The Wanderers (1979)

Directed by Philip Kaufman
Cinematography Michael Chapman

Set against the urban jungle of 1963 New York’s gangland subculture, this coming of age teenage movie is set around the Italian gang the Wanderers. Slight comedy, slight High School angst and every bit entertaining with its classic 1950’s Rock n’ Roll soundtrack such as “Walk Like a Man”, “Big Girls Don’t Cry” by The Four Seasons and “My Boyfriend’s Back” by The Angels. Focusing around a football game where the different gangs play with and against each other, then at its grand finale, come together in a mass of union to defend their honour and their turf. Nostalgic stuff and above all a Rock n’ Roll retrospective on a grand musical era.

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Filming of The Wanderers began in September 1978, most of which occurred in the Bronx. Kaufman said that during filming, “[This] Puerto Rican motorcycle gang came pushing its way through the crowd; wanting to see what was going on”, and “they pushed everyone aside”. They walked away after bumping into van Lidth. The crew also encountered trouble from former members of the “real” Baldies, who complained the film portrayed the Baldies incorrectly, saying: “[The movie] is a lie! This was not a bad neighborhood. There was no crime, no robbery. Murder, yes, but no crime!” Rose Kaufman eventually told them to “fuck off”, which nearly resulted in a brawl between the former gang members, Wahl and several other actors.

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An homage to the end of an era

8/10
Author: Howard Schumann from Vancouver, B.C.
23 February 2004
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Based on a novel by Richard Price, Philip Kaufman’s 1979 film The Wanderers is a surreal comedy about teenage gangs in the Bronx during the sixties that is both a coming of age film and an homage to the end of an era. The film was considered too strange for American audiences but gained popularity in Europe and eventually landed a theatrical re-release in the U.S. in 1996. Set in 1963 just prior to the Kennedy assassination, The Wanderers deals with a group of high school friends who must ward off challenges from rival gangs while coming to grips with the problems of growing up during rapidly changing times.

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The film has great music, an authentic sixty’ish look, colorful characters, and nostalgia for the days when alcohol was the favorite drug and the football field was the only battleground. In the film, ethnic gangs populate the Bronx but there are no guns and no knives. We meet the Wanderers (Italian), the Del Bombers (Black), the Wongs (Asian Kung Fu), and the Fordham Baldies (oversized bald guys). All except the sadistic Ducky Boys who seem to suddenly materialize at the opportune moment, are more like social clubs and do little besides partying and hanging out.

Led by slick, good-looking Richie (Ken Wahl), a pizza parlor employee discovered by Kaufman, and his friend Joey (John Friedrich), The Wanderers have their hands full fighting the Baldies and their 6′ 7”, 400 lb. leader named Terror (Erland van Lidth de Jeude).

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One of their members Turkey (Alan Rosenberg) even crosses over and enlists in the Baldies to keep his gang connections going after graduation but the Baldies comically end up enlisting in the Marines. When newcomer Perry (Tony Ganios) comes to the Wanderers’ rescue during a street brawl, they recruit him for their gang and become confident enough to challenge the Del Bombers to a fight. After an abortive attempt to discuss racism in class ends in a brawl, the stage is set for a rumble but local mobsters channel this energy into a football game. When the Ducky Boys show up, however, the game turns into a free for all. Although there is lots of violence, it is of the comic book variety and never seems quite real.

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The energy never flags throughout The Wanderers and the film is assisted by a great soundtrack that includes many sixties favorites: “Runaround Sue” performed by Dion and other classic oldies such as The Contours’ “Do You Love Me,” the Shirelles’ “Soldier Boy,” and the Surfaris’ “Wipe Out”. Karen Allen plays Nina, Richie’s new crush who competes for his attention with his long time girl friend Despie (Toni Galem), the daughter of a local mobster. One of the best scenes is a hilarious game of strip poker with Nina and Despie that is fixed by Richie and Joey to achieve an inevitable outcome. When Nina, the symbol of the new generation, goes to Folk City to hear Bob Dylan sing “The Times They Are a-Changin”, and the boys watch television accounts of the Kennedy assassination, it is clear something has shifted and their lives will never be the same. For those who lived during this time, The Wanderers will bring back many memories. For others, it is an entertaining but often sad journey back to a time of innocence that now seems so very long ago.

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An Underrated Classic Of Gang Films,Teen Films,Coming of Age films and Cinema.

10/10
Author: jcbutthead86 from United States
13 June 2012

The Wanderers Is one of the most underrated,overlooked movies of all time and a classic of gang films,teen films and coming-of-age films and one of my all time favorite movies.

