff.  

Tamblyn got the role, when Michael Callan was unable to recreate his Broadway role, when Columbia refused to loan him for the film.


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#9 miki

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Posted 04 March 2017 - 07:20 PM

This is my favorite musical.

 

The songs and music are the most beautiful I have ever heard in Broadway or Hollywood history. While I admire Stephen Sondheim, I always felt his lyrics are better than his music, therefore having Leonard Bernstein put the music to the lyrics was a magical combination.

 

I love the cast, George Chakiris is tough and dignified as Shark leader Bernardo, Rita Moreno is fiery as Anita, Russ Tamblyn brings humor and astounding acrobatic skill as Riff. Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer have been criticized as Maria and Tony, but I think Wood is excellent at showing the sweetness and innocence of a new girl in  a strange land, she has a powerful final scene. Beymer may not be totally believable as a former street gang member, but he is good in the romantic scenes.

 

Thank you very much for a nice post.   Your descriptions of the Sharks leader, Bernardo as being tough but dignified, and Rita Moreno being very fiery as Anita are totally spot-on, as are your descriptions of Natalie Wood as Maria, Russ Tamblyn as Riff, and Richard Beymer as Tony.  Maria was a strong girl, emotionally, and Richard Beymer was tender in the romance scenes, considering the fact that Natalie Wood, unfortunately, was openly hostile and resentful towards Beymer during the filming of West Side Story.  Anita, too, was emotionally a very strong girl, and so was Susan Oakes as the tomboy/Jets wannabe, Anybodys, who struggled for acceptance as an equal by the Jets, and achieved it, through dogged persistence, and the proof that she, too, could take care of herself.  

 

Rita Moreno and George Chakiris received well-deserved Academy Awards as the Best Supporting Actress and Actor, but it would've been nice if Russ Tamblyn, too, had received that same Academy Award, because he, too, did such a wonderful job in his playing the role of Riff.  



#10 johnm001

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Posted 03 March 2017 - 11:53 AM

Well, Goldie's first husband is one of the Sharks, in WSS.



#11 jamesjazzguitar

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Posted 28 February 2017 - 07:43 PM

Cut his hair? That's a weird reason to loose such a great role

 

Well I might have given up a career for the same reason.   When I was in High School in So Cal the brother of George Slaughter (producer of Laugh-In)  was my drama teacher.    I was one of the better drama students (best male in my humble opinion, ha ha),  and my teacher really liked my skills but he was rather conservative and didn't 'dig' long hair (I clearly had a hippie look).   His parents came to our class and 'mom' and I got along well.     He said he would introduce me to George but only if I got my hair cut!   Well I refused!  I wasn't going to conform!    

 

To this day I still dream about having an affair with Goldie.    :unsure:



#12 jaragon

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Posted 28 February 2017 - 07:03 PM

Robert Wise was set to cast Keir Dullea and Barbara Luna in the leading roles.  However, the Mirisch brothers (it was Walter Mirisch, I believe) got cold feet about an unknown cast, and decided that the film needed a "star."  So, that's when Natalie Wood got involved.  Dullea refused to cut his hair for the role, and lost the opportunity to play Tony.  Decades later, I was seated at his table at a fund-raising event and dinner, and asked him about it.  He admitted to being terrified to do the role, and used the hair cutting as his excuse to get out of it.

Cut his hair? That's a weird reason to loose such a great role


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#13 johnm001

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Posted 26 February 2017 - 06:29 PM

Robert Wise was set to cast Keir Dullea and Barbara Luna in the leading roles.  However, the Mirisch brothers (it was Walter Mirisch, I believe) got cold feet about an unknown cast, and decided that the film needed a "star."  So, that's when Natalie Wood got involved.  Dullea refused to cut his hair for the role, and lost the opportunity to play Tony.  Decades later, I was seated at his table at a fund-raising event and dinner, and asked him about it.  He admitted to being terrified to do the role, and used the hair cutting as his excuse to get out of it.


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#14 Det Jim McLeod

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Posted 26 February 2017 - 08:32 AM

This is my favorite musical.

 

The songs and music are the most beautiful I have ever heard in Broadway or Hollywood history. While I admire Stephen Sondheim, I always felt his lyrics are better than his music, therefore having Leonard Bernstein put the music to the lyrics was a magical combination.

 

I love the cast, George Chakiris is tough and dignified as Shark leader Bernardo, Rita Moreno is fiery as Anita, Russ Tamblyn brings humor and astounding acrobatic skill as Riff. Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer have been criticized as Maria and Tony, but I think Wood is excellent at showing the sweetness and innocence of a new girl in  a strange land, she has a powerful final scene. Beymer may not be totally believable as a former street gang member, but he is good in the romantic scenes.


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#15 miki

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Posted 12 February 2017 - 03:02 PM

I’m back….with another diary about my all time favorite movie, West Side  Story.  

As I have written on here before, West Side Story  is a film that I never get tired of seeing over and over and over again.  This diary is about a whole bunch of reasons why.  Some of it will undoubtedly be familiar to all of you, and some of it will not.  

