This had originally not been on my 1980's movie list, but I found it in the $3.00 bin at Wal-Mart and saw that it had Patrick Swayze in it, so, having no idea what it was about, I picked it up. This is also another 80's film (along with The Lost Boys, Dirty Dancing, Red Dawn and Young Guns) that has had a great cult following behind it and for two primary reasons. One, the book (written by a seventeen year old student in 1967) caused a great deal of controversy throughout America because it gave a look into the lives of greaser gangs from the other side of the tracks and therefore dealt with violence, fighting and killing. Two, the movie was an unexpected platform for young, unknown actors who would eventually become some of the biggest names in Hollywood.
In 1966, Tulsa, Oklahoma, the youth are divided into two categories. The Southside Socs' (as is social), the rich kids, and the Northside Greasers', the poor kids from the rough part of town who are known for their trouble making. Ponyboy Curtis is a 14 year old greaser whose whole life seems to be crumbling around him. After his parents were killed in a car accident, he and his two older brothers, Darryl and Sodapop, are under heavy watch from the state. One wrong move from any of them and the state will take Pony and and Soda away from Darryl, and put them in a boys home. This causes a great deal of strife between Ponyboy and his oldest brother who can never see eye to eye on anything.
Life as a greaser is not easy, however the greasers in Ponyboy's neighborhood are a tight group and see themselves as a family. They look out for each other, defend one another and would even kill for one another. And that's exactly what happens one night when Ponyboy and his best friend Johnny are attacked by a group of Socs'. In an effort to save his friend, Johnny kills the leader of the Soc gang and then he and Ponyboy must make a run for it, with the help of Dallas Winston, a tough New Yorker (more delinquent than greaser) with a police record and the skills to survive.
Afterwards, Ponyboy's already complicated life gets an even bigger shake-up and Johnny's actions soon set off a chain of events in the worlds of both greasers and socs.' And in which no one will ever be the same again.
My dad said this was one of his favorite books in school because he could relate so well to the greasers and how S.E. Hinton made theses characters so real and understandable. In the story, there is a great deal of fairness on both sides. No one is entirely bad, but no one is entirely good. This is brought up by Sherry or "Cherry" Valance, a beautiful, kind, but strong willed Soc who takes an immediate liking to Ponyboy and tells him that life is tough on all sides, rich or poor, soc or greaser. And she was right. It's not easy to live under a stereotype and just to be grouped with everyone else and every person in this story knows that.
(See my movie review for Rebel Without a Cause which looks at life from the Socs' POV and the difficulty the rich kids had in their own private lives).
What I also found interesting is that this story takes place a year after America enters into Vietnam. So, in a couple of years, these boys are probably going to end up drafted into service. Suddenly the lines between greasers and socs disappears and all of these boys who fought for 'their neighborhood territory' are going to wear the same uniform and fight together for their country. You begin to realize how pointless and petty their teenage rivalry was and how it was just a waste of time and young life.
I really love the movie! It was simple, but spoke a powerful message of how stereotyping and making quick judgement calls can be detrimental to anyone. Growing up in a violent neighborhood myself, I saw from an early age that not everyone was the same, even though we lived on the same street. So, I could really relate to this film in many ways . It was also great seeing all of these young unknown actors at the time getting their first start in the film industry! A simple film with a good message that was powerful in its storytelling of the wars we make for ourselves, but also of the unexpected goodness that can come from sacrifice and compassion.