Based on Richard Price’s novel and set In 1963 Bronx,New York, The Wanderers tells the story of an Italian gang called The Wanderers focusing on three members of the gang Richie(Ken Wahl),the leader of the gang,Joey(John Friedrich),the hyperactive little guy In the gang who lives with an abusive Father and Perry(Tony Ganinos),the gentile giant who’s new In town and joins The Wanderers and Is a neighbor of Joey’s. The three characters along with The Wanderers deal with love, growing up, changing of the times, and rival gangs such as the all-black gang The Del-Bombers, the bald headed gang The Fordham Baldies, an Asian gang called The Wongs and probably the scariest gang of them all The Ducky Boys a group of small guys who are silent,but come in large numbers.

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The Wanderers Is a great film from beginning to end and will stay with you after you watch it because it’s funny,tragic,nostalgic,haunting and unforgettable. The film is funny because of the way it depicts teenage life for The Wanderers in the early 60s,whether it’s picking up girls,going to parties,or getting in fights with other gangs. The music fashions,style and the way the characters act seems true to what was going on at the time and they’re definitely is a realism to it.

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The film is like a great mixture of George Lucas’ American Graffiti,Walter Hill’s The Warriors and Barry Levinson’s Diner all in one. The film also paints a world where every teenager in the Bronx is in a gang and all of the gangs are different by race like the all Italian gang (The Wanderers),a Asian gang(The Wongs) Black gang(The Del-Bombers),Bald gang(The Baldies),a silent gang(The Ducky Boys). The way the gangs are shown in the movie is exaggerated,funny,surreal and at times scary but also unique. The film has an episodic nature where some scenes aren’t connected to one another and sometimes character tend to disappear,but there isn’t a wasted scene in the film and the movie has a great energy and flow.

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Some of the scenes will have meaning and will stick with you after you finish. Like the best Teen films or Coming Of Age films The Wanderers is a film about dealing with the last grasps of being a teenager and facing the tough challenges of being an adult,where the characters face the fact that they’re not going to be teenagers or in a gang forever,or it’s dealing with life teenage and other relationships,parents or an uncertain future. This is one of the reasons why The Wanderers sets itself apart from other gang films. Like American Graffiti,The Wanderers is about the end of the 50s and the beginning of the 60s where the innocence and fun of the late 50s was being replaced by the dark times of the 60s. The characters especially Richie,Joey and Perry know that the times are changing faster than they and they’re is a bunch of powerful moments in the film that give way to the changing of the era’s and will stick with you after the film is over.

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The film moves at a solid pace and at times feels like a 90 minute film than a 117 minute film with great energy and break neck speed. Although The Wanderers is not an Action film they’re a couple of fight scenes in the film that are well done and brutal and add to the greatness of the film. I know people have been comparing The Wanderers and The Warriors and trying to say which film is better,stop comparing them. As someone who owns and loves both films they both shouldn’t be compared,The Wanderers is coming of age Comedy-Drama,The Warriors is an Action film,the only thing they have in common is that they’re both gang films. Both are classic films and shouldn’t be compared. The ending of the film is beautiful,sad,tragic and at the same time optimistic and will make the viewers make up their minds about what happened to the characters. A great ending.

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The whole cast does a great job. Ken Wahl does a great job as Richie,the leader of The Wanderers. John Friedrich is wonderful as the hyperactive Joey. Tony Ganios is wonderful as Perry,the gentle giant who’s new in the neighborhood and becomes a member of The Wanderers. Karen Allen does a great job in her small role as Nina,a girl Richie and Joey meet. Toni Kalem does a fine job as Despie,Richie’s girlfriend. Alan Rosenberg is funny as Wanderers’ weasel Turkey. Jim Youngs does a great job as Buddy,a ladies man. Erland Van Lidth is excellent as Terror leader of The Baldies. Linda Manz is outstanding as PeeWee Terror’s girlfriend. Dolph Sweet gives a memorable performance as Chubby,Despie’s father and a local gangster who helps The Wanderers out when needed. William Andrews frightening and intense as Emilio,Joey’s abusive Father.

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Director Philip Kaufman does a masterful job Directing the film moving the camera when ever he can, never slowing down. Kaufman’s direction gives the film a since of edge and realism and at times creepiness. A year before in 1978 Kaufman directed the great remake Invasion of the Body Snatchers a creepy and terrifying film and Kaufman brings the same terrifying tone in this film with The Ducky Boys scenes.

The soundtrack is amazing with great songs like Walk like a man,Soldier Boy,Baby It’s you,The Wanderer,Stand By Me and many more. The soundtrack greatly fits with the tone of the late 50s and early 60s.

