Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

West Side Story (1961)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

West Side Story (1961)

In co-directors Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise's Best Picture-winning adaptation of the popular Broadway musical - the modern, musical updating of William Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet:

  • the opening prologue featured breathtaking aerial shots of Manhattan from a bird's eye view that captured the city with its bridge traffic and highway ramps, its waterfront docks, parks and skyscrapers; the camera passed over recognizable landmarks as it moved steadily to the Upper West Side of Manhattan, and then speedily zoomed down and plunged into a concrete playground
  • the remarkably energetic Jerome Robbins' choreography (filmed in New York's Hell's Kitchen district) was especially evident in the opening balletic sequence; the 'cool' white, second-generation American teenaged Jets led by finger-clicking, brown-haired Riff (Russ Tamblyn), were poised in a rivalry with the new immigrant Puerto Rican Sharks led by black-haired, darker-skinned Bernardo (George Chakiris); the Caucasian gang performed the highly-stylized dance-song "The Jet Song" ("When you're a Jet, you're a Jet all the way...") with daring, high-stepping moves to demonstrate that they owned the turf and the streets; shortly later, there was a challenge by the Jets against the Sharks to a decisive "winner take all" rumble
  • a dance at the gymnasium marked the first meeting of star-crossed lovers Maria (Natalie Wood) and Tony (Richard Beymer); it was obvious that they were entranced with each other and it was 'love at first sight,' although they were from the opposing, warring factions
Maria and Tony Meeting at Gymnasium - Love at First Sight
  • in the conclusion of the gymnasium sequence, Tony subsequently sang the lyrical love song "Maria" - about his newfound love, as he walked from the dance in a love-sick daze and the settings changed behind and around him
  • with the entire Puerto Rican cast on the rooftop, hot-blooded Anita (Oscar-winning Rita Moreno) sang and danced (with passionate skirt-tossing and with biting wit and humor), about her love for her new homeland in the rousing, lively and aggressive "America" - she viewed the 'land of the free' both a land of opportunity and enmity for new immigrants:the scene of Anita's passionate skirt-tossing dance with other Puerto Ricans on the rooftop in the singing of "America"
  • that same evening, Tony visited with Maria on the tenement fire escape outside her bedroom - the Romeo and Juliet balcony scene; they embraced, sang to each other, and joined in unison to express their love to each other with the love duet "Tonight"; after the song, they decided to see each other the next day after Maria's work in Madame Lucia's Bridal Shop across the street from her home
  • the next bowdlerized song featured the biting satire of "Gee Officer Krupke" that mocked the police and blamed multiple sources for the causes of juvenile delinquency among youth
  • in the bridal shop the following day, Maria modeled fancy hats, coyly agreeing that she was "crazy" in love, "looks somehow different," and "is up to something." She told her gossipy Puerto Rican girlfriends "what is going on" by singing "I Feel Pretty": "I feel pretty, oh so pretty, I feel pretty and witty and gay, And I pity, any girl who isn't me today I feel charming, oh so charming, it's alarming how charming I feel And so pretty, that I hardly can believe I'm real See the pretty girl in that mirror there? Who can that attractive girl be? Such a pretty face, such a pretty dress, such a pretty smile, such a pretty me!..."
  • Tony arrived in the bridal shop to see Maria after hours, knowing that they were defying loyalties and breaking the rules of their respective societies; the couple sensitively exchanged love vows during a make-believe wedding between them in "One Hand, One Heart"; they playfully pantomimed their engagement and wedding with mannequins that represented the in-laws and other members of their families; with a bridal veil on her head, and a black top hat on his head, they walked down an imaginary aisle in the store and enacted their wedding. As a couple, they kneeled and exchanged marital vows
  • in an action-oriented rumble/dance sequence, the Sharks and Jets moved toward their eventual confrontation at the rumble, sung by all gang members; they met face-to-face under a highway, where the conflict escalated to deadly proportions when switchblades were pulled out; Sharks leader Bernardo accidentally killed Riff with a single plunge of the knife to his mid-section. As he fell, Riff passed his switchblade to Tony. In retaliation to counter Riff's death, Tony vengefully and passionately stabbed and killed Bernardo
  • Maria was dismayed when she heard news of a fight and was stunned to learn of her brother's death, and numbed by the tragic turn of events; she couldn't believe that her boyfriend had killed her own brother. She prayed in her bedroom before the Virgin Mary: "Make it not be true!...I will do anything. Make me die"
  • Tony arrived and Maria forgave him and vowed to steadfastly stand by him: "Stay with me. Don't leave me...Hold me...Tighter." Tony remained blinded and rebelliously-indifferent to their plight, believing and hoping that there was still "Somewhere" they could run away to and find peace together for their forbidden love; the two sang "Somewhere" together
  • in the film's untimely twist of fate, Anita's message of reconciliation between the two lovers failed to get through, and then spitefully, she lied and claimed that Maria's ex-boyfriend Chino (Jose de Vega) had killed Maria in anger; when Tony heard the rumor, not wanting to live without Maria, Tony came out of hiding to challenge Chino
  • in the shocking ending, Tony raced through the streets crying out for Chino to kill him: "Come on Chino, get me too...There's nobody here but me...I'm waitin' for ya." Tony learned the truth that Maria was alive too late - dressed in red, she was on the other side of the chain-fenced playground. She rushed joyfully toward him to embrace him, but he had already been spotted by Chino. Just before they reached each other's arms in a tiny spot of light (and in the only area of dry pavement) on the playground, he was shot by Chino as revenge for Bernardo's death (and as retribution for being thwarted in his love for Maria)
  • in the melodramatic finale, the anguished and grieving Maria held the dying Tony in her arms and knelt by his side (and sang a reprise of Somewhere: "Hold my hand and I'll take you there"); then, she ranted at gang members - accusing all of them for being responsible for Tony's senseless death, and lecturing them at how hate breeds more hate, as she wielded Chino's murder weapon: ("...You all killed him!...Not with bullets and guns! With HATE! Well, I can kill too, because now I have hate!")
  • she fell to her knees, weeping, and then tenderly kissed the lips of Tony one last time and expressed her love for him in Spanish: "Te adoro, Anton."
Tony Dying in Maria's Arms: "Te adoro, Anton"
  • the two gangs, confused, stunned, ashamed and sobered by the unnecessary triple killings, finally put aside their enmity. As some of the Jets struggled to bear Tony's body away, a few of the Sharks assisted them. Together, they solemnly carried Tony's body down the street, with Maria following. For once, the opposing groups were united and reconciled - by the heart-breaking tragedy

Riff with Jets

Energetic Choreography of the Jets

Tony Singing "Maria" on His Way Home

Anita (Rita Moreno) Singing "America" on the Rooftop with the Sharks

Tenement Fire Escape Scene of "Tonight"

Maria Singing "I Feel Pretty" in Bridal Shop

Make Believe Wedding: "One Hand, One Heart"

Earlier, Two Gangs Agreeing on a Rumble Between Riff and Bernardo

Riff Stabbed in Mid-Section by Bernardo

Tony Stabbing Bernardo

Tony and Maria Singing "Somewhere"

Tony Shot by Chino As He Embraced Maria on Playground

Maria With Gun: "Now I have hate!"


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