S.E. Hinton's 1967 novel The Outsiders has been a staple of junior high reading classes for years. The story of rival gangs violently protecting their turf continues to resonate with today's young readers. (Just check out the paperback's sales ranking on Amazon.) Francis Coppola's 1983 film version faithfully captures the book's world of alienated teens in the 60s.
Broken homes, smokes, and switchblades make up the lives of Ponyboy Curtis (C. Thomas Howell) and the gang of "greasers" that are his extended family. Caught in the crossfire of a class war with the "socs"--the more affluent teenagers from the north side of town--Ponyboy and Johnny (Ralph Macchio) run away after killing one of the soc leaders (Leif Garrett). But when they save a bunch of children from a fire at an abandoned church, with the help of Matt Dillon's Dallas, the boys can return to town in time for the big rumble.
Although the 60s setting lends the film the look of a teen classic (think Rebel Without a Cause), it eventually cracks under the weight of the melodrama that characterizes such films. One too many characters are lit by a dreamy Technicolor sunrise/sunset, a la Gone With the Wind, and an easy-listening theme song by Stevie Wonder only serves to pile on the schmaltz.
The film, however, does get some things right. The assembled cast is a powerhouse of talent that also includes Patrick Swayze, Diane Lane, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, and Tom Cruise. These young actors are all consistently good in their portrayals of the troubled Oklahoma teens. The movie's message to always retain some sense of child-like wonder is a good sentiment (although, I figure it is more the work of Hinton than Coppola).
Nepotism Alert: Keep an eye out for a young Sophia Lost in Translation Coppola!