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In final word,if you love Gang films,teen films,Coming of age films and love films like The Warriors,The Outsiders,Rumble Fish and American Graffiti or cinema in general,I highly suggest you see this underrated classic. Highly Recommended. 10/10.

Invasion Of The Body Snatchers

8/10
Author: tieman64 from United Kingdom
14 April 2010
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Philip Kaufman’s “The Wanderers” opens with a couple kissing on a couch. He wants to have sex, but she doesn’t. “You’re a guy,” she says, worried about getting pregnant. “Guy’s don’t have to worry about their reputations!”

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Kaufman undermines her proclamation by immediately cutting to a shot of skinhead gang members gathering on a street corner, “Walk Like A Man” playing on the soundtrack. As the film progresses, Kaufman will use this scene (a horde of gangsters standing outside a military recruiting station, trying to recruit new members of their own) as a jumping off point to delve into such issues as loyalty, sex, racial tension, adolescent swagger and the pros and cons of machismo. In other words, the film is about guy’s worrying about their status and reputations within their own little communities.

More importantly, though, Kaufman takes this theme (male identity under threat) and then builds a sequel to his earlier picture, “Invasion of The Body Snatchers”, creating a film which is more about migration, movements and group formation.

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The film’s two main protagonists are Richie, leader of a gang called the Wanderers, and Joey, a kid with artistic aspirations. As the film unfolds, we watch as the various boys and men of the picture form cliques, join gangs and jump from one group to the next, always seeking the solace and protection that these ready made support-groups offer.

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All these gangs assemble at the end of the film, where they face off on a giant football field. The blacks, the Italians, the Chinese, the mafia, the sons, the fathers, all gather on the field, all in their own little testosterone filled groups, waiting for any excuse to release their rage. When that violent moment comes, however, they target not one another, but a ghostly group of men called “The Duckies”, a seemingly phantasmic gang which Kaufman bathes in smoke and treats as a kind of supernatural force; even oppositional groups join forces to curb anxieties.

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After this multi-gang orgy, in which every creed and race teams up to defeat the spectral “Duckies”, Kaufman undercuts the testosterone and exposes the normalcy of gang life. Scoring sex leads to dull marriages, acting tough leads to dead end jobs in the military, violence and machismo masks weakness and anxieties, gang peer pressure leads to death etc etc. By the film’s end, everyone – despite their macho rebellion – is trapped in a future that’s a conformist, carbon copy of the past. All except Joey, the artist who – like the artist character at the end of George Lucas’ similar film, “American Graffiti” – jumps in a car and skips town.

Don Siegel’s 1956 film, “The Invasion of The Body Snatchers”, dealt with a hostile group of aliens who sought to take over a small Californian town. The film used a “cultural invasion” from outer space to symbolise the annihilation of free personality in contemporary society.

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Kaufman’s 1978 remake, however, saw “cultural invasion” as a blend of what sociologist Robert Park calls “migrations” and “passive movements”. Migration as a mass movement usually entails a certain amount of cultural conquest (economic or political) and assimilation, whereas passive movements represent a more individualised negotiation of cultural boundaries within a society (in Kaufman’s invasion film, the humans have to act like aliens who are themselves acting like humans, in order to survive. IE, conformity is itself a kind of parody of a fake humanity).

In Don Siegel’s film, actor Kevin McCarthy stumbles out onto a rural street and yells “They’re here!”, warning townsfolk of the alien invasion. In Kauffman’s remake, the same Kevin McCarthy finds himself bumbling down a busy urban street, again yelling “They’re here!”

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The relocation of the alien invasion from rural town to urban mega-city marks an important shift. By placing the alien invasion within a metropolitan centre the sharp distinctions between ethnic groups (blacks, Irish, Italian, Japanese, American, Commie etc) are down played while the question of the individual as Other within the large, alienating convolutions of the modern landscape takes precedence. In the modern world, individuality as a means of defining oneself against any number of groups becomes lost within the ubiquitous streamlining of social, ethnic, and religious differences, everyone essentially becoming the same in their differences.

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In Kaufman’s next film, “The Wanderers”, he again has a character yelling “They’re here!”, this time when the virus-like “Duckies” appear. Set against the changing nature of ethnic communities within the Bronx, the racial tensions of the film are resolved not by all the different races battling against one another in order to survive, but in the races “coming together” against an external, seemingly ghostly contaminant. Here it is conformity – the very alien behaviour that the humans rallied against in “Body Snatchers” – that allows the various gangs to band together and fight off the foreign invaders.

