The Wanderers is a 1979, American comedy-drama film co-written and directed by Philip Kaufman and is based on the novel of the same name by Richard Price. Set in the Bronx in 1963, the film follows a gang of Italian-American teenagers known as the Wanderers and their ongoing power struggles with rival gangs such as the Baldies and the Wongs. The movie stars Ken Wahl, John Friedrich, Karen Allen and Toni Kalem.
S P O I L E R S F O L L O W
One could argue that the main character of the movie is the Wanderers gang itself. The characters who have a dramatic need, take action to meet this need and ultimately undergo life changes are three gang members viz. the leader Richie (Wahl), Joey (Friedrich) and Turkey (Alan Rosenberg). Also, this trio probably (equally) experience the consequential weight of the plot most of all in the movie.
The story actually begins with Joey and Turkey as the latter expresses his desire to leave the Wanderers and join rival gang, the Baldies. In an effort to dissuade Turkey, Joey insults the Baldies and is chased round the neighbourhood. The rest of the gang, including Richie, arrive to support him and the conflict is established.
Or so it seems because the movie subsequently sets up a football game between the Wanderers and an African-American gang, the Del Bombers and this is what pre-occupies the minds of Richie and Joey for most of the rest of the movie. In addition, Richie has to deal with his relationship with his girlfriend Despie (Kalem) AND her mob boss father Chubby (Dolph Sweet) while Joey faces abuse – both physical and emotional – from his father Emilio (William Andrews).
As may become evident to more astute readers, the plot is convoluted with the emphasis on multiple key characters and that is the main problem with The Wanderers. The story is presented in a loose episodic style without a consistent narrative, and thus audience engagement suffers to an extent.
Also, there is a surrealistic tone about the very concept of a multitude of gangs existing in such a small location (i.e. the Bronx) that will be difficult to grasp for a viewer that demands a certain level of realism in movies. In fact, the climatic scene involves the various gangs uniting to ‘rumble’ with The Ducky Boys, which really challenges the suspension of disbelief!
Richie, Joey and Turkey part ways at the denouement to fulfil the requisite character arcs but these are superficial at best, largely under-developed. That all said, we can recommend The Wanderers as it evokes the period (1963) effectively and provides an insight (albeit exaggerated) into teenage gang life back in the day.
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