West Side Story

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Details At A Glance

Category Musical Theatrical Trailer(s) Yes, 1 - 2.35:1, non 16x9, Dolby Digital 2.0
Rating Other Trailer(s) None
Year Released 1961 Commentary Tracks None
Running Time
145:35 minutes
(not 192 minutes as on packaging) 
Other Extras Booklet
RSDL/Flipper RSDL (77:46)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Selection then Menu
Region 2,4 Director Robert Wise
Jerome Robbins
United Artists
Warner Home Video
Starring Natalie Wood 
Richard Beymer
Russ Tamblyn 
Rita Moreno
George Chakiris
Case Amaray
RRP $34.95 Music Leonard Bernstein
Stephen Sondheim

Pan & Scan/Full Frame No MPEG None
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Dolby Digital 5.1
16 x 9 Enhancement
Soundtrack Languages English (Dolby Digital 5.1, 448 Kb/s)
German (Dolby Digital 2.0, 192 Kb/s)
French (Dolby Digital 2.0, 192 Kb/s)
Italian (Dolby Digital 2.0, 192 Kb/s)
Spanish (Dolby Digital 2.0, 192 Kb/s)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio 2.20:1
Macrovision ? Smoking Yes
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or
After Credits

Plot Synopsis

    And no doubt you are asking yourself why the heck is he reviewing another musical on DVD - he hates musicals. Well, rest assured that after about four and a half minutes - the length of the pompous opening segment to the film - I was beginning to wonder why I volunteered for this effort too. By the time the first hour had rolled by - sorry, dragged by - and my eyes were having trouble keeping open, I was really wishing that I was watching Speed 2 again. Well okay, maybe that is stretching it a heck of a lot, but you simply have no idea how much fortitude it required to finish watching this film.

    When you look at the awards listing for this film, it appears to be a film of some stature. Ten Oscars - Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Director, Best Film Editing, Best Music, Best Picture, Best Sound, Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress. Three Golden Globes - Best Picture (Musical), Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress. One Grammy - Best Sound Track Album. Whilst my humble opinion counts for not an awful lot, I can only presume that 1961 was a poor year for film if this could walk away with all these awards, especially the Best Picture. Perhaps in the sixties, when the musical was the apparently pre-eminent genre of film, it made more sense, but looking at the film now I find it to be nothing more than a poor example of the ultra-cool sixties stylism that has not suffered at all well at the hands of time. It is quite a pretentious film, with material that does not really have the character to sustain a 145 minute length, and the film in general, and the song lyrics in particular, venture very close to outright racism at times. To say that I find this to be an unpalatable pile of animal dung is to severely understate the case. Perhaps I have simply completely missed the point to the film.

    Without being too cynical (well, okay, being really cynical), this is a musical therefore it does not have much of a plot. This is the story of the streets of the west side of Manhattan (surprise, surprise), where the gangs rule. In this effort, we have the White American Jets opposed to the Puerto Rican Sharks, as a backdrop to the modern day Romeo and Juliet story of Tony (Richard Beymer) and Maria (Natalie Wood), two young people struggling to get together despite their cultural backgrounds and the backgrounds of the neighbourhood in which they live. The whole plot is really just an irrelevant backdrop to an excuse for two hours plus of singing and dancing that has little relevance to the story (which naturally contrasts enormously with a film like My Fair Lady, where the musical element of the film is completely relevant to the story).

    I found the story to be excruciatingly contrived and the contextual use of song and dance without merit. From a performance point of view, at least there is merit here. Whilst I find the casting of the epitome of the American girl-next-door as a Puerto Rican just a tad odd, Natalie Wood certainly was convincing enough as the naive young women finding her way in the new world, if you can overlook the rather poor accent. Richard Beymer was far more convincing as the young white American lover. The performance of the wonderfully talented Rita Moreno is far more convincing, whilst this is a wildly different George Chakiris from that in 633 Squadron, albeit not entirely convincing as the young Puerto Rican hoodlum. The rest of the cast were an indelible blank to me, but perhaps by the time I really got to notice them, I was already asleep. The direction here was reasonably decent but really I felt that any director worth his salt would have argued for the severe cutting back of some of the unnecessarily extended exposition scenes here. One simply cannot argue too much about the cinematography here though, and it certainly captures well what the director was wishing us to see.

