60 Years Ago

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Photo Credit: West Side Story: © 2002 TCM

By Ryan A. Berenz, ReMIND Magazine

Two culturally significant films from 1961 celebrate their 60th birthdays with new incarnations in 2021.

West Side Story is an adaptation of the 1957 Broadway stage production, which itself is an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Maria (Natalie Wood) and Tony (Richard Beymer) are two star-crossed lovers on opposing sides in the feud between New York City gangs the Sharks and the Jets. Unforgettable tunes by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim include “America,” “Maria,” “I Feel Pretty,” “Somewhere” and “Tonight.” The film cleaned house at the Academy Awards, winning 10 Oscars including Best Picture (Robert Wise), Best Supporting Actress (Rita Moreno), Best Supporting Actor (George Chakiris) and Best Director (Wise shared the award with Jerome Robbins). Director Steven Spielberg is behind an updated version of West Side Story, starring Ansel Elgort (Baby Driver) and YouTuber Rachel Zegler, which will be released in December.

Disney’s animated One Hundred and One Dalmatians is based on a 1956 book by Dodie Smith. The story follows pooches Pongo and Perdita, and their owners, Roger and Anita, as they embark on a mission through London to save Dalmatian pups from being turned into fur coats by the nefarious Cruella de Vil. The film’s most memorable tune is the bluesy “Cruella de Vil,” with lyrics and music by frequent Disney composer Mel Leven. Over the decades since, Dalmatians has remained a viable franchise for the Mouse House. Glenn Close played Cruella in the 1996 live-action film 101 Dalmatians and its 2000 sequel 102 Dalmatians. Emma Stone stars as the villainess in the origin story Cruella, released in May.

Other classics from ’61 include The Guns of Navarone, a World War II flick starring Gregory Peck and Anthony Quinn; historical epic El Cid, starring Charlton Heston; Disney hits The Absent-Minded Professor, The Parent Trap and Babes in Toyland; art-house favorite La Dolce Vita, directed by Federico Fellini; musical comedy Blue Hawaii, starring Elvis Presley; and Breakfast at Tiffany’s, featuring the inimitable Audrey Hepburn and the Henry Mancini/Johnny Mercer earworm “Moon River.”