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  Wanderers, The The Type Of Guys Who'll Never Settle Down
Year: 1979
Director: Philip Kaufman
Stars: Ken Wahl, John Friedrich, Karen Allen, Toni Kalem, Alan Rosenberg, Jim Youngs, Tony Ganios, Linda Manz, William Andrews, Erland van Lidth, Val Avery, Dolph Sweet, Michael Wright, Burtt Harris, Samm-Art Williams, Dion Albenese, Olympia Dukakis, Ken Foree
Genre: Comedy, DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 1 vote)
Review: The Bronx, '63, and it looks like Richie (Ken Wahl) is finally about to realise his dream: going all the way with his girlfriend Despie (Toni Kalem) who up to this point has been keen to keep her reputation as a good girl, but Richie is being very persuasive as he holds her in an amorous embrace. Meanwhile, two members of his Italian-American gang The Wanderers are nearby, and Turkey (Alan Rosenberg) has shaved his head with a plan to switching his allegiance to the Fordham Baldies, who are led by the huge and aptly named Terror (Erland van Lidth). Turkey's pal Joey (John Friedrich) wonders what the hell he's thinking, and insults the gang out loud, which sees the two Wanderers chased through the streets - caling Richie!

This is a film that even back in 1979 was in the shadow of another effort that took on the subject of New York gangs, but aside from the violence they couldn't have been more different. The movie even today you have to explain is not what you're talking about when The Wanderers came up was The Warriors, a very serious, po-faced action thriller about made up gangs that had a slightly fantastical tinge, but this particular story took its inspiration from Richard Price's nostalgic novel of the same name, and was more a mix of comedy and drama. In fact, as well as a peerless and jovial attack on macho bullshit as exemplified by that more successful effort, it was a mixture of more than that, as throughout you never knew where the tone was heading, such was its picaresque nature.

This shifting quality was offputting to many, but for others that was what made it so compelling, never settling down: one minute it was getting big laughs, the next we were in tragedy, then romance reared its head, an action scene erupted, and there were even sequences which owed a lot to horror, specifically George A. Romero zombie movies (appropriately enough Ken Foree was cast in a bit part during one such fright setpiece). Director Philip Kaufman, no stranger to evoking times past in his filmography, adapted Price's book with his regular collaborator and wife Rose Kaufman, and ensured the whole experience was drenched in nostalgia, paying particular attention to the soundtrack of oldies - that tie-in record was much sought after by fans of the music of the era.

Obviously Dion's title track featured heavily, but the Kaufmans secured the rights to some of the finest American pop of the early sixties, making sure to set this just as the British Invasion was about to occur, though not quite yet. The year was significant, as one powerful scene illustrates when Richie (Kaufman discovery Ken Wahl should have been a bigger star in movies on this evidence) stumbles upon pedestrians crying in the street, then catches the news on a TV showroom window and realises what has happened as Ben E. King's Stand By Me starts up; it's the stuff of iconic cinema moments, yet now that song reminds viewers of the Rob Reiner film of the same name and The Wanderers, a better movie, is relegated to the select few cultists who could appreciate what a fine evocation of a lost innocence it managed to conjure up.

Though an ensemble cast were playing this out, Richie was really our main character, a young man for whom we understand these are the best years of his life and everything after this will never live up to that promise, because the world was off in a different direction. This could have been a portentous state of the nation as was narrative, but with its nimble dance around its various and multifaceted episodes it's as if we are seeing the place brought to life in such vivid colours that it never feels anything other than authentic, and even those parts where Kaufman seems to be stretching to include as much of the memories as he can (fancy catching Bob Dylan!) ring true as the film draws on everything from the personal, the day to day community, and the current affairs in the wider world, with admirable skill. Whether it was Karen Allen as the girl who got away getting a kick out of strip poker, the Baldies signing up for the Marines as a joke - only it's no joke, as their mascot (Linda Manz) twigs - or the dreaded Ducky Boys gang striking fear into the hearts of everyone, this was a largely too-unheralded cult classic.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Philip Kaufman  (1936 - )

Level-headed American writer and director who doesn't shy away from challenging material; after award-winning debut Goldstein, he offered superhero spoof Fearless Frank, but it was five years until his movie career really got off the ground. The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid was followed by The White Dawn and the script for The Outlaw Josey Wales, and a remake of Invasion of the Bodysnatchers was his first big hit. Then came The Wanderers, The Right Stuff, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, the controversial Henry & June, Rising Sun, Marquis de Sade drama Quills and thriller Twisted. He also contributed to the story of Raiders of the Lost Ark; considering his talent, it's surprising how few films he has directed.

 
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