Set on the pulsating, fingersnapping West Side of 1950's-1960's Manhattan, West Side Story is a golden oldie-but-great keeper of a movie/musical classic that's loosely based on Shakespeare's renowned Romeo & Juliet. Love and romance develop between Tony and Maria amid conflict between two warring street gangs; the white European-American Jets, and the newly-arrived Puerto Rican Sharks, who are both competing for the small piece of turf that they're both forced to share. Originally a famous late-1950's Broadway stage musical that opened at NYC's Winter Garden, in late September of 1957, where it ran for two years before making a national tour to other cities here in the United States, West Side Story was made into an equally wonderful and spectacular motion picture after Walter Mirisch bought the rights to the film.
The fiilm West Side Story begins with spectacular aerial shots of NYC's West Side, and gradually comes down on the finger-snapping Jets, who stake out and claim their turf, while playing basketball. The Sharks come upon the scene, and the Jets make efforts to drive them off. Gradually, an afternoon playground melee erupts between the gangs, which is broken up by Lt. Schrank and Ofcr. Krupke.
Back on their turf, the Jets, led by Riff, debate what to do, and decide to challenge Bernardo, the Sharks gangleader, to a rumble. Despite objections by several of the Jets, especially the hot-tempered Action, Riff seeks out his old friend, Tony, the founder and ex-leader of the Jets, to help him out. He goes to Doc's Candy Store where Tony is now working fulltime, and tries to enlist his old friend's help, but to no avail. After being turned down several times by Tony, Riff persuades Tony to meet him and the rest of the Jets at ten o'clock at a dance being held that evening at a local gym. Reluctantly, Tony, who has been looking for something other than gang life and the streets (but doesn't know what he's looking for), agrees.
Meanwhile, Bernardo's fiery, fiesty girlfriend, Anita, and Maria, the attractive 17-year-old sister of Bernardo who has come to the USA to marry Chino, another Shark gang member who's Bernardo's friend and righthand man, who both work as seamstresses at a Bridal Shop, are embroiled in a dispute over whether or not the neckline should be lowered on an old white communion dress that Anita is altering for Maria to wear that night at the dance. Despite Maria's complaints, however, Anita carries on with her work. Maria tries on the dress, loves it, and is excited about going to the dance and starting off as a "young lady of America". The Sharks come to pick up Maria and Anita to take them to the dance.
At the dance, social worker "Glad Hand" attempts a "get-together" dance between the Jets and Sharks, which fails miserably. Both gangs and their girls break apart and go off with their own kind, and the dance quickly turns into a competition between the two gangs. A little later, in comes Tony, who's greeted and embraced by his old friend Riff and his girlfriend, Graziella. Almost immediately afterwards, Tony spots Maria from across the room. They meet, fall in love, and begin dancing together, but are broken up by an enraged Bernardo, who orders Maria to go home. At this point, tensions between the Jets and Sharks, which have been steadily rising, escalate rapidly, and Riff intervenes and demands that Bernardo and the Sharks meet him and the Jets at Doc's Candy Store at midnight for a War Council. Bernardo immediately agrees.
Back home, Bernardo, the Sharks and their girls have a party up on their tenement rooftop, which culminates in an argument between the Sharks and their girls about the virtues and vices of the American experience, and over the fact that Maria had danced with Tony, an ex-Jets member, at the dance that night. Tony, meanwhile, goes to Maria's apartment, and Maria appears on the fire escape. Tony and Maria introduce themselves to each other, and then agree to meet at the Bridal Shop the next evening at six o'clock. At the Bridal Shop the next afternoon, Maria, who is happily anticipating her meeting with Tony, sort of dances around the shop. The other girls who work with her make fun of her for acting so vain.
Shortly before midnight, the Jets and their girls assemble outside Doc's Candy Store to await the arrival of Bernardo and the Sharks. Officer Krupke approaches the Jets, warns them against troublemaking, and then departs. Immediately, the Jets lampoon him. The Jets and their girls enter the Candy Store and the girls are warned to leave when the Sharks arrive, which they do, right at midnight. Anybodys, a tomboy and a sort of Jets "wannabe", tries to make herself invisible, but Riff spots her out and, despite a "let me stay" look, gestures for Anybodys to leave. Unlike the other girls, however, Anybodys shoves a couple of the Sharks like a big tough guy.
