TALKS WITH HARLEY MCLOUGHLIN: Hitting ‘West Side Story’ right

Written by By Staff Writer Harley Mcloughlin is Travel Editor at CNN When it comes to World War II, it’s probably safe to say that “Annie Hall” is the best loved film about the…

TALKS WITH HARLEY MCLOUGHLIN: Hitting 'West Side Story' right

Written by By Staff Writer

Harley Mcloughlin is Travel Editor at CNN

When it comes to World War II, it’s probably safe to say that “Annie Hall” is the best loved film about the era.

And yet that film, and the other major and iconic films and plays made in the decades that followed, had a weakness; the central character, “Dr. Strangelove,” had a character that resembled more of a lesser Ken Russell.

As a result, Hollywood films often ooze with acrid, unfulfilling wit.

But this is why people like the Hollywood known for “Star Wars” and “Jurassic Park.” They want an adventure that’s more like life.

Not to mention a canny, successful boss (in this case, Harold Lloyd) and a script that understands the human heart.

So when I learned that Steven Spielberg — writer, director and producer of several smash hits — was launching a new film about “West Side Story,” I wasn’t surprised.

I do, however, wonder whether he should rethink the way he intends to tell the story of “West Side Story,” as told by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim in 1957.

The problem is that “West Side Story” originated in “La Rondine” (or “Romeo and Juliet”), a 1958 play that wasn’t written with the familiar trappings of a wildly successful Broadway musical in mind.

It was a fragmented prequel about two feuding groups in northern Italy that saw each try to get the affections of a member of the other group in conflict over a female neighbor. The characters were love triangles built on violent competitive loathing, and the plot repeatedly reached for dark themes such as human desire.

So it could easily get the worse for the Jews, though the Jews ended up in the end — fatally — with girls, as the protagonist Maria is soon to find out.

If Sondheim and Bernstein had gotten their first two theatrical drafts of “West Side Story” straight, they probably could have saved some very expensive rehearsals.

Spielberg is hoping to make “West Side Story” a modern saga of brotherly love — but perhaps he’s going to wind up wasting hundreds of millions of dollars on a losing proposition.

In this episode of True Hollywood Stories, Harley McCloughlin is in the Czech Republic for filming on “Ivan” when the team discovers a man who owes them something. Their film finds new life when a daring trailer shoots them all to death.

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