'West Side Story: 50th Anniversary Edition'
(Natalie Wood, George Chakiris, Richard Beymer, Russ Tamblyn, Rita Moreno, et al / 3-Disc Blu ray+DVD / NR / (1961) 2011 / MGM)
Overview: The winner of 10 Academy Awards, this 1961 musical by choreographer Jerome Robbins and director Robert Wise (The Sound of Music) remains irresistible. Based on a smash Broadway play updating Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet to the 1950s era of juvenile delinquency, the film stars Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer as the star-crossed lovers from different neighborhoods - and ethnicities.
Blu ray+DVD Verdict: Set in the summer of 1957, 'West Side Story' is an unusual, edgy jazz-influenced show based on Romeo & Juliet.' Opening, infamously now, with a ballet sequence (filmed in an area of condemned buildings the Lincoln Center was later constructed on!), Leonard Bernstein wrote the music, Stephen Sondheim the lyrics, and Authur Laurents the book - for their double Tony-winning play.
Winner of Best Scenic Design and Choreography and nominated for Play, Conductor, Costumes and Actress, Carol Lawrence, the movie; despite light tunes like "Tonight" and "Maria," has its dark overtones. The murder of two of the gang members and Tony's involvement, the betrayal and lies after the attempted rape of one of the Puerto Rican women by the Jets and Maria's final act makes for some somber storytelling.
That said, the wonderful choreography by Jerome Robbins and the amazing tunes by the team of Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim, just take you away. You can't help yourself, it's so mesmerizing and at times dark and depressing.
But did you know that Marni Nixon provided Natalie Wood's singing voice, Jimmy Bryant dubs for Richard Beymer, and that Betty Wand handles only the low-pitched "A Boy Like That" for Oscar-winner Rita Moreno? In typical-of-the-times self-censoring Hollywood fashion, some dialogue and lyrics were sanitized (or diluted) for the movie too.
And, for my money, sadly there was no real on-screen chemistry between Wood and Beymer. You can just see no love, no devotion for each other in their eyes, which is a shame as they could have so had a 'Grease' moment (or two) here for all to remember! I mean, back in the day this was a big film for Wood ('Gypsy') and her co-star Richard Beymer ('The Longest Day') to undertake, but it seems both took their roles for granted.
Regardless, 'West Side Story' as a whole is still one of those films that is so much a part of pop culture, and the history of the American theatre, that I think everyone should give it a try at least once. Especially now that it has been released on crystal clear Blu ray! My goodness, what a transfer and remaster it is now to behold.
Oh, and one last bit of trivia ... did you know Elvis Presley was supposed to be Tony at one point, and Anna Maria Alberghetti Maria?! I know, it blew my mind thinking of them in these roles too! This is a Full Screen Presentation (2:20.1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
Disc 1: West Side Story Remastered in 1080p Hi-Def with 7.1 DTS-HD Sound
Pow! The Dances of West Side Story In-Movie Viewing Mode
Song-Specific Commentary by Stephen Sondheim
Disc 2: Blu-ray Additional Special Features
A Place for Us: West Side Story’s Legacy
Creation and Innovation
A Timeless Vision