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Kauffman stresses that it is the basic values that the different gangs share (codes, morals, symbols, colours, lack of weapons etc), that allow them to identify with one another and band against the invading “Duckies”. The “Duckies” themselves are perhaps a stand in for America’s Vietnamese or foreign enemies, which Kaufman sees as a ghostly sham, a boogie man used to whip up home-grown fear.

Why are the gangs so easily whipped up into fear? Because they all agree on boundaries to define themselves in relationship to other ethnic/racial groups. “The Duckies”, however, refuse to acknowledge these basic values. They, like the aliens from “Body Snatchers”, are an external social force that does not distinguish between race, ethnicity and religion, and are therefore threatening to the supposedly “distinct” and “anti establishment” (ie hypocritical) gangs, solely because of their non conformity.

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Rumble in the Bronx.

8/10
Author: Spikeopath from United Kingdom
7 September 2009

The Wanderers, an Italian street gang in the Bronx 1963, preparing for a rumble with rival gang the Del-Bombers, try to enlist other gangs to help their cause. However, as the times are a changing, The Wanderers and all the other gangs of the city must come to terms with pending adulthood, and, the ending of an era.

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Directed by Phillip Kaufman, this adaptation of Richard Price’s novel stands up as one of the best pictures to deal with gang culture. Laced with crackling adolescent humour, and sublimely sound tracked, The Wanderers triumphs better than most because it captures the time frame perfectly. Encompassing the killing of JFK, and subtly showing (during an hilarious sequence) the enlisting of ignorant youths into the Marines, to be carted off to Vietnam no doubt, The Wanderers has far more to offer than merely angst and high school jinx. The cast are surprisingly strong, Ken Wahl, Karen Allen, Tony Ganios and Erland van Lidth all shine in their respective roles, whilst Kaufman directs with a knowing sense of purpose of the thematics to hand.

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All of which culminates in a quite eerie final third as the deadly Ducky Boys enter the fray. Not quite as serious as The Warriors, which was released the same year, it’s a film that much like this one now feels part of my teen education. The Wanderers is however the smarter picture of the two in terms of substance. The coming together at the finale, the racial harmony bursting out from the screen, is and always should be eternally embraced.

All together now, “I’m the type of guy who will never settle down” 8/10

A Brilliant and (dare I say?) Important Film

10/10
Author: brtndr from United States
19 August 2012

From the very beginning of Philip Kaufman’s “The Wanderers”, you’re immediately transported in an orgasmic explosion of music into New York’s Bronx borough of 1963. Just before the audience is introduced to some of the most original colorful characters in cinematic history, whose personal perceptions of the world are limited to the prism of their ethnocentric gang affiliations that rule their urban jungle environment.

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In contrast to George Lucas’ semi-autobiographical movie ‘American Graffiti’, that re-created his young life filled with hot rods, cruising the main street and drag racing in a small California town in 62′. Philip Kaufman adaptation of Richard Price’s semi-autobiographical novel ‘The Wanderers’ re-creates the atmosphere of the gritty street gang life of Bronx, NY in 1963.

While George Lucas’ American Graffiti enjoyed far more recognition and success than Philip Kaufman’s ‘The Wanderers’ ever did. These two great independent films could serve as bookmarks to one another, with American Graffiti in 1973 being the main inspirational source that launched the whole 50’s & 60’s nostalgic retro entertainment for the rest of the 70’s. While 79’s ‘The Wanderers’ marks the end of the 50’s nostalgia era. With one film about the lives of high school kids in 62′ on the west coast, and the other about the daily lives of high school kids in 63′ on the East coast. Both movies are similar in nostalgic form and independent style, but very different in tone and content.

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Because these two movies are so interconnected to one another, it shouldn’t be any surprise that Philip Kaufman and George Lucas teamed-up to create the story for a little movie called, “Raiders of the Lost Ark” in 1980. Ever heard of it?

While it’s more than likely you’ve already seen ‘American Graffiti’. However, if you haven’t ever seen Philip Kaufman’s “The Wanderers”? Then you definitely want to find it and watch. I assure that you won’t be disappointed.

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It’s truly an independent Philip Kaufman masterpiece, which includes Kaufman’s trademark use of captivating cinematography while the great music of 1963 serves the movie by magnifying the films humor, tragedy, gritty realism, with an occasional touch of the truly bizarre, as we observe the daily lives of the young tough high school gang members of the Bronx in 63′. And, Alan Rosenberg’s portrayal of ‘Turkey’ is one of the most original and uniquely funny, tragic and troubling characters that’s ever been performed for the big screen.

A must see film. A+

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