Riff, Bernardo, the Jets and the Sharks are seated at the table, and are preparing for the war council, which proceeds, despite pleas from Doc for the boys to talk things out instead of rumbling. Doc leaves, and, after a small dispute between the jets and Sharks that culminates in the exchange of racial and ethnic epitats, the War Council begins. The two leaders, Riff and Bernardo, agree to rumble the next evening after dark, under the highway, and then shake hands to seal the deal.
Just as the two gangs are calling the weapons, in comes Tony, who insists that a "fair" fight, that involves a fist fight between the best man from each gang be fought instead. The "fair fight" is agreed upon, and Riff picks his lieutenant, Ice, to fight Bernardo, despite Bernardo's obvious disappointment that he won't be fighting Tony as he'd hoped to.
Just as the War Council ends, in comes the cantankerous, bitter and bigoted Lt. Schrank. Immediately the Jets and Sharks integrate their seating pattern, to fool Lt. Schrank, who, in turn, pretends to be impressed. Lt. Schrank roughly banishes Bernardo and the Sharks from the Candy Store, and then begins to question the Jets about when and where the rumble will take place. The Jets refuse to answer
Lt. Schrank's questions despite him saying "Look fellas! I'm for you! I want this beat cleaned up and you can do it for me! I'll even lend a hand if it gets rough". Angered by the Jets' evasiveness, Lt. Schrank immediately begins to insult the Jets for their familial and ethnic backgrounds (You and the tinhorn immigrant scum ya come from. How's your old man's d. t.'s, A-Rab? How's the Action on your mother's side of the street, Action?"), indicating that he doesn't like the Jets much better than he likes the Sharks. At this insult, Action, the most hot-tempered troublemaker of the Jets, tries to jump Lt. Schrank, but the rest of the Jets move in to restrain him. At this point, Lt. Schrank, now more angry with the Jets, says "I'll find out where you're gonna rumble! But be sure to finish each other off before I get there! "Cause if ya don't, I will!" , and then slams out of the Candy Store. Tony tells Doc that he's in love and not to worry, but Doc is not reassured.
The next evening is the big evening, which will have very different results for different people. Tony and Maria meet at the Bridal Shop as planned, despite Anita's clear disapproval of Tony and Maria's romance. Anita admonishes Maria to be home in 15 minutes, and then goes home to get ready for a big night out with Bernardo after the rumble. As soon as Anita leaves, Tony and Maria pledge their love by staging a mock wedding through the use of the various mannequins and wedding outfits in the Bridal Shop. At Maria's insistance, Tony reluctantly agrees to go and stop the rumble, which, unfortunately, has disastrous results.
Meanwhile, the Jets and Sharks assemble in their respective territories to get ready for the rumble, and then head over to the designated place under the highway. After some words of encouragements by their respective gangs, Bernardo and Ice begin the "fair" fight. Just as the rumble is getting underway, Tony arrives. Despite Riff's orders for Tony to get with the gang, Tony refuses, gets between Ice and Bernardo, and attempts to shake hands with Bernardo, much to the puzzlement and anger of the Jets.
Enraged at Tony's interest in his sister, Bernardo roughs Tony up, slaps him around, and insults him for his trouble. Despite Riff's warning Bernardo to cease and desist, Bernardo refuses and continues to bait Tony. Losing patience, Riff hauls off and hits Bernardo, and at this point, the two gangleaders begin the knife fight. Just as Riff is about to knife Bernardo, Tony breaks free of Ice and Tiger, who've been holding him back, and tries to stop Riff. At this point, Bernardo moves in and stabs Riff. In a rage, Tony charges forward and knifes Bernardo. Stunned and angered by the killings, the Jets and Sharks briefly engage in battle and then flee the police, leaving the bodies of Riff and Bernardo behind them.
