The Wanderers (1979 film)

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The Wanderers
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Philip Kaufman
Produced by Martin Ransohoff
Screenplay by Rose Kaufman
Philip Kaufman
Based on The Wanderers by
Richard Price
Starring Ken Wahl
John Friedrich
Karen Allen
Cinematography Michael Chapman
Editing by Stuart H. Pappé
Ronald Roose
Studio Orion Pictures
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release dates July 4, 1979
Running time 117 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $5,000,000 (Domestic)
$18,000,000 (International)
$23,000,000 (Worldwide)

The Wanderers is a 1979 drama film about the greaser subculture based on the novel "The Wanderers" by Richard Price (first published in 1974, when Price was 24 years old).


It tells the story of several Italian-American youths growing up together amid the various gangs of 1963 New York City. The film stars Ken Wahl, features Karen Allen and was directed by Philip Kaufman. In an interview for American Film in November 1983, Kaufman (who ran with a gang whilst growing up in Chicago in the 1950s) said he "had been wanting to do a gang movie for years - the urban experience, the darker side of teenagers growing up." Kaufman and his wife Rose wrote the screenplay, making a more cohesive story out of Price's episodic novel. Years later, Kaufman said, "I think Richard Price would say that his novel was really a bunch of short stories, and we really tried to make one story out of them all."[1] The Kaufmans also swapped characteristics between the individual Wanderers in the transition from novel to film. For instance, in the book it is Wanderer Buddy Borsalino who marries Despie Galasso; in the movie, protagonist Richie who marries Despie, and Buddy is relegated to a supporting role in the story. Also, in the book, one of the major characters is a Wanderer named Eugene, who does not appear in the movie at all.


The film centers around the members of a North Bronx youth gang, the Wanderers, and their fights with other gangs, and as well as gang rivalry, it deals (albeit in a highly juvenile manner) with issues such as racial tensions, sex, growing up, loyalty, the good and bad points of machismo and brotherhood, and the reflection of youth rebellion in the music of the era. The film's two main protagonists are Richie Gennaro (Ken Wahl), leader of the Wanderers, who has to deal with the imminent responsibilities of marriage, fatherhood, and joining his mobster father-in-law's family business; and Joey Capra (John Friedrich), who has a violent streak, artistic aspirations, and an unhappy home life (he hates and fears his brutal father).


In his book Cult Movies III, Danny Peary notes that "many critics who loved the book would later accuse Kaufman of doing the novel a disservice...But Price would disagree: "I love that picture. It's not my book, and I don't care. The spirit is right, and the way Phil Kaufman directed it showed me another way of looking at my own book.""[2]

Although it was not a box office success upon its theatrical release, The Wanderers gained popularity and cult status over the years because of its sensitive depiction of teenagers coming of age. The gangs named in the movie, though fictionalized, are based on real gangs encountered by Price in his childhood, growing up in a housing project in the Bronx. Real names of Bronx gangs (1950s-1960s) are used. "The Wanderers" was the name of an actual gang located in South Brooklyn that was part of the larger South Brooklyn Boys gang. The movie depicts the end of a more innocent time (1950s to early 1960s.), reflected by the violent death of Turkey (a former Wanderer), the recruitment of the Fordham Baldies into the Marines (a subtle foreshadowing of the Vietnam War), the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the imminent marriage and domestication of Wanderers leader Richie, the departure of Wanderers Joey and Perry (who drive off to California), and a scene depicting then-rising folk singer Bob Dylan in Greenwich Village performing his song "The Times They Are A-Changin'". Kaufman later said, "When I was shooting Goldstein, we came out on the street one day and I saw people were staggering down the street crying. We were walking around with our cameras and saw a bunch of people standing around a store window, looking in and crying. That was how I found out that JFK had been killed. We duplicated that in The Wanderers with the people looking in the department store window at all the TVs, watching the news that JFK had been assassinated. I love that moment when Ritchie (the protagonist) sees this transition happen and he decides to go back to the old neighborhood and stay in the old world, instead of going to see Bob Dylan with the Karen Allen character and joining the new world.."[1]


  • Wanderers: An all-Italian gang comprising 27 members. They wear bright yellow/brown jackets and blue jeans. Their leader, Richie, is dating Despie Galasso, the daughter of an infamous local mobster, so The Wanderers have connections.
  • Fordham Baldies: As their name suggests, they are all bald, reportedly to prevent their hair from getting in their eyes during a fight. There are 41 of them, and each member is a serious brawler. Their leader is Terror, a 6'6", 400-pound monster of a man. They wear black leather jackets with a skull on the back and "FB" (Fordham Baldies) on the arm.
  • Del Bombers: They are the toughest all-black gang in the Bronx. They have 23 members, and are prejudiced against Italians. They wear purple and gold hoodies with "DB" written in Old English lettering on the back. Their leader is Clinton Stitch.
  • Ducky Boys: They are an all-Irish gang and the only white gang in the movie. They fight against Italians. They have several distinctive things about them: none of them wears gang "colors", and they never speak. They are also the largest gang of the Bronx, with over 500 members. They have a twisted take on Catholicism- it is all right to kill and beat up people, as long as they attend mass and confession. They are the only gang willing to kill people. They all have crucifix tattoos on their arms and chest.
  • Wongs: They are all Chinese and have the last name "Wong". There are 27 members, and every single one of them knows jujutsu which is a Japanese martial art. Their leader is Teddy Wong. They wear black leather jackets with a hanzi (Chinese character) on the back. They all appear to be quite stealthy as during a meeting in an open field they appear to vanish as the Wanderers momentarily turn their heads. Their motto is "Don't Fuck with the Wongs". They all have dragon tattoos.


Actor Role
Ken Wahl Richie Gennaro
John Friedrich Joey Capra
Karen Allen Nina Becker
Toni Kalem Despie Galasso
Alan Rosenberg Turkey
Jim Youngs Buddy Borsalino
Tony Ganios Perry LaGuardia
Linda Manz Peewee
William Andrews Emilio Capra
Erland van Lidth Terror, Fordham Baldies Leader
Val Avery Mr. Sharp
Dolph Sweet Chubby Galasso
Michael Wright Clinton Stitch, Del Bombers Leader
Samm-Art Williams Roger
Dion Albanese Teddy Wong
Olympia Dukakis Joey's Mom
Richard Price Bowling Bankroller

Soundtrack listing[edit]

Song Performer
"Walk Like a Man" The Four Seasons
"Ya Ya" Lee Dorsey
"Big Girls Don't Cry" The Four Seasons
"My Boyfriend's Back" The Angels
"Sherry" The Four Seasons
"Baby It's You" The Shirelles
"Soldier Boy" The Shirelles
"Stand By Me" Ben E. King
"I Love You" The Volumes
"Shout" The Isley Brothers
"Do You Love Me" The Contours
"Runaround Sue" Dion
"The Wanderer" Dion


  1. ^ a b
  2. ^ Danny Peary, Cult Movies III: 50 More Hits of the Reel Thing, (Great Britain: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1989) p.266.

External links[edit]