    Overall, definitely not a film to suit my tastes and definitely a film in my view that is far too entrenched in a period that is not best remembered.

Transfer Quality


    Well, I may have serious reservations about the film (to put it politely) but one cannot argue with the quality of the transfer it has been given.

    The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and it is 16x9 enhanced. The original theatrical release was at a ratio of 2.20:1 so it would appear that we have a slightly cropped transfer on offer. However, since the film was shot in SuperPanavision 70, little essential image is liable to have been lost.

    In much the same way that My Fair Lady was given a superlative restoration, so this has been similarly blessed. Although there are some odd lapses, aside from those intended by the director, this is a very nicely sharp transfer and quite detailed transfer that is about as good as you can possibly get with a film that is after all 39 years old. The definition here is quite decent and the transfer is in general very clear. There are no problems with low level noise in the transfer, and this is overall a very fine transfer indeed.

    The film has always been noted for its wonderful colours, and they come up quite beautifully here. Not especially vibrant, but still a very nice palette that should satisfy the film's aficionados. There was the slightest hint of oversaturation in some scenes, but these may be a result of the director's intention in the original film.

    There were no MPEG artefacts noted in the transfer. There does appear to be a slight inherent fault in the original film during the bridge flyover sequence. There is a consistent problem with film-to-video artefacts in the transfer, in the form of noticeable aliasing especially early in the film; I found it distracting and annoying, but that is probably a reflection of my disdain for the film, so others will find it quite minor. Sure there were film artefacts present in abundance, but nothing that would be remotely considered distracting to the film.

    This is an RSDL format disc, with the layer change coming at 77:46. The layer change is well placed in a fade to black scene change and is completely non-disruptive to the film. The transfer is again from a French master.


    And the very nice video transfer is matched by a very nice soundtrack.

    There are five audio tracks on the DVD: an English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, a German Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtrack, a French Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtrack, an Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtrack and a Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtrack. I listened to the English default. The packaging states the French soundtrack to be Dolby Digital 5.1, but it is not.

    Dialogue was always clear and easy to understand.

    There were no apparent audio sync problems with the disc.

    The score by Leonard Bernstein is justly famous and possibly the finest music he ever composed. The lyrics come from Stephen Sondheim and at times they now sound very dated, but some of the songs are justifiably considered icons of the musical genre.

    This is a nicely detailed soundtrack, although not providing a huge amount of use for the bass channel. Some of the detail in the surround channels, especially the rear channel, is quite sublime and this has to be considered a wonderful remastering of a classic film score. Perhaps the soundtrack could have had just a tad more space in it, as at times the lyrics seemed to be just a little congested, but that is a minor quibble. I seriously doubt that his has ever sounded as good as it does here, and in many respects it is a disappointment that we have not got a music-only soundtrack on offer, as I would love to do a comparison with Bernstein's own studio recording of the score.


    Another of the more usual basic packages from MGM.


Theatrical Trailer (3:58)

    A really cool, sixties style that immediately put me straight off the film! There are some rather obvious faults with the video but that is perhaps to be expected in a trailer of this age.


R4 vs R1

    The Region 1 and Region 4 releases appear to be identical, once again making Region 4 the region of choice owing to the inherent superiority of the PAL system.


    Well, I have to say that this really does absolutely nothing for me whatsoever. I simply do not understand why the film garnered so many awards and why it is rated so highly. This is stylistically so dated that I frankly find it too difficult to watch. Still, I am clearly in a very minor minority here. If the film is to your taste, then do not hesitate as it has been blessed with a very good transfer.

    A very nice video transfer for a film of this age.

    A very good audio transfer.

    A minimal extras package.

    I suppose it should be noted that every release in this batch from MGM has been inaccurate regarding the running time of the feature - mainly because someone forgot to do the 4% reduction in time due to the speed up of the PAL transfer. However, this one is so far out it is not funny! 47 minutes is a fair whack to be out on your timing MGM. So then we add the error with labelling of the French soundtrack, compound it with the listing of a German for the Hearing Impaired subtitle track that is not present and finish off with that stupid phrase again (16:9 anamorphic stretch). Is it expecting too much to have some reasonably accurate covers to DVD releases?

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ian Morris
27th January 2000

Review Equipment
DVD Pioneer DV-515; S-video output
Display Sony Trinitron Wega 84cm. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Audio Decoder Built in
Amplification Yamaha RXV-795. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Speakers Energy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL