It’s now impossible to watch The Outsiders, Coppola’s paean to delinquency and drive-ins, without referencing what’s happened, since, to its cast, a group of young relative unknowns who would bestride the 1980s and, in one or two cases, beyond.
now impossible to watch The Outsiders, Coppola’s paean to delinquency and
drive-ins, without referencing what’s happened, since, to its cast, a group of
young relative unknowns who would bestride the 1980s and, in one or two cases,
There’s Matt Dillon, before Rumblefish
and Drugstore Cowboy; there’s Emilio Estevez, before John Hughes made him a star; there’s Rob Lowe, before St. Elmo’s Fire; there’s Patrick
Swayze, before Dirty Dancing and
Roadhouse; and there’s Tom Cruise, a mere bit part here before
Top Gun took him into the
And there’s C. Thomas Howell, stealing the film from them all. What the hell
happened to C. Thomas Howell? Having already worked with Spielberg on E.T., here he owns a Coppola movie and within a couple of years he would film the
excellent Red Dawn with John Milius. That his biggest hit since
was an Elizabeth Hurley vehicle
tells you everything about this waste of a talent.
But Howell is great in The Outsiders. He plays
Ponyboy Curtis, a poor boy from the wrong side of Tulsa, Oklahoma in the early
1960s. He and his fellow greasers (all the soon-to-be big names) are involved
in the sort of class war that bubbles under in American high schools, with the
right side of the tracks represented by the socs, kids from affluent
backgrounds, including a luminescent Diane
It’s a time of cars and girls, and the
greasers don’t have many of the former and even fewer of the latter.
The territorial pissings, played out at diners
and movie theatres, involve fisticuffs and flick-knives; but then a soc lies
dead at the hands of Johnny Cade (Ralph
Macchio), the closest friend Ponyboy has. Terrified, Ponyboy and Johnny
hide out in an abandoned church, aided and advised by Dallas Winston (Dillon),
a bad-boy jailbird, while the heat dies down.
It’s while the two are holed up that The
Outsiders comes alive.
Johnny and Ponyboy cut their hair and,
shorn of their greaser identities and away from the relentless nihilism of
their dirt-poor existence, they become more lucid, more learned. Here, some of
the dialogue between the two brings to mind Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn.
Coppola makes a connection between two
different versions of Americana – the rock’n’roll era and the time when people
knew how to hop a freight train. Pulling in another part of fabled America, the
two read Gone With The Wind to pass the time, before gazing in awe at a sunset
that looks like fire over Atlanta.
An accidental act of heroism ensures
justice is, eventually, done, at least for Ponyboy and Johnny. Dallas meets
with a different kind of redress.
Re-released on the big screen in 2005, this
is Coppola’s definitive version of The Outsiders. Book-ended with a new opening
and close, it now sticks much closer to its source, a 1967 novel by a teenager
called Susie Hinton. It also boasts
a new soundtrack, with the primitive rock’n’roll of the time replacing Carmine Coppola’s original score.
A relatively brief film by his standards,
The Outsiders may not be as celebrated as Coppola’s Godfather, Apocalypse Now
or The Conversation, but its core
message of youth and identity stand the test of time.