West Side Story

Year: 1961

Studio: Mirisch Pictures, Inc. / Seven Arts

Screenplay: Ernest Lehman
(based on the play and book by Arthur Laurents)

Director: Robert Wise & Jerome Robbins

Choreographer: Jerome Robbins


Brief Synopsis:

"West Side Story" is a story of racial hatred and the tragedy that results from it. The protagonists are two rival gangs, the Jets and the Sharks, who live in the same neighborhood and both want control of the streets. The sister of the Shark's leader falls in love with the best friend of the leader of the Jets and their romance is used as a reason by the gangs for an all-out fight that ends tragically for both gangs. The plot is advanced through dramatic, energetic dances and some of the most beautiful music ever written for a musical.

Detailed Synopsis:

The Jets and Sharks are rival gangs in a poor neighborhood on New York City's upper west side. The Jets, led by Riff (Russ Tamblyn), were born in the neighborhood and they have had control of the streets for years. But now, the Sharks have come from Puerto Rico and they want to live in the neighborhood. The gangs hate each other and they cannot overcome their prejudices to live peacefully together.

Riff's best friend, Tony (Richard Beymer), once belonged to the Jets but he left to get a job working in Doc's drugstore. Tony tries to explain to Riff why he doesn't enjoy being a Jet anymore and that he is searching for something better but he doesn't really know what it is. Riff asks Tony to join the Jets at a community dance and Tony reluctantly agrees.

The leader of the Sharks is Bernado (George Chakiris) and he has a younger sister, Maria (Natalie Wood), who is in America only one month. The Sharks and Maria are also going to the community dance and Maria expects it to be very special for her since it will be her first dance as "a young lady in America." Bernado is very protective of Maria and he tells Chino, a fellow shark who is fond of Maria, to keep an eye on her at the dance. Bernado has a girlfriend, Anita (Rita Moreno), who is also Maria's friend.

At the dance, Tony and Maria meet and it is love at first sight for both of them, but Bernado comes between them and sends Maria home. Riff then tells Bernado that the Jets want to have a war council with the Sharks so they can fight over control of the neighborhood. The two leaders agree that the gangs should meet in Doc's store after the dance.

Tony leaves the dance after Maria is sent home with Chino and he goes to the courtyard by Maria's building, looking for her. They express their love for each other and agree to meet the next day at the bridal shop where Maria works.

Tony goes to Doc's store and stops the Jets and Sharks from having an all-out rumble. Instead, he gets them to agree to a fair fight between the best fighters from each gang.

The next day, Tony meets Maria at the bridal shop and Anita sees them together. She warns them to be careful because their romance is a dangerous one. Tony and Maria fantasize about a perfect live for them with the Puerto Ricans and the Jets living together in harmony. Before they part, Maria tells Tony to stop the fight between the Jets and the Sharks and he agrees.

Tony tries to stop the fight but things go very wrong and there is a terrible rumble. Bernado kills Riff and, in response, Tony kills Bernado.

Maria is waiting for Tony but Chino comes and tells her that Tony killed Bernado. When Tony comes to her, he explains how he felt when Bernado killed Riff and she forgives him. Later, Anita comes and Tony, frightened, leaves and Maria agrees to meet him at Doc's. Anita sees Tony leaving and Maria explains to her how she feels about Tony. A police detective then comes to the apartment to talk to Maria and Anita agrees to go to Doc's to tell Tony that Maria will be late in meeting him.

The Jets are at Doc's when Anita arrives and they taunt and abuse her. Doc comes and stops them and Anita, in anger and with hatred for what they have done to her, tells them that Chino shot Maria because of her relationship with Tony. Doc tells Tony and Tony goes out to the street, screaming for Chino to kill him, too. Chino shoots him just as Maria comes down the street and Tony dies in her arms. The Jets and the Sharks gather round and Maria gives a powerful speech of how their hatred killed Tony, Riff and Bernado.