 

Afew days ago, on a forum called West Side Story/Live Journal, I noticed a post about the best romance films from the 1940’s through the 1960’s.  Along with My Fair LadyBreakfast at Tiffany’s, and a whole bunch of other films, some of which I’d heard of and others I hadn’t,  I was happy to see that West Side Story  was also included in this youtube video/list.   As I looked at the list, realizing that most of the films that were listed and posted about on this particular youtube video, I came to realize that, although West Side Story  was included as one of the best romance films of all times on this list, something else occurred to me:  

 

What makes West Side Story  such a beautiful and strong film is the fact that it’s a combination of a number of things.  Whatever anybody may think of the romance between  the ex-Jet leader/founder, Tony, and Maria (who are played by Richard Beymer and Natalie Wood), the younger sister of the newly-arrived Puerto Rican Shark gang leader, Bernardo, the romance between Tony and Maria is an integral and important part of the very story behind West Side Story.   

 

While West Side Story  is about Tony and Maria’s romance, which eventually goes up in smoke due to the hatred and conflict between the warring Jets and Sharks, West Side Story  is also about a number of other things, as well.  

 

West Side Story  takes place in a rough and run-down urban area,  on the West Side of 1950’s-1960’s Manhattan, in the United States’ largest city:  New York.  West Side Story  is also about urban gang warfare, racial and ethnic tensions and hostilities, and conflict with the law, as well, as well as love and romance between two people of different racial/ethnic/cultural groups, all of which occur in real life, throughout the United States and throughout the world, generally.  

 

West Side Story is also about rebellion and forbidden love, as well as tribal friendship and loyalties.  It’s also about how our society has left groups of have-nots to compete with the crumbs that have been left to them by our society and our system, which is something that the Jets’ and Sharks’ competition for a small piece of turf is clearly indicative of, if one gets the drift.  

 

West Side Story  is also about the cruelty and hatred that the Jets and Sharks not only inflict upon each other, but about the cruelty and hatred allocated to both gangs by law enforcement,  but there are also very kindly and caring adults (such as Doc, the candy store owner, and Glad-Hand, the social worker, at the Gym), who try to help them, and steer them in a better direction.  

 

If West Side Story  is about all of the above-mentioned things, it’s about exuberance, arrogance, love of dance, and fun, as well, which are all indicated in the Dance at the Gym and the America  scenes.  The Officer Krupke  scene also indicates the humor (albeit rather wry) in WSS, as well.

 

 West Side Story  is also about rebellion in the form of women/girls attempting to break away from the old, traditional values.  Maria, Anita and Anybodys are the strongest women in West Side Story, for that particular reason.  Maria rebels and falls in love with Tony, and Tony by falling in love with Maria. Anita, who clearly disapproves at first, unlike Bernardo, comes around to accepting Maria and Tony’s love, albeit grudgingly.  Anybodys is persistent in gaining acceptance by the Jets as an equal and one of the gang, proving her toughness, resourcefulness, and her ability to take care of herself, and she finally does gain acceptance by the Jets.  

 

The Rumble scene in West Side Story is the climax, where tensions ultimately explode, thus resulting in the deaths of Riff, Bernardo and Tony, and yet the Cool scene is  the anti-climax, where hot blood is cooled by Ice, who takes over the Jet gang leadership after Riff’s death during the Rumble, after both the Jets and Sharks flee the police and go into hiding.   

 

Yet, while West Side Story  is about the harsher side of life in a run-down, rough urban area, there are gentler aspects, as well, such as the short-lived romance between Tony and Maria, the way both the Jets and Sharks romanced with their girls, and the fact that “Glad Hand” and Doc were gently trying to steer both gangs in a better direction.

 

 West Side Story  is also about possible redemption between people through intergroup reconciliation, which is strongly indicated by the fact that several Sharks and several Jets come together to carry Tony’s body off after he’d been shot to death, partly due to jealousy on the part of Bernardo’s friend, Chino, also a Shark gang member, and partly due to retaliation for Tony’s having stabbed Bernardo to death in retaliation for his having stabbed his (Tony’s) old buddy, Riff to death during the Rumble.

 

All told,  West Side Story  is a story that is greatly emphasized and told in the form of beautifully-choreographed dancing by the late Jerome Robbins, fabulous cinematography by Daniel Fapp and others, great scenery design as well as some local city streets filming on Manhattan’s West Side, and a brilliantly intense Leonard Bernstein musical score, as well as Stephen Sondheim’s great lyrics.  

 

All told, just the right people were chosen for the cast of this great, golden oldie-but-keeper of a classic film.  I also forgot to say that Officer Krupke and Lt. Schrank also epitomized the cruelty that was shown to both the Jets and Sharks in the form of hatred and insults to their ethnic and/or familial backgrounds, as well.  

West Side Story, as a musical, for the reasons that I mentioned above, is one of the very rare musicals that is beautifully successful on screen, as well as on stage.  The great colors that are used in this film, especially the use of a lot of red, indicate much of the passions that are ignited in this film, also.







Also tagged with one or more of these keywords: West Side Story, Love & Romance, Urban gang warfare, Violence, Death, New York City, Jets, Sharks, Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer

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