West Side Story (1961)

West Side Story (1961), produced by Robert Wise, directed by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins.

I'd forgotten how gorgeous this is. I'd like it more if I cared for the singing and dancing, and for the very slight story, but it's not doing much for me. But give them credit: the dancing is impressive, with Russ Tamblyn (Riff) doing some incredible acrobatics.

Leonard Bernstein gets the music credit and a lot of it sounds like him, but some of the tunes ("Maria", "Tonight", "I Feel Pretty") sound much more like Lerner and Lowe. This is punctuated when Marni Nixon dubs the singing voice of Natalie Wood, just as she did for Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady (1964).

Aesthetically, this is a hard one to puzzle out. Doing stylized moves -- even the knife fight is ballet -- against the realistic and gritty street background: is it "bold" or "just plain wrong"? As they say in Spinal Tap: "There's a thin line between clever and stupid".

We can't judge a film by what has happened since, but in retrospect the street gangs are pathetically weak. See what fifty years of progress can accomplish?

The wikipedia article has many production details, including lists of actors considered for Tony:

...and for Maria:

The alternate-universe combinations are mind-boggling.

Fascinating: George Chakiris played Riff the Jet on stage and Bernardo the Shark on screen.

Available on a fine-looking Blu-ray.