When Francis Ford Coppola made The Outsiders in 1983, he was in the midst of yet another career paradigm shift. Having broke the bank on the gargantuan semi-failures Apocalypse Now and One from the Heart, he turned to adapting a pair of S.E. Hinton novels - which he hyperbolically termed "Camus for kids" - first this one and then Rumble Fish. The Outsiders was relatively cheap, and also brought Coppola back to a kind of human drama that his post-Godfather work had been lacking, the result enrapturing a good number of teens and pre-teens in the 1980s. Coppola can never leave well enough alone, though, and so now we have his new version, The Complete Novel, overall a case in point for directors not being allowed to do this sort of thing.
The original film takes Hinton's spare 1967 novel of young gangs in Tulsa and turns it into grand melodrama, with gorgeous CinemaScope sunsets, sweeping orchestral score, and teen scuffles that take on all the clashing importance of medieval battles. On the crap side of town live the working-class greasers, with their black t-shirts and slicked-back hair, always getting hassled by the socs, preppie bastards with family money and nicer cars. The film centers on the greasers, particularly the sensitive 13-year-old orphan Ponyboy Curtis (C. Thomas Howell) who lives with his older brothers Sodapop (Rob Lowe) and Darrell (Patrick Swayze). The surrogate family hanging around the Curtis' ramshackle house also includes Emilio Estevez and Tom Cruise, while their friend, born-to-lose Dally Winston (Matt Dillon) has just been released from jail. Almost as childlike as Ponyboy is his best friend, Johnny (Ralph Macchio), an angelically bruised kid from a troubled home who provides the film's most emotional moments.
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