Rope of Silicon Movie Club

Rope of Silicon Movie Club: 'The Outsiders' (1983)

There's gotta be someplace with just ordinary people

C. Thomas Howell and Ralph Macchio in The Outsiders
C. Thomas Howell and Ralph Macchio in The Outsiders
Photo: Warner Bros.

In 1983, Francis Ford Coppola had plenty of greatness under his belt from The Godfather, The Conversation, The Godfather: Part II and Apocalypse Now, but some may say 1982's One from the Heart was the beginning of the end... at least the end of the Coppola we came to know in the '70s.

Sure, The Godfather: Part III saw seven Oscar nominations, but ask anyone and they're sure to point it out as the weakest of the trilogy by a mile. Films such as Peggy Sue Got Married, Dracula and even The Rainmaker aren't half-bad and I'll happily admit to loving 90% of Tetro, but the Coppola star doesn't shine as it once did.

Such a situation can result in films being forgotten, overlooked and never revisited again. The lack of appreciation for the last 30 years of Coppola's directorial career has allowed me to easily avoid -- wrongly or not -- several of his films from that era including Rumble Fish, Tucker: The Man and His Dream and Jack.

Another of those films I had never seen was his 1983 effort The Outsiders, an adaptation of S.E. Hinton's novel (buy it here) and a film that stars more recognizable names than you could imagine, all at the earliest of stages in their careers. Names such as Matt Dillon, Ralph Macchio, C. Thomas Howell, Patrick Swayze, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, Tom Cruise, Diane Lane, Leif Garrett and Tom Waits. The 30 year anniversary and that crop of names is exactly why I chose to finally give The Outsiders a watch.

Coppola has referred to the film as "a Gone With the Wind for 14-year-old girls" and the image at the top of this post wouldn't have you think of anything else. Rob Lowe even mentions the numerous times Coppola would have them watch the film in the audio commentary on the "Complete Novel" edition of the DVD.

Personally, I'm not sure what I make of Coppola's description of the film as it would almost seem condescending to his own work, or limiting in some way. After watching it I wouldn't say it's a film that struck me as being particularly "good", but it does bat around themes that will never go out of fashion, in this instance the titular outsiders being the lower-class "Greasers" who are forced to stand up for themselves against the mid-to-upper class "Socs" (pronounced So-shs). Battles such as this -- be they class, religious, race, etc. -- have raged on for years so there is no end to the metaphorical position these characters are placed in.

Emilio Estevez in The Outsiders
Emilio Estevez in The Outsiders
Photo: Warner Bros.

For as tough as the Greasers make themselves out to be, it's quite apparent they are all kids at heart. Some, such as Patrick Swayze's character, an older brother forced to give up on his life to take care of his two younger brothers (Rob Lowe and C. Thomas Howell) after their parents died in a car crash, or Emilio Estevez as Two-Bit, whom we see wearing a Mickey Mouse shirt as he grabs a huge plate of chocolate cake and a bottle of Budweiser and sits down on the carpet to watch cartoons.

On the other side of the fence are the Socs, who seem to be fighting a war they themselves don't understand as much as they feel obligated to maintain their standing in life by beating on those on the lower end of the social strata than they. Things get complicated when any one of them dare cross those social lines as any co-mingling of the classes is considered almost barbaric by the Socs and impossible by the Greasers as we see Two-Bit toss away a phone number he was given by one such "Soc", claiming it was probably fake anyway. Was it?

The performances in the film are largely underwhelming, but I found C. Thomas Howell, Rob Lowe and Ralph Macchio to be the strongest of the bunch. Both Howell and Lowe managed to keep their performances in check, allowing their faces to tell most of the story when they weren't asked to utter expository lines that did little more than stop the film in its tracks and force it to sputter to a start all over again.

Ralph Macchio in The Outsiders
Ralph Macchio in The Outsiders
Photo: Warner Bros.

As for Macchio, he's given a lot of weight to carry in the film, but most of his effect comes from his sad dog eyes and hanging lower lip. As Johnny, his character is the saddest to watch as he seems the most hopeful there is something better than the existence he lives in, where is parents are constantly fighting and a beating from his father is welcomed simply because it comes as an acknowledgment of his existence. He dreams of a place where there are no Greasers or Socs, only people and it's an optimistic approach to believe there is anywhere in this world that the whole of society would respect people as people, but his optimism is something to hold on to.

