#210 West Side Story

Watched: December 16 2018

Director: Jerome Robbins, Robert Wise

Starring: Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Russ Tamblyn, Rita Moreno, George Chakiris, Simon Oakland

Year: 1961

Runtime: 2h 33min

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New York City, some time in the 1950s. The Jets, possibly the least intimidating gang in movie history, are out jazz dancing and generally being a minor nuisance. When they bump into the equally graceful Sharks, it culminates in an epic dance-off.

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Even their dedication to their ballet lessons couldn’t keep them off the streets

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After the two gangs’ confrontation, former Jet Tony (Beymer) is asked to accompany Jet leader Riff (Tamblyn) to a dance, in order to challenge their rivals to a rumble (which apparently was 1950s slang for a dance battle, possibly involving weapons). Tony has turned his life around and left his gang for a job, but has sworn allegiance to Riff “from womb to tomb” and thus agrees to come.

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The kids didn’t let the fact that the basketball was nowhere to be found stop them from trying to score.

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At the tense dance, Tony meets newly arrived Puerto Rican Maria (Wood), the sister of Sharks leader Bernardo (Chakiris), and the two instantly fall in love. But while this could have been a golden opportunity for the two gangs to put aside their differences and join forces, the romance is not accepted by either side and the lovers are forced to part.

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We can sort of understand the scepticism of their friends though. The couple has barely exchanged three words with each other before they start planning their wedding. Kids!

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Based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story is a fantastically colourful and energetic musical version of the classic play. We absolutely love the dancing, the transitions, the music, the colours, the humour, and the costumes. And Anita (Moreno), Bernardo’s feisty girlfriend.

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Sassy, independent, gorgeous, feisty and talented. Naturally, her character is raped. Women like that must be punished.

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It’s a tragic love story, but it also points out different forms of racism in the USA. In fact, the gangs might be bad news, but the real villain of the piece is racist Lieutenant Schrank. And discrimination in itself.

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Racism and discrimination may well be the villains, but dance is the hero!

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We love all the music in West Side Story (in fact, some of these songs make the perfect soundtrack when you clean the house), but our favourite songs are probably the one the gang sings about Officer Krupke, and I Feel Pretty. The latter because it’s the first time we see any real personality in Maria, who is often a fairly bland character. She does show some industry in the end though, which redeems her somewhat.

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Gone is the innocent, naïve girl in the white dress, to be replaced by a woman in red

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All in all, this is a fantastic movie in which everyone will find something to enjoy.

What we learned: Anything can be solved with a dance-off. And if these people had stuck to that bit of wisdom this whole affair would have ended very differently. Also, play it cool.

Next time: Yojimbo (1961)

#143 The Searchers

Watched: November 12 2017

Director: John Ford

Starring: John Wayne, Jeffrey Hunter, Vera Miles, Natalie Wood, Ward Bond, Henry Brandon, Hank Worden, Harry Carey Jr.

Year: 1956

Runtime: 1h 59min

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Somewhere in Texas, Ethan Edwards (Wayne) returns to the homestead from the Civil War. Which ended three years earlier. He may have been involved in some shady business in the interim. After years away, he joins his brother’s family to (possibly) settle down and stay away from conflict.

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You just know this is too idyllic to last…

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A neighbour’s stolen cattle lures most of the men, including Ethan, away from their homes in search of the thieves, but it turns out that the theft was a decoy to raid the unprotected houses. Ethan returns to find his brother, sister-in-law, and nephew killed, and his two nieces missing – the work of Comanche warriors.

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Funeral first – then vengeance!

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Along with his 1/8 Cherokee adopted nephew Martin Pawley (Hunter) and niece Lucy’s fiancé Brad Jorgenson (Carey), Ethan starts his search for his lost relatives – a search which will take several years and claim its share of casualities.

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It also leads to some great, heroic poses

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On the surface an adventure movie, The Searchers deals with some very uncomfortable questions of racism, mainly through main character Ethan, who is willing to kill his beloved niece once he learns that she has assimilated and now lives as a Comanche.

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Treacherous wench! Adapting to survive!

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We loved Laurie, Mose, and the fight between Charlie and Martin, and there are some amazingly beautiful shots in this film. It’s a Western epic spanning several years with lots of interesting characters – especially Ethan is intriguing if not particularly likable. Our dog was also very into it – anything with horses, dogs and shootings quickly becomes a favourite for him.

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Like us, Doggo is less keen on overly tanned white people playing Native Americans, but he appreciated all the Native extras

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What we learned: If someone you love has assimilated to another culture, it’s not reason enough to kill them… Also, what makes someone “white”?

Next time: Written on the Wind (1956)

#131 Rebel Without a Cause

Watched: August 28 2017

Director: Nicholas Ray

Starring: James Dean, Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo, Corey Allen, Jim Backus, Ann Doran

Year: 1955

Runtime: 1h 51min

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Jim Stark (Dean) is a troubled teenager with anger issues, a bit of a drinking problem, and an aversion to being called a chicken. He starts his new life in a new town by being thrown in the drunk tank and then getting into trouble with the local “tough guys.”

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He does make one friend, but that guy’s no good in a fight

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After trying to hit on Judy (Wood), and failing miserably, he tries to ingratiate himself with her gang by cracking jokes during a class field trip to a planetarium, but they do not find him amusing. In fact, they find him so unamusing that they vandalize his car and threaten his life after school.

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Look, we hate people who talk during movies and lectures as much as the next person, but we do feel like this is overreacting a tad…

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Jim, insecure in his masculinity, is infuriated when he’s called a chicken, and he agrees to meet the gang’s leader for a “Chickie run” that evening. Which goes about as well as you’d expect.

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He does get to smooch up a bit with Judy though, so it’s not all bad

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Bad things happen, people gang up on our hero, his parents give bad advice, and the kindly police officer he bonded with in the beginning is unavailable, so Jim is at a loss. He teams up with Judy and his only other friend Plato (Mineo) and they hide in an abandoned mansion in the outskirts of town.

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We’re impressed with Judy’s ability to cope with her boyfriend’s death by getting it on with his main rival. However, it might be an upgrade…

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Believe it or not, this was actually our first time watching this film despite its status as a classic. We’re glad we finally got around to it though – it was beautiful, dramatic and moving, and James Dean was just filled with charisma and raw energy.

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*Swoon*

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The characters are damaged and flawed, but sympathetic. We initially really disliked Judy (we’re a bit over the “good-but-misunderstood-girl-with-daddy-issues-and-a-crappy-boyfriend”-thing), but she actually managed to grow on us, and her motivation was understandable. Jim is basically a good guy with crappy if well-meaning parents and his own daddy-issues, but he does have a good heart.

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And a killer red jacket!

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Plato is by far the saddest character. Always on his own, with the housekeeper his only parental figure, he comes to see Jim as a father and role model as much as a friend. Wait – another person with daddy-issues? We’re beginning to see a pattern here…

We’re slightly ashamed we haven’t seen Rebel Without a Cause until now, because we get what all the fuss (or fuzz?) is about. If you’re as behind on the times as us, we recommend you delay it no longer. It’s definitely worth the watch, and it does not seem outdated at all; even if the methods of kids’ rebellions might have changed a bit with the times, their causes are still present.

What we learned: Listen to your kids. And take responsibility for them.

Next time: Rififi/Du rififi chez les hommes (1955)