WASHINGTON — In the eternal battle of the Sharks & Jets, a hierarchy forms.
So let’s begin the official Jet/Shark Power Rankings by recognizing that the early 1960s was not the best time for Hispanic character development on film. Thus, outside of the leads with basic plot functions (Tony, Bernardo, Riff & Chino), most of the memories that stick with you from “West Side Story” are weighted more toward the Jets than the Sharks. They even have “Cool” and “Officer Krupke,” while the Sharks have to share “America” with Anita — nobody upstages Rita Moreno.
In addition, the transfer from stage to screen robbed the Sharks of distinctive names “Anxious” and “Nibbles,” replacing them with “Rocco” and “Del Campo.” A Sharks gang with Anxious and Nibbles is far more interesting. Be that as it may, it’s time for the (unofficial) Sharks & Jets power rankings.
Didn’t Make the Cut. We begin by separating the chaff from the wheat. With apologies to Snow Boy, Tiger, Joy Boy, Big Deal, Mouthpiece, Juano, Loco, Rocco, Luis, Toro, Del Campo and Chile, none of you really register in the big picture. You were brought into the Jets and Sharks as junior associates to fill out the lower-level tasks and provide depth in chorus and dance sequences. Gang warfare in New York can’t exist without you. But you have no business being anywhere near the top ten.
Dishonorable Mention: Baby John. This is the clown who incites this whole thing by painting “Sharks stink.” He gets caught (big surprise) and beaten to a pulp by the Sharks, only to set the bar low throughout the film as the “not ready for prime time Jet.” Couldn’t there be a “Junior Jets” to join?
10. Tony. Lukewarm Tony helped start the Jets and then wants nothing to do with it — until he intrudes on the war council. Then he elects to interfere in the fair fight, helping things escalate to the point where two people die. And he sang “Something’s Coming” early on? Something indeed…
9. A-Rab. Look closely. How did Neil Patrick Harris time travel back to 1961 to appear in a movie musical? And if you were to time travel, wouldn’t you go for at least the second lead?
8. Indio. Also known as the funny one in the script, Indio holds his own as a dancer in Bernardo’s crew, which is no small feat. He is also the one shouting for Bernardo to run after Riff’s stabbing.
7. Action. Way too much bluster. We get it, you’ve been drinking coffee for the last four hours and need to blow off steam. But you’re 5-foot-3. Are you supposed to be threatening in any way? Bonus points for a sense of humor, shown when he played the psychologist in “Officer Krupke.”
6. Chino. Devoted and polite in a rough world. He’s the one — not Anita or Maria’s parents — who has to break the news of Bernardo’s death to his sister. He sets goals and reaches them, even if that goal was to kill Tony. Twenty-five years in Sing Sing hopefully will help.
5. Anybody’s. Tough to be a tom-boy in ’61. The girl who joins the Jets doesn’t have the necessary Y chromosome but still manages to almost save the day by finding Tony. She created a role for herself by sneaking around the shadows, earning the respect of interim leader Ice. You done right, buddy boy.
4. Bernardo. The guy came a long way from the youth who got jumped his first day in New York. Building a gang from scratch in a competitive landscape is no easy task. He recognizes the disadvantages his crew faces and has built the Sharks into a worthy rival. The guy can also dance up a freaking storm, and if you can keep Anita (Rita Moreno) happy, you’re definitely bringing the goods.
3. Riff. Engaging and charming even though he leads a group of hoodlums. The guy’s smile makes you want to sign up immediately. He knows the Jet heritage full well. Riff might not be the best dancer, but all of his flipping around counts for something. And he’s loyal to a fault to a Tony who doesn’t even want to be in the gang anymore. That loyalty would prove to be his undoing.
2. Pepe. Bernardo’s cool lieutenant. He’s the first one to join the Sharks. Pepe knows that taking the rumble to the river is a potential strategic disaster. He also knows to chime in at the just the right moment during the America sequence (“You came with your mouth open”). Pepe dreams of returning to San Juan in a Cadillac. I’m confident he did…
1. Ice. He’s the Jets’ best fighter. He’s Riff’s silent second in command — and knows not to agree to a rumble at the park. More than just fists, Ice is cool. He also knows the only way they’re going to get through this bloodshed is to “be cool.” Not to mention, Ice is the only one with the foresight to recognize Anybody’s ability to sneak between the shadows. We’ll be in back of you, boy…
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