In preparation for this week's edition of the Movie Club, I watched both the theatrical cut and 2005's "Complete Novel" edition, which added an additional 22 minutes of footage. The latter I found to be the superior cut thought Coppola's musical decisions were terribly unwelcomed. The extended cut, however, is not all roses. The additional footage at the beginning is extremely beneficial to the story, but the tacked on footage at the end is just that, tacked on and unnecessary.

Overall I can see how this may have been overlooked back in '83, but I don't think it's a film to be forgotten. I'd actually love to see someone tackle this material again, though it depends greatly on getting a talented young cast together to pull off a film that requires some weighty performances.

RopeofSilicon Movie Club: The Outsiders (1983)
Photo: Warner Bros.


The rules are simple and, if necessary, will update as we go along.

  1. No topic is off limits as long as it pertains to the movie of the week or comes as a natural progression of the conversation.
  2. Keep your comments to a reasonable length. I know the urge to write a lot at once is there, but try to rein it in and get out one thought at a time. That way the conversation will move more fluidly and make sure none of your thoughts are overlooked.
  3. NO BULLYING: This is important, while you are free to disagree, do so in a mature manner. Hopefully I won't have to explain that any further.
  4. Suggestions for future Movie Club titles must be emailed to Comments on actual Movie Club articles pertaining to future discussions and not the film being discussed will be deleted to make sure we remain on topic.

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  • Corbin

    Overall, I liked it. It did feel a bit rushed, but enjoyable nonetheless. I do have to ask you, Brad, why didn't you like Matt Dillon in the movie? I thought he did a very good job. Also, a qualm I had with the movie was that in the beginning, it seemed that Diane Lane was going to play a big part in the movie, but then she disappears and only reappears for what seems like the sake of continuity, and I was wondering if anybody else had that problem.

    • Brad Brevet

      Dillon's performance was... fine, but many times just too forced. It was the opposite of what I enjoyed about Lowe and Howell's performances.

      • Corbin

        Oh. Ok. I can understand that, but I respectfully disagree. I do agree with you on Howell's performance, though.

  • Kessler

    I think we are largely in agreement on this one. I was able to watch both versions and also found The Complete Novel to be the superior one. The Complete Novel does a much better job of introducing the characters and getting to know them better than in the original one. I'm confused as to why they cut out all those scenes in the first place. From what I've read, it's because the studio was afraid it would be too long, but even with the additional footage it's only about two hours. That doesn't make sense to me. And I was still left wanting more after watching the extended version.

    The performances are fine. I thought Ralph Maccio was pretty good in both versions and Rob Lowe was pretty good in the extended. I didn't think much of C. Thomas Howell, but he was fine for the role. Everyone else didn't have a lot to work with. After watching the extended version, I felt like I knew Pony Boy and his life at home better than I did in the original. I also liked how they explored Ralph Maccio's character and how he felt about killing one of the Socs. That was very interesting and I wished that they focused more on his character. The way he dealt with murder and his life at home with his alcoholic mother are very compelling subjects.

    Like I said above, the rest of the cast didn't have that much to do. I found Diane Lane's character to be pointless in the original, but she's a tiny bit better in the extended version. Matt Dillon was a problem for me because I didn't really care about him. His character is under-developed and when he gets killed, you don't really feel anything. It's like, "Alright, I guess he's dead now." I felt sad when Ralph Maccio died, but felt nothing for Dillon.

    The Complete Novel is the one you should watch if you wanted to see it, but those music choices are just so out of place and unnecessary. Overall, I can't say that it's bad but it isn't very good either. It feels like there is a lot more to explore than what Coppola did in both versions.

  • RagingTaxiDriver

    Really disappointed that I wasn't able to participate in this month's discussion. But I'm still interested in what everyone else's input.

  • Winchester

    I wasn't able to get it sent to me in time, unfortunately. Maybe catch it down the line.

