West Side Story is a 1961 American musical 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 City, mainly in the area where the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts campus of Fordham University now stands. Veteran director Robert Wise was chosen as the director and producer because of his familiarity with urban New York dramas, such as Odds Against Tomorrow. Wise had never directed a musical before and when it was suggested that Jerome Robbins, who had directed the stage version, be brought in to handle all the music and dance sequences in the film, Wise agreed. However, the gentlemanly Wise and the abrasive Robbins repeatedly clashed and by the first day of shooting, they weren't speaking. After the New York location scenes were shot, the Mirisch Company 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 remaining dance numbers were handled by Robbins' assistants. But because of his creative input in the planning stages, Wise insisted Robbins be given co-directing credit, even though Wise directed the majority of the film himself.
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 Award in its eleven nominated categories, including Best Picture, as well as a special award for Robbins. West Side Story holds the distinction of having won more Academy Awards (ten awards) than any other musical film. The soundtrack album made more money than any other album before it.
The film opens in the streets of Manhattan in the late summer of 1957. 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 Jets harass the Sharks and vice versa, culminating in a free-for-all on the playground. Soon, Lieutenant Schrank (Simon Oakland) and Officer Krupke (William Bramley ) arrive and break up the melee. Schrank orders the Sharks off the playground and the Jets "to make nice with them Puerto Ricans" or there'll be a price to pay. Once Schrank and Krupke are gone, the Jets discuss challenging the Sharks to an all out rumble that will decide who gets control of the streets. They will deliver the challenge to the Sharks at a dance later that night. Riff decides that his best friend Tony (Richard Beymer), a co-founder of the Jets who has left the gang to work at a local candy/drug store, would be the best member to present the challenge to the Sharks because he always came through for the Jets ("Jet Song").
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