Color, 1979, 117 mins. 9 secs. / 123 mins. 50 secs.
Directed by Philip Kaufman
Starring Ken Wahl, Karen Allen, John Friedrich, Toni Kalem, Alan Rosenberg, Tony Ganios, Linda Manz, William Andrews, Erland van Lidth, Val Avery, Dolph Sweet
Kino Lorber (Blu-ray & DVD) (US RA/R1 HD/NTSC), Koch Media (Blu-ray & DVD) (Germany RB/R2 HD/PAL), Warner (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

The Wanderers

The WanderersThe same year movie theater owners were panicking over the inciting of violence by the release of The Warriors and a handful of smaller films like Walk Proud, another much more nostalgic film about youth gangs was suppressed in the process and only became a cult favorite through word of mouth and initial popularity outside the U.S. That film was The Wanderers, a long-standing dream project for director Philip Kaufman after he was turned on to the source novel by Richard Price (Clockers) by his son, with Kaufman's wife Rose writing the screenplay. A years-long quest to make the film became a reality for Kaufman in between his Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Right Stuff, proving he could tackle any setting or genre with supreme confidence.

One of the all-time great Bronx films, our story takes place in 1963 when the Italian-American gang The Wanderers who are first seen getting into a scrape when one of their own, Joey (Freidrich), is cornered by a tough gang called the Fordham Baldies. An alarm whistle brings out sort-of leader Richie (Wahl) from an awkward sexual fumble to jump into the fray for an alley fight with their rivals, whose mouthpiece is a tough little number named Peewee (Days of Heaven's Manz, The Wanderersa character added for the film). In the process they pick up a new member, recent muscle-bound arrival Perry (Porkys' Ganios), who likes to jump in and save little guys from being beaten up. Other gangs in the vicinity include the violent Ducky Boys from Brooklyn, a black gang called the Del Bombers, and even an Asian gang with formidable martial arts chops, the Wongs (who inspire the film's most indelible slogan). The WanderersDetours on the way to a climactic gang football match include Richie's turbulent love life between multiple women including the smart and sunny Nina (Allen), run-ins with the local Mafia (led by Dolph Sweet), bowling alley hijinks, classroom spats, and deeply flawed parents grappling with abusive impulses and addiction.

The '70s nostalgia wave for the '50s and early '60s that had really kicked off with 1974's Brooklyn gang film The Lords of Flatbush was still in full force when The Wanderers opened after Grease had turned into a smash hit and Happy Days was hot on the airwaves. The Wanderers is something of a different beast, a picaresque snapshot of adolescence on the Bronx streets with a candid attitude about racial and cultural tensions and a keen knack for etching vivid characters with just a few deft brush strokes. All of the Wanderers have their moments to shine (it's odd that the very likable Ganios didn't have a bigger career), but perhaps the most visually memorable is the Baldies' biggest member, Terror, played by late actor (and opera singer!) Erland van The WanderersLidth, who only appeared in three other highly The Wanderersmemorable films (Alone in the Dark, Stir Crazy, and of course, playing Dynamo in The Running Man). Be sure to keep your eyes out for a pre-Oscar-winning Olympia Dukakis, too.

Barely shown in American theaters by Orion Pictures through its distribution deal with Warner Bros., The Wanderers was given far more support in Europe and several other continents before it hit VHS from Warner in 1983. A 2002 DVD from Warner Home Video with no extras barely stayed on the market long enough to make blip and didn't look especially dynamic. A 2014 German Blu-ray from Koch Media billed as a "director's cut" is actually the usual theatrical version (a longer preview version was screened in New York and billed as a director's cut, but more on that below). It looks excellent and clean throughout with robust colors, and in a fun touch, both the English version and the German dub can be played with DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo or 5.1 options, the latter basically pushing the music and effects track to the rear speakers for a very different sonic experience. Extras include a 4-minute gallery of German lobby cards (including a deleted love scene with Wahl, Allen, and a violin) and the American and German theatrical trailers. An audio commentary with Kaufman is a thorough dissection of the making of the film including memories of the "demented" real characters who wandered the neighborhood and inspired the film, the casting process that lucked into several young actors with little to no experience, and the fidelity he wanted to keep to the book. There's a fair amount of dead air throughout, but the content itself is quite good. Audio commentary by Philip Kaufman Audio Commentary by Marcus Stiglegger

