For those in the age group of 14 to 18 when this film premiered in December of 1961, the effect was profound. The movie earned 10 Oscars including Best Picture. As far as movie-making, musicals and impact on the culture of American society, this film has had a long lasting and well deserved reputation as being one of the very best.
Based on “Romeo and Juliet,” the original musical was a hit on Broadway and became even bigger when it made it to the big screen. In Paris, France the film opened and ran for 249 weeks (almost 5 years) making it the longest running film in French history. They only struggled for 7 days during WWII before giving up. What does that tell you?
Directed by Robert Wise (The Sound of Music, Star Trek The Motion Picture, The Sand Pebbles) and starring Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Russ Tamblyn, Rita Moreno and George Chakiris (the latter two won Oscars for the film) the movie was perfect in all respects. Lighting, staging, costuming and choreography were all extraordinary.
The BluRay edition looks almost as good as the film looked on screen 50 years ago, even though most of us are now watching through bi-focals. All this wonderfulness, despite the problems encountered during the shooting schedule and later dubbing sessions.
First off, the folks making WSS knew you could not hire singers and teach them to dance at the level needed for this production. They hired dancers and dubbed the songs. Classically trained Marni Nixon dubbed Natalie Wood and at least one number done by Rita Moreno. For the others, Betty Wand’s voice is what we hear for Rita M. In the Jet Song, Russ Tamblyn was actually dubbed by Tucker Smith who also sings his own part as Ice. Richard Beymer’s on screen songs were done by Jimmy Bryant. (That’s Bryant not Buffett.) End result….they sound pretty good.
For the 50th DVD/BluRay release they also include a separate disc filled with great extra features. For the most part, the 3 Disc set can be purchased for less than $20.
Robert Wise originally wanted Elvis Presley for the screen persona of Tony. It was probably tough enough showing the same film day after day for almost 5 years. How would you like to have been the projectionist in that Paris theater with Elvis hip swinging his way through the Dance in the Gym?
I really like this movie and if you haven’t seen it, the BluRay version is the way to go. My highlight starts 50 minutes in and ends 4 ½ minutes later. Unforgettable. Check it out.
Rated 4.0 out of 4.0 reasons that now, 50 years later I hope Chino finally made parole.