April 18, 1983 12:00 PM

With 1982’s disappointing One From the Heart behind him, director Francis Ford Coppola appears, at least, to be headed back in the right direction. His latest effort is an enterprising mix of the real and the highly improbable, which is both the film’s blessing and its curse. An adaptation of S.E. Hinton’s novel about misunderstood youth, the film presents a view of mid-’60s Tulsa through its warring street kids: the greasers and the “soc’s” (pronounced “so-shes,” the well-to-do teens from the other side of town). Ensuing relationships are overtly borrowed from the Jets and Sharks, not to mention the Capulets and Montagues. There’s an accidental death, an all-out rumble and two characters who try to step beyond the boundaries set by their comrades. The film focuses on C. Thomas (ET.) Howell, who is impressive as a 14-year-old greaser named Ponyboy. Though the dialogue goes off on florid tangents, especially in corny sequences between Howell and his best friend, played by Ralph (Up the Academy) Macchio, both young actors communicate a certain measure of “gold”—a word used to express the innocence of youth in a Frost poem they refer to. As the lead greaser, Matt Dillon (last seen in 1982’s Tex and upcoming in Rumble Fish, both based on novels by Hinton) brings frustrated anger to the character. The film’s drawbacks include the underuse of Diane (Six Pack) Lane as the soc who befriends Howell, as well as the inappropriately jubilant score composed by Coppola’s father, Carmine. But for those willing to see virtue in its eccentricity, the film seems a strangely refreshing slice of between-the-coasts America. (PG)

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