In the early 1980s, after his "Godfather" films (1972, 1974) and APOCALYPSE NOW (1979), works of epic scale, Francis Ford Coppola began choosing smaller projects like THE OUTSIDERS, based on a popular teenage novel by S.E. Hinton, a teenager herself when it was first published (who makes a cameo appearance as a nurse). Set in Oklahoma of the 1960s, the story hinges on a conflict between the "greasers"--leather-clad poor kids with Elvis-style pompadours--and their affluent high school classmates, the "Socs" (pronounced "soshes"). Hinton's novel was brought to Coppola's attention by a letter from a Fresno, Calif., high school class, asking that he film their favorite novel. More than 20 years (and many letters from young readers bemoaning the absence of their favorite scenes) later, Coppola recut THE OUTSIDERS. He restored footage trimmed from the original theatrical release and replaced much of the lush symphonic score composed by his father, Carmine Coppola, with period-appropriate rock music. This new version was titled THE OUTSIDERS: THE COMPLETE NOVEL, both to differentiate it from the original theatrical release version and to stress its fidelity to Hinton's book.
Dallas Winston (Matt Dillon) leads his rebellious buddies on a succession of typical teenage adventures, from committing petty crimes to flirting with Cherry (Diane Lane), the trophy girlfriend of a hot-tempered soc. But when fellow gang members Johnny Cade (Ralph Macchio) and Ponyboy Curtis (C. Thomas Howell) have a run-in with their moneyed rivals, the stakes are raised. Johnny kills a boy and goes on the run with Ponyboy, hiding out in an abandoned church where they kill time by playing cards and reading Gone With the Wind. Johnny, Ponyboy and Dallas later rescue several school children from the burning building (Johnny's careless smoking started the blaze) and are hailed as heroes, but Johnny is critically injured. Meanwhile, Ponyboy's brothers Darry (Patrick Swayze) — the eldest, who put his own dreams aside to care for his younger brothers after their parents were killed in a car accident— and Sodapop (Rob Lowe), are frantic; the orphaned brothers are at constant risk of being seperated by child welfare authorities. The charismatic Dillon is a believable delinquent and gets solid support from a cast that went on to populate some of the better youth pictures in years to come. Coppola tries to evoke REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, and while his film lacks the emotional conviction and psychological insight of Nicholas Ray's classic work, his grandiose vision pays off in some stunning camerawork.
Among the changes to the 2005 director's version of the film are the inclusion of a long opening sequence that introduces the Curtis brothers as Dally and Sodapop come to Ponyboy's aid as he's attacked by a car-load of Socs, and a sequence in which Sodapop and Ponyboy talk together in bed, which was cut because test audiences were made uncomfortable by what they perceived as homoerotic implications. A trial scene cut to the rhythm of a ticking clock was also restored; it anticipates the percussive rhythms of RUMBLE FISH, Coppola's "art movie for teens;" based on another Hinton novel, it began production two weeks after THE OUTSIDERS wrapped and shared several cast members, notably Dillon. Several of Lowe's scenes were put back as well, including one in which he breaks down after being forced to intercede one time too many in his brothers' squabbling. The new version of the film runs 113 minutes.
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