Over time the film has been reissued theatrically twice, in 1996 and then again in 2016 with a fresh restored edition by Kino Lorber working with the The Wanderersfilm's producers. Kino Lorber followed this successful run (which played more screens than the film ever did in first run) by bringing it to both Blu-ray and DVD in 2017 with a wealth of extras as a double-disc set. The film's theatrical version can be played on disc one with or without a The Wanderers2-minute written statement by Kaufman about being inspired by the source novel by "the Bronx Mark Twain" and the film's growing cult audience, including an appreciative Telluride screening with Zhang Yimou! The new 2K HD transfer looks excellent with perfect flesh tones, organic detail, and perfectly balanced blacks; thankfully no attempts have been made to make the film look more contemporary or slick like some other unfortunate vintage titles. In appearance it's very close to the German disc in terms of framing, black levels, and detail, taking up less disc space but looking only marginally different in motion with a bit less overall saturation or, most significantly, less of a yellow skew than the German transfer. The DTS-HD MA English 2.0 stereo track (with optional English SDH subtitles) sounds pristine, with the large amount of oldies on the soundtrack faring especially well. The Kaufman audio commentary from the German releases is also included.

The WanderersPrice gets his due with the very colorful and engrossing "Back to the Bronx (35m18s), in which he's followed around throughout a day both in a car and on the street as he chats off the cuff about his memories of the place that inspired the book, noting the real gang competitions in the area and encountering a number of local residents along the way. "The Wanderers Forever!" video reunion (16m35s) brings together Allen, Ganios, Toni Kalem ("the widow of Big Pussy -- you can say that in public now for some reason"), and (briefly) Price for a Bruce Goldstein-hosted screening at the Film Forum in New York, with topics including the delicacies of Bronx accents, Ganios' decision to chew a The Wanderersmatchstick as his "business" (which resurfaced again in Kaufman's Rising Sun), and the way a push-up bra played a major role in one audition. A original U.S. theatrical trailer is also included.

A second disc is highlighted by the "Preview Cut" of the film, running almost six minutes longer with looser pacing and some scene extensions that will fascinate fans who want to spend a bit more time with the material, including a bit more context for the gang rivalry with a more politically incorrect interaction between Turkey and the Ducky Boys, some pretty surprising nudity during the bridge scene, and more overt verbal acknowledgement of the homoeroticism in the story. Framed at 1.78:1, the image quality is understandably not as pristine; colors are rougher and more reddish, and overall it looks more like a print that's been making the round for a few months, but it's great to have this earlier draft available for public viewing. This version also features an audio commentary by Annette Insdorf, who's becoming the de facto Kaufman expert lately and takes a dense, scholarly look at the film's portrait of the '60s and its placement in the director's portraits of social groups in different time periods with a fondness for rebels in transitional periods. In addition to a TV spot and the reissue trailer, disc two also adds a trio of new bonus features. Wearing a very appropriate satin jacket, Kaufman appears for a 2016 first-night showing of The Wanderers at The Cinefamily (31m59s) with actor Alan Rosenberg jumping in with him and moderator Hadrian Belove, with Kaufman's son commenting a bit at the end during the audience Q&A. Two audio interviews from the Film Forum are included as well, one with Kaufman (19m47s) talking about the status of teenage movies at the time and failed attempts to get the film made with the likes of Alberto Grimaldi, and Price and moderator Brian Rose (16m42s) discussing the film's depiction of the Bronx then versus now, the differences between the film and book, and the episodic nature of the book that proved to be a challenge to adapt -- though that was obviously cracked, and with great success.


The WanderersThe WanderersThe WanderersThe WanderersThe Wanderers


The WanderersThe WanderersThe WanderersThe WanderersThe Wanderers

Reviewed on April 15, 2017.