West Side Story (the 1961 film) in Portsmouth, New Hampshire:

Last Thursday afternoon, I made the scenic drive up from Somerville, MA to Portsmouth, NH, for yet another viewing of the film West Side Story, at the Cinemagic Stadium 10 Theatre, where they showed this particular film as this month’s part of their Cult Classic events.  Leaving Somerville at around 3 o’clock yesterday afternoon,  I arrived in Portsmouth, NH, at around 4:25 in the afternoon, checked into the Quality Inn just a little ways down the road from the theatre where I was to spend the night after the film, and then had a very good seafood dinner at a very nice restaurant nearby, called The DinnerHorn.

As the film didn’t start  until 8:00 p. m., and I had arrived at the restaurant at a little before six, I was able to have a leisurely dinner, and the staffpeople were quite nice, and efficient, as well.  At a little before seven, I drove back up to the movie theatre, which is located in sort of a mall.  It was a very nice, clean theatre, with comfortable aerobic chairs, and stadium-type seating, so that one could look directly at the movie screen and not at the backs of people’s heads, while watching a movie.

The screen was nice and wide, it was somewhat curved/concaved, and it was a somewhat longer, narrow screen than many other movie theatre screens, which made the film West Side Story  stand out even more.  Since they showed a Hi-Def, remastered print of West Side Story, the soundtrack was really pristine, as was the film itself.  Since I never fail to notice at least one or two things that I failed to notice at the last viewing(s) of this particular film,  not only was I  able to notice the various facial expressions and various movements, and the angry, gruff, and frustrated tones of the utterances of the various characters in the film, especially those of the warring Jets and Sharks, but I did notice the various facial expressions and the frustrated, equally gruff and cynical vocal tones of the adults (i. e. Lt. Schrank, Doc, Ofcr. Krupke, and “Glad Hand”), as well.

The Jets  not only looked tougher,  but seemed to act a great deal tougher in this particular print of  West Side Story, and their facial expressions seemed much angrier, as well.  The Jet girls (i. e. Graziella, Velma and Anybodys), seemed to look and act much angrier and tougher, as well.  Graziella’s  expression of rage and angry tone in response to  Action’s question  “What’re we poopin’ around with dumb broads?”, of  “I and Velma ain’t dumb!” was far more noticeable and seemed to stand out more, as well.  Anybodys, too, seemed tougher-looking, and so did her attitudes and  expressions of determination to gain acceptance as an equal by the Jets.  They all seemed more wise-guy-ish, as well.  So did the Sharks, in a way.

The Sharks and their girls, on the other hand,  seemed to be more angry, and more sardonic, as well.  Their expressions seemed to indicate that, as well.  Maria seemed more womanly, in both expressions, movement, and temperament, even though she, too, was quite young.

Among the adults, Doc’s aggravation and frustration with the Jets’ and Sharks’ persistent refusal or inability to be moved into a different direction which they were inevitably headed due to the constant conflict, hatred, and fighting over turf, and the ethnic/racial battles, was clearly more noticeable, as were both Lt. Schrank and Ofcr. Krupke’s gruff voices, tough and bitter attitudes that had developed through years of hard experience, and no-nonsense looks when they, too, tried to deal with the warring Jets and Sharks.  Anita and Bernardo, the prominent couple of the Sharks, seemed more fiery but sardonic, and angry, as well.

Moreover, the voices of the warring Jets and Sharks, as well as the voices of the adults, seemed gruffer, angrier and rougher.

Tony seemed sweet, soft and reformed, but with a little bit of roughness and  toughness left over from his life on the street, and being the founder and leader of a gang (i. e. the Jets).  Although he was in love with Maria and tried to be tender, it often seemed that the old “street” Tony was waiting to come out at some point or other, despite his love for Maria.  Eventually,  it did come out, during the Rumble, when he stabbed Bernardo to death for having stabbed Riff, who Tony clearly had still been quite close to and they still had a brotherly friendship, despite the fact that Tony had stepped away from the Jets.

Nonetheless, there was much gentleness and humor  in West Side Story, as well, as was indicated by Maria’s and Anita’s somewhat playful but serious bantering, when Maria asked Anita to lower the neck of the old white communion dress that Anita was fixing up for Maria to wear to the dance at the Gym that night.   “Listen, with those boys, you can start in dancing and end up praying.” as well as the scene when Riff cries “uncle..Uncle….UNCLE!”, when Tony twists his arm after Riff has made a wisecrack about Tony’s mother (” ‘Cause your ma’s hot for me.”)   The sarcasm and sardonic attitudes and expressions were also quite noticeable in the  America scene.

