The Wanderers (1979)

Ken Wahl, John Friedrich, Karen Allen, Toni Kalem
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 ...
  • Warner Home Video Company:
  • R Rated:
  • IMDB link IMDB:
  • 04 Jul 1979 Released:
  • 03 Sep 2002 DVD Release:
  • N/A Box office:
  • Richard Price (novel), Rose Kaufman (screenplay), Writer:
  • Philip Kaufman Director:
  • N/A Website:


Intelliegent and surreal10/10

This may appear to be your typical coming-of-age-in-da-Bronx movie, but it actually is a lot more than that. It has a surreal quality in the form of the Duckie Boys, who appear and disappear with equal ease. Of course they are symbolic of the troubled times to come in the 60's. Throughout the issues the film deals with, there are great performances, a killer soundtrack and a real feel for the period. I can't imagine anyone not getting something from viewing this fine movie.
An homage to the end of an era8/10

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. 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). 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.

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.

This film has so much more to it than other 'gang' films of the era. I remember when it came out at the cinema and was unfairly compared to 'The Warriors' which is a very different film (although both have the gangs in New York setting). I love this film as it is witty, funny, sad, and has a dark and stylistic tone. PHILIP KAUFMAN is a great director and really proves it here. The acting is great, and it is interesting that only KAREN ALLEN 'made it' to Hollywood fame and went onto make films like 'Raiders of the Lost Ark', 'Starman', 'Scrooged' and 'Perfect Storm'. What happened to the other actors? This is a 'cult' epic if ever there was one and it seems to have grown in popularity over the years. Deservedly so in my opinion. Timeless and charming - THE WANDERERS are forever!
I Wander at how anyone doesn't like this movie5/10

Philip Kaufman is a great director (true some of his films are not my cup of tea, so to speak, such as "Quills" & "the Unbearable Lightness of Being", but he's had his hand in "The Right Stuff", "Indiana Jones" & "the Outlaw Josey Wales", and that ALONE qualifies him for greatness) This film is one of my favorite coming-of-age movies, having never read the book it was based on didn't deter me from falling in love with this movie. The whole cast does spot-on performances and you grow to really feel for these characters and while it seems a bit episodic, it all ties together in the end. Many memorable scenes and an amazingly good soundtrack. Definately in my top 20 of all-time.

My Grade: A

DVD Extras: Commentary by Philip Kaufman; Theatrical Trailer
How come this hasn't become a classic?5/10

One of the greatest scenes ever put on film is in this movie: Ken Wahl, about to get married, facing the transition between youth and responsibility, peers through a window at the action at Gerdes' Folk City in Greenwich Village, where, he dimly senses, there's a whole new world beyond his's pure gold, like most everything in this movie. I don't recall rock'n'roll songs ever being put to better or more appropriate use in a sound track. I don't recall a movie ever shifting more seamlessly, effortlessly, from gritty naturalism to bizarro impressionism and back. The cast is great! Whatever happened to some of these actors? There really was a Fordham Baldies, and I grew up not far from the old Alexander's in the Bronx, so I can't pretend to objectivity. For me, this is rather like a New York version of American Graffiti; it creates a world that I feel at home in, even if I never was a gang member and we left the Bronx when I was eight. By the way, the adaptation from Richard Price's book is, I think, remarkable. The book is a series of thematically linked stories that become a single organic story in the film. And I can't blame Ken Wahl--or his character--from being besotted by Karen Allen. Personally, I'd have gone right into Gerdes and flung myself at her feet. Oh yeah, the late Dolph Sweet is superb here.