The Outsiders (1983) [The Complete Novel (aka the “Director’s Cut”)]

For the first time in the mass of reviews I’ve done since I started doing them, yes, I did in fact read the book. Unfortunately, I read the book about 10 years ago for class. It was voluntary (sort of, it was out of a list, and I picked it, curiously enough) but it was still for class and still 10 years ago. I have also only seen the original cut of the film once, and it was over 2 years ago. So, this is pretty fresh viewing for me, and I can’t accurately compare it to my previous experience, so it’s going to end up just as lacking in comparison to previous incarnations as usual (but probably continuing to have completely “Huh?”-inducing illogical comparisons).

The Outsiders is Francis Ford Coppola’s adaptation of S.E. Hinton’s classic novel, one which he made essentially because a classroom voted for him to do it and he was touched. Hey, no complaints here. Ponyboy Curtis, the character the book centers on, is here played by C. Thomas Howell, who I am forever stuck associating with the disturbing Soul Man, even though I haven’t seen it. He is the youngest of three brothers–the others being Darry (Patrick Swayze) and Sodapop (Rob Lowe)–who live with each other and no one else after the deaths of their parents. They live on the North side of town (a change from the East/West dynamic of the novel, but supposedly the original and true separation) and are thus “greasers,” along with their friends Dally (Matt Dillon), Two-Bit (Emilio Estevez), Johnny Cade* (Ralph Macchio, yes, the Karate Kid) and Steve Randle (Tom Cruise). The counterpoint to the greasers are the “socs” (for the life of me I had no idea what that was when I read it, pronouncing it “sock” in my head, as I never connected it to “social,” and thinking it sounded awfully awkward–and that’s probably the one thing I DO remember from the viewing of the first movie, is hearing that it was indeed “sosh”) who are the south-side residents, all with more money than the poor greasers, and in conflict over this and the inevitable ridiculous delineations that humans are bound and determined to make.

The story is essentially the introduction of Ponyboy to the harshness of the world as it is, the reader (or in this case, viewer) being introduced to the world of greasers and socs, and the introduction of an element of hope, dissatisfaction with conflict and idealism. Ponyboy and Johnny, as the youngest of the greasers we meet, are constantly harassed by the older socs, who all have the money to drive “tough” cars (ie, Mustangs generally) around and thus can catch up to them and also drive off quickly. They conflict most heavily when Ponyboy and Johnny run across Cherry (Diane Lane) and her friend at the drive-in theatre, the girlfriends of socs. The drunken socs–including Bob, played by Leif Garrett–do not take kindly to the friendly feelings the girls have toward the two young “delinquents,” (OK, they do carry blades and smoke constantly…) and start a fight in the park. Tragedy strikes and Ponyboy and Johnny are forced to skip town.

The most important acting appearance here in my book is the brief and early appearance of one Tom Waits. Yeah, that Tom Waits, as Buck Merrill, who brings Dally to the two distraught youths when they find themselves in trouble. But seriously, it’s interesting to see the early appearances of so many actors who went on to more. Not always much more (Macchio, Howell–I’m looking at you two) and in no cases their very first appearance, but all are ridiculously young. Tom had yet to get his teeth fixed, a massive gap between his front incisors making him a little more like a real person than he is these days. They’re all a little shaky, though considering their ages (Macchio and Swayze the oldest, with Macchio only 20) it’s nothing that can’t be set aside, and almost helps with the naïveté they are conveying as these youthful characters anyway.

Again, I can’t remember the book perfectly, and certainly I thought the incident in the park was more important in terms of the time taken up or its place in the chronology than it ended up here, but that may have been selective memory taking the event that most made an impression on me and assuming that impression was a natural result of the reading, not a reorganization by my brain. Still, I do feel that, as best I recall, this thoroughly captures the book, and I’m certainly glad to have seen an edition that contains so much more footage, especially of the group of friends that allows them to be established before they are “used” in a scene. It certainly helps a lot with my positive feelings about Coppola after the 70s, when he became a little more hit-or-miss and eventually mostly just a producer with questionable taste.

I was wary of the newly rockabillified soundtrack that I had heard rumoured for the film, but it was actually extremely fitting and did not intrude at all–but, again, this isn’t something ingrained in my memory already, so that may just be me. It felt just absolutely right to me though, even if occasionally I wondered if the music was anachronistically prescient.

*Gosh, somehow that name makes me think of Mack Cade in Robert R. McCammon’s Stinger, which is my bizarre youthful association for “coming of age” in my own life. That’s random and probably almost anyone who reads this will have no earthly clue what that book is, and will wonder what the hell I’m talking about. Alas, the book is “out of stock indefinitely” with the publisher, but easy to pick up cheap–I highly recommend it if you like strong characters and have a stomach for gore and violence, as well as science fiction elements. It’s hard to mention those things and convey the depth of the characterization in the book, but oh well. Gosh, I’m wildly off topic…footnote it is!


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