The Wanderers (1979)

Comments Off on The Wanderers (1979) 06 June 2017


Studio: Kino

Theatrical Release: July 4, 1979

Blu Ray Release: March 28, 2017

Director: Philip Kaufman

Review by James Klein

Having watched Kino’s super deluxe blu ray release of The Wanderers, I couldn’t help but think that I may not be the right audience for this film. Perhaps if I have grown up during the period (the film takes place in the early 60’s) or if I saw it back in 1979 at the time of release, I may be filled with more nostalgia. The reason is that The Wanderers (pardon the pun) wanders around and never really finds it’s footing. Is there a central character? Is the film a comedy? Drama? Shit, at one point the film almost turns into a horror film when one of the characters is being chased by a murderous gang. There is a cult following for The Wanderers though so maybe I’m missing something.

Set in New York during 1963, the city is overrun by gangs: Asian gangs, black gangs, skinheads, and Italians. The film focuses on the Italian gang, the Wanderers who, much like any other teen youth, are going thru typical troubles such as home life, school, girls, etc. I am struggling to give you readers a plot because the film feels like several TV episodes all slammed together in an American Graffiti homage, focusing on several characters within a short time period. 

While the performances are over the top, this may be due to the fact that director Kaufman was trying to go for a certain style as the film never feels realistic, resulting in many cartoonish scenes but then becoming suddenly serious when moments such as the assassination of Kennedy happens or turning horrific when one of the Wanderers is being chased. Kaufman’s previous film was the 1978 Invasion of the Body Snatchers and this sequence actually borrows heavily from that film.

The tone is simply all over the place and without a central storyline or main character to follow, I was just never pulled into the film. I found myself looking up some of the actors in the film to see where they are at now such as Ken Wahl, John Friedrich, Toni Kalem, Alan Rosenberg, and Tony Ganios all of which are very good. Maybe my favorite character was the 400 lbs Terror played by Erland van Width (Stir Crazy, The Running Man) who despite his size seems to have a small hidden heart buried deep in his massive size. The sequence where he and his gang drunkenly join the Marines is maybe the best moment in the film. And that is the problem: the film has it’s moments and sequences but they don’t add up to much and feel disjointed. 

Based on the novel by Richard Price (who also cameos in the film) The Wanderers may play better as a novel as this gives the reader a better understanding of each character but as a film, it feels too sporadic and episodic. I think The Wanderers may even have played better as a TV show, a sort of darker version of Happy Days. As it is, The Wanderers feels like an older, step-brother to The Outsiders

Kino’s blu ray release gives fans of the film a special treat as the blu ray contains two discs, one of the theatrical cut and the other the “preview” cut which runs maybe five minutes longer than the theatrical cut. The difference notably are some longer moments with Joey and Perry and the death of Turkey, who apparently was in the closet as he offers himself to one of the deadly Duckie gang members which was only hinted at in the theatrical cut (apparently the word “blowjob” was going to give the film an X rating). While the theatrical cut looks gorgeous and pristine, the “preview” cut looks beat up, worn, faded and has some print damage. 

The theatrical cut contains an audio commentary by Kaufman who even discusses the film’s adaptation from book to film and how difficult it was to adapt. Apparently the book is made up of several stories which goes to show why the film feels so disjointed and sporadic. There is a long featurette with the novel’s author Richard Price who takes a walk down the streets where he grew up. There is a Q&A with actress Karen Allen, Toni Kalem, and Tony Ganios after a screening of the film which was narrated by a rather annoying old man named Bruce Goldstein whose lame attempt at jokes fall flat among the actors and the audience. Rounding out the special features on this disc is the theatrical trailer. 

On the second disc is an audio commentary track by film historian Annette Insdorf, a Q&A with director Kaufman and actor Rosenberg who discuss some of the scenes that were taken out of the film that have been included in the longer cut, and two audio interviews with Kaufman and Price. Rounding out the special features is the TV spot and re-relese trailer. 

Kino has put out one hell of a disc and they have gone all out in making a spectacular release of such an odd, cult film. However, The Wanderers is not a film I would ever need to revisit despite some great performances and entertaining moments. 

Movie Rating: ★★½☆☆

Blu Ray Rating: ★★★★½ 

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