  • IngmarTheBergman

    Nope. I did not like this film. I was so annoyed be the mediocre acting and false depiction of 'teenagerhood'. This film annoyed the hell out of me. The only redeeming quality was probably the fact that we could point out a bunch of actors who would go onto be big.

  • Timothy

    I did not like this film at all, it was cliched, overblown and actually kind of boring. In preparation, I read the novel, and I didn't like it, but I like this film less. I really enjoy Coppola's 70s period, but if this film is any indication of his other work, then I'd probably want to stick with that period of time. It isn't really the fault of the actors, I found the characters to be mainly bland. I guess you could call Howell and Macchio the leads, but I found Rob Lowe to be really interesting. I would have liked to explore his character more than any others, but maybe he's rubbing off on me from The West Wing.

    However, I thought that there were way too many cliches for the film's own good. It just felt recycled, and I am not sure if anyone else recognized this but Diane lane's line readings were awful. I like her as an actress, but I thought she was really bad here. I kind of understood where Coppola was going from the opening credits, with the giant Gone With the Wind like title scroll coming across the screen and Stevie Wonder singing in the background. I can understand why Coppola would try and give this an "epic" feel, but i think it would have benefited from a more of an intimate focus.

    Had Coppola focused more on his characters than his story, it probably would have been a better movie. It also felt kind of juvenile in it's telling, which is also similar to the novel, with the main difference being that the novel was written by a fifteen year old girl, which kind of explains that. However, the film was directed by a man in his 30s. It could have been much better. I only saw the original cut, so i can't comment on the extended cut, but from what i saw I can safely say that this is not a good movie.

  • Mikey

    I only saw the original cut. I thought this movie was sorely missing one thing in particular: subtlety. Too often the characters explain what is happening around them or how they're feeling. A couple times during the movie (especially with Macchio) an actor would give a look or handle himself in such a way that I was able to get a pretty good grasp on what was going on in that character's head, only moments later to have that character explain exactly how he's feeling. As such, even when the performances were good, the characters came off as bland.

    Overall this movie felt like it was made by someone who remembers the feeling of being a teenager without remembering what it was actually like to be one. Coppola is going for the right tone and he hits on some good themes, but nothing ever seems fully realized.

    Also one more thing. Brad mentioned he'd like to see this get remade today, albeit with a talented cast. Who would you all cast in the various roles? I thought about it for a while and couldn't come up with anything satisfactory.

  • Driver

    I really enjoyed this film and I could consider it as one of Coppola's forgotten but good films, cause you can't deliver a "Godfather" or an "Apocalypse Now" every time, this is a really enjoyably film that got passed by just because it wasn´t as good as Coppola's best.

    The first thing I'll say about "The Outsiders" is that it's got a great young cast, one that you can't get today. I'm talking good as teens go. You've got a lot of dramatic roles in here and everyone does a more than decent job with every character. The best for me were Patrick Swayze and Matt Dillon, this last one specially, as he plays a role he rarely gets nowadays.

    The story was kind of familiar but it works because you get to know those characters, everyone is fleshed out, well, except Tom Cruise who doesn't get to do much in the whole movie. Now I realize that I bought the extended version because of the 110 min running time so I personally founded most characters well developed, actually, I think the original version, with a 90 min running time, has to be much worse on that point, being that I wouldn't cut a lot in the extended version, its well paced.

    I didn't like the edition on some points, the music and specially some songs were all over the place, maybe that's a problem only on this version but still. And as a last point, I have to say something about the ending shots which are great, though I would've cut before showing the outside of the theater cause those opening doors were a much cooler way to end the movie.

    I bought the film as a blind buy when this month's movie was announced, and I'm glad, cause is a good addition to my collection. I'm also glad that I got the complete novel version, since the original sounds a bit too rushed.

    I should say, that as much as I like it, its a film that doesn't bring a lot of conversation, I'm putting this out there as a suggestion for future movie club installments.

  • ishar kar

    I think the film was decent and off-course cannot in any way be compared to the golden period of Coppola. Though as I read that the book was written by Hinton when she was a teenager, the portrayal of the teenagers in the film comes out mostly well, as compared to other such coming of age movies.

