Director Francis Ford Coppola mishandles this film adaptation of S. E. Hinton’s novel about rival teenage gangs in Oklahoma during the 1960s (no actual time or location is ever established).
The production drips with sentimental slush about poor kids (“greasers”) who are tormented by rich youths (“soc” – pronounced ‘soash’ and short for ‘socialites’).
The relatively simple story – A group of teenagers are trying to grow up before they all kill each other in gang rumbles – is puffed up to the point where it becomes pretentious and confusing.
Their school is divided in half between the “greasers” – a bunch of hoods with hearts of pure gold who torture girls at the drive-in, beat up little kids in vacant lots, and slash tyres – and the “socs,” made up of popular, affluent students with crew cuts, saddle oxfords and football jackets.
The “socs” drive Mustangs and date cheerleaders and make life pretty uncomfortable for the “greasers”. But before you can say Rebel Without a Cause (1955) the youngest greaser kills one of the clean-cut bullies in self-defence and runs away from home with his best friend, a sensitive greaser named Ponyboy.
Ponyboy has a brother named Sodapop, and he’s the kind who sees beauty in clouds and sunsets and reads Gone With the Wind aloud when he’s not rescuing children from burning churches . . .
But society doesn’t care. Lots of kids die before the end, and Coppola even steals a direct line from the Sal Mineo death scene in the aforementioned Rebel (“He’s too young to die, he’s only sixteen”) without a trace of shame.
The movie never stops romanticising that most kids have hearts as soft as peanut butter. while meanwhile the kids kill and cry, kill and cry – while the soundtrack of syrupy, lugubrious strings saws away at fake emotions that are not actually present in the material.
Stephen Burum’s unbearably arty cinematography is busy blotting out the boys in mysterious gangster-movie shadows or cruelly exposing every zit in violent orange holocausts of blinding light like hospital X rays.
Under these hellish circumstances, it’s amazing that Matt Dillon, Rob Lowe, Diane Lane, and C. Thomas Howell manage to turn in decent performances at all.
The Outsiders and Rumble Fish were shot back-to-back in Tulsa.
C Thomas Howell
Francis Ford Coppola