West Side Story (1961 film)

West Side Story (1961 film) Study Guide

West Side Story is the 1961 film adaptation of the wildly successful stage musical which had taken Broadway by storm just a few years earlier. The film was co-directed by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins, who made history by becoming the first pair to ever share the Oscar for Best Direction. West Side Story was the only film that legendary Broadway director Jerome Robbins ever helmed.

The story is essentially Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet transposed into a contemporary New York City gang war. The white Jets battle the Puerto Rican Sharks for control of the neighborhood, and in the midst of the racial tension, an interracial love affair between Jet Tony and Shark Maria emerges, complicating matters. The film's treatment of racism and tension around immigration resonated with audiences in the 1960s, who saw the tension between the angsty gang members and the society they were inheriting as relevant to an emergent tension in contemporary society. Additionally, the film was recognized for its beautiful cinematography, its incredible score, written by Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein, and its balletic and mesmerizing choreography by Jerome Robbins.

Including its Best Direction award, the film won 10 out of its 11 Oscar nominations (including Best Picture) with only screenwriter Ernest Lehman going home empty-handed. Success at the Academy Award ceremony was matched by widespread critical acclaim and box office success.