West Side Story

Bomb Rating: 

Upon seeing a ten-minute long opening sequence featuring thin, effeminate men dancing around in extraordinarily tight pants, the audience begins to realize it's in for much more.

On the surface, this would appear to be a simple rip-off of Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" featuring white guys and Puerto Ricans in place of the Capulets and the Montagues. However, upon seeing a ten-minute long opening sequence featuring thin, effeminate men dancing around in extraordinarily tight pants, the audience begins to realize it's in for much more.

It isn't just that Maria (Natalie Wood) and Tony (Richard Beymer) are in love and that they're from opposite sides of the tracks. No, it's clearly the fact that they're engaged in a purely heterosexual relationship that has these fleets of gay dancers up in arms because they haven't yet confronted their own sexuality. After all, Tony has left the "gang" and found himself a job and it's everything Riff (Russ Tamblyn) can do to lure Tony back into the gang. In fact, all the gang members want Tony back.

It is fairly clear that Maria understands the implications of Tony's gang involvement, so she lures him accordingly. First, while they are exchanging loving looks on the fire escape outside Maria's apartment, Maria tells Tony as he's about to leave, "When you come, use the back door." Later, she sings to him, "I feel pretty. Oh so pretty. I feel pretty and witty and gay." These two examples illustrate that Maria clearly understands what it's going to take to lure Tony to the other team -- gradual adaptation.

One might conclude that their big fight argues against any conformity between the two gangs. In fact, it does. This is a fight about fashion. The Jets have the dance moves and the tight pants, but the Sharks move into the neighborhood with the dance moves, the tight pants, AND the amazing purple shirts. The Sharks' color-matching is so superior to that of the Jets that the Jets simply can't take it anymore and challenge the Sharks to a fight. They look too good.

The fight is supposed to be between Bernardo (George Chakiris), who is Maria's brother, and one of the Jets, but it turns into a fight between Bernardo and Riff. They try to fight with their fists, but unable to control their sexual rage, break out knives, each trying to plunge his pseudophallus into the other. At Maria's urging, Tony arrives to break up the fight, but is unable to, which leads to Riff's death. Seeing his friend and "brother" dead, the result of impalement with Bernardo's tool, Tony's hormonal frustrations boil over. He takes Riff's long, hard blade and plunges it into Bernardo, killing him, leaving Tony completely bewildered with sexual confusion and betraying Maria all at the same time.

What other evidence leads one to this homosexual/heterosexual theme? When Anita goes to Doc's to tell Tony that Maria is coming, the Jets prevent her from going to the basement. They toss her about in what appears to be an apparent rape, but is really just another of their dance numbers. Yes, there are women who hang out with the Jets. Unfortunately, there are only three for twelve guys, so their facade is rather loose. Plus, there's Anybodys, the tomboy, who's obviously a lesbian and the only one of the women eventually accepted into the gang. Finally, a poster hangs on the streets throughout the entire film. Remember, it wasn't just put there by accident because we see it over and over again. It's an election poster for a candidate whose name, suspiciously, is Al Wood. Think about it! All wood. What kind of city is a great city? Well, an all-wood city, of course.

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West Side Story; A golden oldie-but-great Classic:

Anonymous's picture

West Side Story is a golden oldie-but-great classic film that should never be missed....by anybody.
Although Richard Beymer is a weak, lacklustre Tony, the other actors/actresses in this wonderful film more than make up for and offset Beymer's weak performance as Tony, although, when West Side Story is shown on a great big, wide screen, in a real movie theatre with the lights down low, Richard Beymer's Tony, too, comes off as being much more vital and alive. The brilliant musical score, the beautifully choreographed dancing, the richly-colored costumes and photography, the great scenery, in the form of on-location filming and great set designs that look uncannily like a real gritty urban background, plus the beautiful story behind West Side Story all converge to make this great classic the dynamic little package that it is.

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