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
Edited by Stuart H. Pappé
Ronald Roose
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release dates
  • July 4, 1979 (1979-07-04)
Running time
117 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $5,000,000 (Domestic)
$18,000,000 (International)
$23,000,000 (Worldwide)[1]

The Wanderers is a 1979 drama film about gangs and the greaser subculture, based on the novel "The Wanderers" by Richard Price. It marks the sixth feature film directed by American Philip Kaufman.


Richard Price's original novel was first published in 1974, when he was 24 years old. It was inspired partly by gangs Price encountered while growing up in the Bronx. The film tells the story of several Italian-American youths growing up together amid the various gangs of 1963 New York City. It stars Ken Wahl (Wiseguy) and John Friedrich (The Thorn Birds), and features an early appearance by Raiders of the Lost Ark actor Karen Allen.

In a November 1983 interview for American Film director Philip 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."[2] 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.


Set in the year 1963, the film centers around the members of a Italian North Bronx youth gang, the Wanderers, and their fights with other gangs. It deals with issues such as racial tensions, sex, growing up, loyalty, the good and bad points of machismo and brotherhood, and youth rebellion through 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 and an unhappy home life (he hates and fears his brutal father).


Actor Role Notes
Ken Wahl Richie Gennaro: The leader of the all Italian gang 'The Wanderers'. Ken Wahl was initially cast as an extra in the movie, but when director Philip Kaufman noticed his "natural" talent for acting, he instantly gave him the lead role as Richie Gennaro.[3] The Wanderers was Ken Wahl's acting debut.
John Friedrich Joey Capra: Joey is Richie Gennaro's best friend, and a fellow member of 'The Wanderers'. At the end of the movie, Joey and Perry LaGuardia travel to New Jersey.
Karen Allen Nina Becker: Richie Gennaro's love interest. Although Richie is in a relationship with Despie (the local mafioso's daughter), he has an affair with Nina - though this proves to be short-lived.
Toni Kalem Despie Galasso: The girlfriend of Richie Gennaro, and the daughter of Chubby Galasso (the local mafia boss).
Alan Rosenberg Turkey: A member of 'The Wanderers', Turkey is somewhat gullible and aspires to become a member of the 'Fordham Baldies'. Turkey is eventually made a member of the 'Fordham Baldies', but he is exploited by the gang. After being abandoned by the 'Fordham Baldies' (as they prepare to join the Marines), Turkey is brutally murdered by the 'Ducky Boys'.
Jim Youngs Buddy Borsalino: A leading member of 'The Wanderers'.
Tony Ganios Perry LaGuardia: A strong member of 'The Wanderers', and one of Joey Capra's best friends. By himself, he beats up the 'Baldies' in a fist-fight. He and Joey eventually travel to New Jersey together. The Wanderers is Ganios's debut as an actor. It is also his first collaboration with director Philip Kaufman, and actors Ken Wahl and Jim Youngs. Ganios has done three collaborations with Ken Wahl, and two with Philip Kaufman. He (Ganios) is due to make his second collaboration with Jim Youngs; in the upcoming movie Daddies' Girls.
Linda Manz Peewee: The short (but big-mouthed) girlfriend of Terror (the leader of the 'Fordham Baldies').
William Andrews Emilio Capra: Joey's muscular father. Emilio is regularly abusive towards his son (both verbally and physically).
Erland van Lidth Terror: The leader of the 'Fordham Baldies'.
Val Avery Mr. Sharp
Dolph Sweet Chubby Galasso: The local mafia boss, and the father of Despie Galasso. He regularly puts pressure on Richie to make an 'honest woman' of his daughter. When 'The Wanderers' are having trouble with other street-gangs, Richie goes to Chubby and asks for his help.
Michael Wright Clinton Stitch: The leader of the 'Del Bombers'.
Samm-Art Williams Roger: The only black member of the 'Fordham Baldies'. He is the cousin of Clinton Stitch (the leader of the 'Del Bombers').
Dion Albanese Teddy Wong: The leader of the 'Wongs' (an all-Chinese gang).
Olympia Dukakis Joey's Mom
Richard Price Bowling Bankroller

Release and Reception[edit]

Box office[edit]

Even though The Wanderers wasn't a success at the Domestic box office, it proved successful overseas. The Wanderers made $5,000,000 at the Domestic box office, and $18,000,000 at the International box office. This means that The Wanderers grossed $23,000,000 at the box office (Worldwide). Adjusted for inflation, the movie made the equivalent of $74,999,008.26 worldwide.[4]

Critical reception[edit]

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.'"[5]

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."[2]

The Wanderers was generally well received by critics and has a rating of 89% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 18 reviews with an average score of 3.9 out of 5.[6]


  • Wanderers: An all-Italian gang of whom 27 members are seen on screen. They wear bright yellow/brown jackets and blue jeans. Their leader, Richie Gennaro, 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 (with shaved heads), 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. They are the only ethnic mixed gang in the neighborhood. They wear black leather jackets with a skull on the back and "FB" (Fordham Baldies) on the arm. Their leader is Terror, a 6'6", 400-pound monster of a man.
  • 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. They have several distinctive things about them: none of them wears gang "colors", and they have no dialogue or any prominent leader. 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 an all-Chinese gang and have the same last name "Wong" despite that most of them are not blood-related. There are 27 members, and every single one of them knows jujutsu (which is actually a Japanese martial art). They wear black leather jackets with a hanzi (Chinese character) on the back. They 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 on their right arms. Their leader is Teddy Wong.


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

The film also includes the songs

|"The Times they are A-Changin" |Bob Dylan

|"Wipe Out" |The Surfaris

|"Pipeline" |The Chantays

|"Stranger girl" |The Slapbacks


  1. ^ "The Wanderers (Box Office Performance)", The Numbers. Retrieved on January 28, 2015.
  2. ^ a b
  3. ^ Torme, Robin (published April 1, 2009) "BEHIND THE WAHL: Exclusive Interview with Ken Wahl", Beverly Hills Times. Retrieved on January 28, 2015.
  4. ^ "The Wanderers (Box Office Performance)", The Numbers. Retrieved on January 28, 2015.
  5. ^ Danny Peary, Cult Movies III: 50 More Hits of the Reel Thing, (Great Britain: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1989) p.266.
  6. ^ "The Wanderers (1973)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 24 December 2014. 

External links[edit]