The various emotions, i. e. the exuberance, the insolence, arrogance, cockiness, sarcasm, hatred, love, romantic scenes, and the gruffness and aggravation and frustration, and the tough need to protect and compete for turf, plus the determination to both keep outsiders off one’s turf, as well as determination of outsiders  to make their presence felt and be allowed onto that same turf.  It was also clear that both the Jets and the Sharks needed their girls to tame them somewhat, as well.   All of that culminated in the War Council that took place between the Jets and Sharks, after the Dance at the Gym, when Bernardo physically roughed up Tony for dancing with Maria.  Tony came in, and, at his insistence, it was to be a “fair” fight, where Bernardo and Ice would duke it out, at the Rumble.

The Officer Krupke  song also deals with the fact that the Jets, as well as the Sharks, also had issues:  lack of parental guidance and love, extreme poverty, drug and alcohol abuse, delinquency, and conflict with the law.

Jets and Sharks, as well as the adults, seemed much rougher, more bitter, and gruffer, as well.

The I Feel Pretty  scene was a scene of exuberance and happiness for Maria, due to her new-found love, Tony, but it’s kind of hard to tell if her girlfriends, who also worked as seamstresses in the Bridal Shop  with her were making fun of Maria due to her acting kind of vain and too exuberant, or are sharing in her happiness.

The One Hand/One Heart  song/scene indicated Tony and Maria’s pledge of love through a mock wedding with the use of the bridal shop mannequins, and showed that the romance was going full swing for awhile.   The pre-Rumble Quintet, in which both gangs threatened each other, with their faces growing dark with fury, was the next step to what would come along—arguments, violence, and then the rattle of death.

The Rumble itself was beautifully done, and the dance steps perfectly accurate and intense.  This was the climax of the story, where everybody would reveal their true selves and would fight out their arguments over territory, as well as cultural and ethnic differences, and the competition for the crumbs left to them by a society that pitted, and still pits poor people against each other.  That was especially true of Tony, who stabbed Bernardo to death in retaliation for his having stabbed his old buddy, Riff.  Tony, I think, revealed his “street” side, when he did that.   Even more revealing was the fact that  he pointed out to Maria,

 “Riff was like my brother, so when Bernardo killed him…”

The Cool  scene/song, on the other hand, was sort of an anticlax of West Side Story,  when Ice, who’d taken over the Jets gang leadership after Riff’s death during the Rumble, admonished the Jets to keep cool, and not to exact any more revenge on the Sharks, especially since Chino was gunning for Tony, and that Tony had come through for the Jets (rather ironically, of course, due to the fact that he’d stabbed Bernardo to death in retaliation for his having killed Riff, his close buddy).

I Have a Love/A Boy Like That, was the sounding of both Maria and Anita about the love that one has (Maria’s love for Tony), and Anita, who’d loved Bernardo, and the warning to Maria on the part of Anita to “stick with your own kind”.  Yet, when Maria and Anita sing  “When love comes so strong, there is no right or wrong”, it meant that Anita had come to (grudgingly) accept Maria and Tony’s romance, although she certainly disapproved of it, openly, when Tony came to see Maria at the Bridal Shop, at closing time the next evening, as had been arranged by Tony and Maria.   That, too, was a very sad part of the movie, as was the part when Tony was shot and killed by Chino.

When Anita tells Maria that  Chino had a gun and was hunting for Tony, that roused Maria’s anger, and, at the excuse that Maria needed aspirin for her headache,  requested Anita to go to Doc’s store to warn Tony, after Schrank had called on Maria and Anita for questioning, and Maria made up a story of having danced with a boy from Puerto Rico named Jose, when Lt. Schrank mentioned that her brother had gotten into a heavy argument the night before, because she’d danced with the wrong guy.

Reluctantly, Anita goes to Doc’s Candy Store to warn Tony (after Anybodys, who’d found him while looking “in and out of the shadows”), who’d been hiding in Doc’s cellar, that Chino was gunning for him.  Action and the other Jets, (except Ice) were there.  They begin to insult Anita and to rough her up, despite her pleas to let her help them protect Tony from Chino, due to their fear that Anita would give away Tony’s hiding place to Chino, and their hatred for her ethnicity and culture.  Anita’s true feelings were revealed when she not only spat out a different message in anger after having been almost raped by the Jets, who were stopped by the sudden arrival of Doc:

“Bernardo was right!   If one of you was bleeding in the street, I’d walk by and spit on you!

and then:


“I’ll give you a message for your American buddy:  You tell that murderer that Maria’s never going to meet  him.  Tell him Chino found about about him (meaning Tony) and Maria, and shot her.  She’s dead!”

