In the early 1980s, director Francis Ford Coppola fell in love with the young adult novels of S.E. Hinton and did film adaptations of two of them, “The Outsiders” and “Rumble Fish.” Both were about juvenile delinquents coming of age in a small blue collar town in the 1960s.
In 1983, both films were shot back-to-back in the same Oklahoma locations, using most of the same cast. Coppola originally intended on shooting one film, “The Outsiders.”
S.E. Hinton is Susan Eloise Hinton. Her first novel, “The Outsiders”, was written when she was 15, and was published in 1967 when she was 19. She was only barely passing high school English when her novel sold to a major New York publisher.
She chose the pen name “S.E. Hinton” only because she believed that her young male readers wouldn’t be able to identify with a female author writing about a male coming-of-age story.
Her second novel was “That Was Then, This Is Now.” “Rumble Fish”, her third novel, was actually expanded from a short story that she published in the University of Tulsa’s alumni magazine. Her fourth novel, “Tex”, is the last of her young adult novels.
Francis Ford Coppola, the acclaimed director of “The Godfather Trilogy” and “Apocalypse Now”, was coming off a major box office flop and critical disaster, “One from the Heart”, when he decided to make “The Outsiders.” He co-wrote the screenplay with Hinton.
Shooting “Rumble Fish” was done almost as an after-thought. Hinton and Coppola wrote this script together in about two weeks.
The two main characters are two brothers: Rusty James, a young gang leader, and Motorcycle Boy, his older brother and former gang leader. They’re played, respectively, by Matt Dillon and Mickey Rourke. Coppola claimed that he was drawn to the “Rumble Fish” story because of his own relationship with his older brother, August.
Coppola called the film “an art film for teenagers.” Unlike “The Outsiders”, “Rumble Fish” was shot in black in white with the exception of two electric red and blue fighting fish in a tank. Critic Roger Ebert said that “it lays a weird-looking experimental film style on top of a fairly basic story.” Time Magazine called it “Coppola’s professional suicide note to the movie industry.” And it was booed at the New York Film Festival.
Universal pulled “Rumble Fish” out of the theaters only two weeks after its release.
To this day, critics either love or hate the film.