  • andyluvsfilms

    i haven't had time to re-watch this one but as a side note Rob Lowe's excellent book 'stories i only tell my friends' really goes into his experience of getting the role and working on this film

  • Jarrett Leahy

    For me, it felt like a typical cheesy 80's nostalgia flick. A film, despite the acting talent & Coppola name attached to it, just doesn't stand the test of time. Angst ridden with a below average script, The Outsiders has a similar vibe to American Graffiti & Diner, two other movies I found to be overly romantic to a time period that didn't deserve the adoration.

  • Travis

    Long time reader, first time commenter:

    I have not seen it in recent years, and for a bit of time, forgot the entire story existed until I found my copy of the book and remembered loving it about 6 years ago. I do remember all of my thoughts on the subject.

    I only watched The Complete Novel, which is weird for me. My rule is always watch the way the film was originally released unless it needs to be seen as a specific cut (for example, Blade Runner must be the Intended Cut; however, Alien must be watched as the Theatrical Version). I just liked the novel and wanted to see how it was done in its entirety.

    I'll just take my hate now. I've never cared for Francis Ford Coppola. I just haven't. I thought Godfather was good, and I enjoy watching it, but I don't think it was even the best film of its year, let alone all time. I have not seen the second one or The Conversation, and I thought Apocalypse Now (a film I watched as the Theatrical Cut) was fine, loving the first hour, but then thinking it began to drag, and after the napalm line I didn't care until the beautiful shot where he passes through the "white gate." Godfather Part III I have only seen Sophia Coppola's death (her death is hilarious, and her acting is atrocious). I also saw Dracula, which was beautiful in terms of art direction, but was not a good movie (plus he casted Keanu, which deserves derision from the get go)

    I thought all of the performances were fine. I wish Diane Lane had more time. I really liked Matt Dillon and Ralph Macchio. Howell disappointed me as Ponyboy. Rob Lowe was ok, I guess, but he never stood out. I don't remember truly enjoying his acting until his films in the 90s, and of course, The West Wing (although Sam gets on my nerves on occasion, but I never type a paper without listening to Sam and Toby go back and forth).

    I thought the cinematography was gorgeous in the film. That element was my favorite.

    My final thought is that my favorite shot in the film, for completely unintended reasons, is the scene of the gang all walking to the rumble. It is a beautiful shot, but it is also symbolic of the way that all of these actors: Emilio Estevez, Rob Lowe, Patrick Swayze, Tom Cruise, C. Thomas Howell (to a lesser extent), and I believe Ralph Macchio all walking towards their future stardom.

    • Travis

      Oh, and the film was decent. That was where I was going with my comments on Coppola. It was fine for what it was, but Coppola never disappointed me because he never set any standards for me as it is.

  • Criterion10

    I read The Outsiders a few years ago in school, and I remember watching the movie shortly after and not being impressed with it. It felt cheesy and poorly acted. That being said, I did rent this recently with the intention of watching it for Wednesday, but time simply got away from me. Hoping to watch it this weekend and report back with my thoughts.

  • Jennifer

    Like a few other people, I read this book and saw the movie for the first time while in middle school. I was in late high school when I got around to watching it again, and I remember liking the film even more after a second viewing. I watched the film again about a year ago with my mother (her first time seeing it) and I still enjoyed it. I do understand why people believe the acting is forced with some characters but I think Macchio, Howell, and Lowe make up for it.

    I also really like Diane Lane in this film even though she plays a very supporting role. I wish they would have done more with her character, especially in relation to Dillon's Dallas. Oddly enough, I have a hard time watching her scenes because I look kind of freakishly like her when she was a teenager so I feel like I'm watching myself do something I don't remember doing. Even with that, I still enjoyed her in the film.

  • Kimberlesk

    I first saw this film on cable when I was 14 -- and saw it many times over that summer. I loved it and still do. Maybe it's because of the age I was when I first saw it or because of all the actors who continued their careers as I grew up. But I will say that I enjoyed it even more after reading Rob Lowe's book, which spent a few chapters telling about the making of The Outsiders. That made it even more interesting to watch. I guess I just feel really nostalgic for this film. I had the biggest crush on Dallas then. I think the film has held up well through the years.