Doc’s aggravation and frustration with the Jets was when Doc told the Jets to get out, and slapped Tony for being too excited about Maria and him going out to the country, having lots of kids, and naming them all after him, even the girls, and then telling him about Anita’s message, but he gave Tony some cash, just the same, as he wondered why the kids had to live like there was a war on and kill each other.    Devastated by Anita’s message, Tony goes out into the street, yelling for Chino to “come get him, too!”. as he didn’t want to live any more, after Maria had supposedly been killed.

If West Side Story conveys the message that racial/ethnic hatred has  deleterious consequences,( i. e. gang violence, etc.), with reconciliation being possible despite that,  this classic also carries the message that there’s a bit more to it:  That society has left, and continues to leave the poor people, be they native-born  and/or immigrants, to compete with each other for a small piece of the pie that has been  allocated to them.  It also proves that love, although it can develop amid such conflict, often goes up in smoke, in some way or other.  It was also clear, from the very beginning, that a Rumble was inevitable.  So was the fact that people would die as a result, and that the romance between Tony and Maria would go up in smoke.   Yet, it also proved that love can withstand the test of time, even though the one that a person’s in love with dies as a result of such conflict, or whatever.

Yet, there were hints of possible reconciliation, as well.  What was sad is the fact that Maria felt that she had to succintly point out the fact that the hatred between the Jets and Sharks led nowhere, except death and destruction, through her message of:

“You all killed him (i. e. Tony), and my brother, and Riff!  Not with bullets and guns!  With hate!  Well,   I can kill too, because now I have hate!”

and then pointed Chino’s gun all all of the Jets and Sharks, and helped scare them into at least realizing what they’d done and where they were headed, if one gets the drift.  That, too, was indicated by the fact that several Sharks and Jets came together in the end to carry Tony’s body off, after he’d been shot dead by an angry, jealous Chino (who Maria’s brother, Bernardo, had brought Maria to the Continental United States to marry),  and by the fact that Action gently stepped towards Maria, as well as the fact that Baby-John, the youngest Jets member, gently draped Maria’s black scarf that she wore in mourning of Bernardo’s and Tony’s deaths, over her head and shoulders.

All told, West Side Story is a wonderful story in its own, fleshed out by expert cinematography by the late Daniel Fapp, who won an Academy Award for his cinematography, as well as the beautifully-choreographed dancing by the late Jerome Robbins, and the intensely brilliant musical score by Leonard Bernstein..

It was well worth the drive up to Portsmouth, NH, and the stay at the nice hotel just down the road from the movie theatre, just to see a fabulous movie, and to have a wonderful time.  Although the screening of the film West Side Story didn’t sell out, there was a good crowd, and we all had a great time.


Please note:  This post is also posted at dailykos.com and westsidestore/Livejournal.com.


  1. Hey polm! Long time no. Always happy to hear about West Side Story, it’s a metaphor for all times.

    When you’re a Jet, you’re a Jet all the way
    From your first cigarette to your last dyin’ day.
    When you’re a Jet, let them do what they can,
    You got brothers around, you’re a family man!

    You’re never alone, you’re never disconnected!
    You’re home with your own– when company’s expected,
    You’re well protected!

    Then you are set with a capital J,
    Which you’ll never forget ’till they cart you away.
    When you’re a Jet, you stay
    A Jet!

    And as you know we love cross posts.

      • polm on May 2, 2017 at 00:48

      Hey there, ek hornbook! Thank you for welcoming me back, with the neat WSS Jet Song. Glad to be back here, and that you enjoy hearing about West Side Story. West Side Story is still my all time favorite film, and I never get tired of seeing it over and over again. It’s especially beautiful when it’s seen on a great big, wide movie theatre screen, as it’s really and truly meant to be viewed. One can really appreciate what a true-blue work of art this great, golden oldie but keeper of a classical movie-musical really and truly is. This is not the first time I’ve made a special road trip to a neighboring state to see the film West Side Story, if it’s not playing anywhere in my area, but that’s me.

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