West Side Story (1961)

west side story musicalRomeo and Juliet get caught in the middle of an inner city gang feud — but it’s the woeful lack of rhythmic snapping among the hooligans of today that remains the real tragedy.


I think it goes without saying that had I been in this movie, I would have kept snapping my fingers the entire time.

…And not just a bland, subtle kind of snap, but an emotional, dramatic snap that would speed up whenever things started getting tense or uneasy.

Any-hoo, West Side Story was kind of a big deal when it came out. It became the biggest Academy Award-winning musical of all time with 10 Oscars, including “Best Picture.” It was also the second highest grossing film of 1961. (It got beat by Disney’s 101 Dalmatians — which must have been ruff for Riff.)

West Side Story is based on a Broadway musical that came out a few years earlier in 1957. While the music came from Leonard Bernstein (no bear relations—I checked), Stephen Sondheim wrote the lyrics, parts of which were replaced in the film because they were considered too appalling. (Much like my own performance as the house-of-sticks pig in our 3rd grade production of The Three Little Pigs. I’m sure it was just ahead of its time. They weren’t ready for it.)

The movie stars Natalie Wood (Susan in Miracle on 34th Street), Richard Beymer (Peter in The Diary of Anne Frank), Russ Tamblyn (Gideon in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers), Rita Moreno (Zelda in Singin’ in the Rain), and George Chakiris (one of Rosemary Clooney’s silent-but-deadly turtleneck dancers in White Christmas).

west side story 1961 One funny thing: All of the actors above (except George) were dubbed for all or part of the film — and not to beat a dead horse or anything, but had they replaced singing with more snapping then this would have been completely unnecessary.

OH, SOMETHING YOU SHOULD KNOW: Since this is a film about forbidden love and gang violence, there may or may not be a couple of things you’d rather not expose to your children. However, if you restrict access to this musical and your kids start uttering racy phrases like “Cool it, buddy boy” or “Pass the salt, Daddio” then you’ll know they’ve been watching it in secret.

Now I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume nobody reading this blog post is currently considering joining a high school street gang (though I’m sure that demographic is really into 1960s movie musicals).

Often times, however, we tend to mentally place people into groups — which is fine, that’s probably what keeps our brains going — the mistake comes when we paint all the people in those groups with the same brush.

Sometimes when we have a negative encounter with just one Jet or Shark, we apply that animosity and judgment toward the whole group.

You already know this, but not all blacks and whites, Catholics and Protestants, Republicans and Democrats, people who don’t wash their hands after using the restroom and responsible members of the civilized world — are exactly the same. We are all individuals with very complex, very precise, and very intricate personalities.

When we forget that, we begin to see the world through tainted glass and miss valuable opportunities to learn new pieces of familiar truths that can only come from a different perspective.

So next time you go snapping down the street and bump into someone from one of those gangs you love to hate, try to see them the way our Heavenly Father sees them — because that’s the only view that really matters.

He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness…and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes.” — 1 John 2:9-11


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