Looking Back: The Outsiders (1983/2005/2021)

Break open a new jar of Brylcreem, grab a pack of “cancer sticks” and flip up the collar on your denim jacket. THE OUTSIDERS is back! Francis Ford Coppola’s 1983 cult classic, which was recut by the filmmaker in 2005 (more about that in a moment), has now received the 4K treatment and a cinema re-release, at least here in Hong Kong where the film has never played before.

Set in the mid-1960s, THE OUTSIDERS tells the story of a teen gang that is at odds with a rival gang in a small Oklahoma town. The Greasers are from the poorer, north side while the Socs (which is short for Socials) are from the relatively upscale south. Nevertheless, the kids all go to the same high school. One fateful night, two young Greasers, Ponyboy and Johnny, get into a fight with some of the Socials, resulting in the death of one of the Socs. The boys go into hiding for a few days while their fellow gang members figure out how to keep them out of jail. While on their way home, they happen upon a schoolhouse fire and they decide to run into the wooden building to save some of the children. The boys become the town’s heroes but it comes with a great cost, not just for them but for one of their friends as well.

Though THE OUTSIDERS was a box office hit when it was first released, the film was criticized by fans of the book who took umbrage to the fact that Coppola, who wrote the screenplay along with the book’s author, S.E. Hinton, had removed scenes and chapters. Indeed, the original cut of the film was 114 minutes long but Warner Bros. felt that was too long for audiences and they ordered Coppola to trim it down to a more palatable 91 minutes. In 2005, Coppola reinserted the deleted scenes and tweaked the soundtrack, replacing much of his late father’s, Carmine’s, score with popular music of the 1960s. THE OUTSIDERS: THE COMPLETE NOVEL reached a whole new generation of the book’s fans, of which there are many.

I have to admit I never the saw the film when it first came out. I was at school in Japan at that time so it passed me by. After that, the film was never on my Watch List. Now, having seen the recut and remastered version in a cinema, I can say that my life is complete. Seriously, it’s not a great film with its overuse of expository dialogue (“He’s drunk.”, “He’s got a blade!”, and “A deck of cards.”), its over-emotive performances (sooooo much ACTING and sooooo many tears coming from a bunch of supposedly tough guys) and the notion that a group of V-neck sweater-wearing future bankers would even join a gang. The Math Club seems more likely. It is a landmark film, though, most notably for its young cast, many of whom went on to become Hollywood stars and, in the case of one of them, a superstar. The group included Ralph Macchio (Johnny), Matt Dillon (Dall), Rob Lowe (Sodapop), Patrick Swayze (Darry), Emilio Estevez (Two-Bit), Diane Lane (Cherry), and Tom Cruise (Steve), although Cruise was already well on his way to becoming a household name by that point. TAPS had come out a little over a year before and RISKY BUSINESS was due out a few months after THE OUTSIDERS’ release. Also in the cast was Coppola’s 11-year-old daughter, Sofia, who played the bucktoothed girl who asks the boys for 15 cents. Interestingly, the film’s headliner, C. Thomas Howell (Ponyboy), is the only one of the Greasers who never achieved great fame. The actor, who made his film debut in E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL, was already well known to audiences in 1983 but his career sputtered for many years after that. Over the years, he’s been able to carve out a successful career for himself as a character actor but he hasn’t achieved the same degree of fame that the others have.

If you’ve never seen THE OUTSIDERS or if you’ve only seen the original cut, it’s certainly worth watching this restored and complete version. As G-d is my witness, they don’t make films like this anymore.

THE OUTSIDERS opens in Hong Kong on Thursday (August 25th).

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