Meanwhile, Tony, in a state of grief and horror over what he's just done, calls out Maria's name, until Anybody's who's been hiding out in the shadows, drags Tony away from danger. The Jets, now led by Ice, who admonishes them to keep cool, hide out in a garage, and Baby-John, the youngest Jets member, who has been moved to tears by the killings and is scorned by Action, is comforted by his buddy, A-Rab, who comes to his defense. A scuffle erupts between Action and A-Rab, until a man residing in an apartment well above the garage roof, angrily throws something on the ground to quiet the Jets. Action immediately picks up a rock, daring the guy who threw the ashtray at them to come down, and Ice immediately orders everybody inside the garage, where they "get Cool".
Bernardo's family learns of his death, as does Anita, and Maria refuses to believe it when Chino comes up to their tenement rooftop, where Maria has been awaiting Tony's arrival, to tell her that there has been a rumble, and that Bernardo has been killed by Tony. She hastens to her bedroom and chants a "Hail Mary', praying that it not be true. Just then, Tony climbs in her bedroom window and lifts her up by the arms. Maria begins beating him, and then swoons. The two of them lie together in Maria's bedroom, but are found out by Anita who knocks on Maria's door. After advising Maria to meet him at Doc's Store so they can elope together to the bus station, Tony escapes through the bedroom window, where is is found by Anybodys, who has been spying around in the shadows, and sends him over to Doc's Candy Store to hide out in the cellar. As Maria opens the bedroom door, Anita immediately realizes what Maria has been up to and berates her for allowing Tony to be interested in her. Anita then warns Maria that Chino is gunning for Tony. Meanwhile, Lt. Schrank stops by and questions Maria and Anita about what happened the night before, and, as protection, Maria tells Lt. Schrank that she'd danced with a Puerto Rican named Jose. At Maria's request and the excuse of a worsening headache, Anita reluctantly goes to Doc's Candy Store to warn Tony about Chino. Unfortunately, however, things turn out badly.
Just as the Jets are assembling out on the street, Anybodys appears, and, despite the exasperation of the Jets by her still hanging around, reports back what she's heard; that Tony is in love with Bernardo's sister, and that Chino is hunting Tony down with a gun to avenge Bernardo's death. After volunteering to search for Tony in different alleyways and streets, and even in the shadows, the Jets then enter Doc's Candy Store, where they all sit and wait.
In comes Anita, who has volunteered to help the Jets protect Tony from Chino. Unfortunately, however, the Jets, spurred on by Action, begin to insult Anita and rough her up for her trouble, as well as for her cultural and ethnic background, despite her efforts to go down to the cellar and warn Tony about Chino. She is then knocked to the floor, and Baby-John is lifted up high by some other Jets and dropped on top of her. At this point, Doc comes in, yelling for the Jets to stop, and Anita slowly gets up. Angered at the humiliation that she'd just suffered at the hands of the Jets, Anita spits out another message; that Chino has found out about Tony and Maria and shot her dead. She then slams out, and Doc, totally exasperated, orders the Jets out of the Candy Store.
Meanwhile, Tony, hiding in the cellar, hears Doc coming downstairs, thinking that it's Maria. After giving Tony some getaway money and then slapping Tony to "wake him up" when he excitedly tells Doc of his and Maria's plans to go out into the country, have lots of kids and nane them all after him, Doc relates the message that Anita has just delivered to Tony. Totally devastated and in disbelief, Tony runs from Doc's cellar to the street, calling for Chino to come get him, too, despite warnings by Anybodys to leave the area.
Maria appears, calling Tony's name, and they come together and embrace. Suddenly, Chino appears and shoots Tony. Maria cradles the dying Tony in her arms, trying to sing him back to life, but he dies in her arms. The Jets and Sharks are about to clash once again, but Maria gets between them and cries out "You all killed him, and my brother, and Riff! Not with bullets and guns, but with hate! Well, I can kill too, because I have hate!" After taking the gun from Chino, aiming it at several Sharks and Jets, and, unable to pull the trigger, she breaks down sobbing. Just as Lt. Schrank approaches, Maria runs back to Tony's body, crying hysterically "Don't you touch him!" Maria then sits like a woman in morning, and Baby-John puts the black scarf over Maria's head. There is a small hint of reconciliation and a ray of hope as several Jets and several Sharks come together to carry Tony's body off, and for at least a fleeting moment, both gangs have found understanding in tragedy.