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
Toni Kalem
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 $23 million[1]

The Wanderers is a 1979 American drama film written and directed by Philip Kaufman, and starring Ken Wahl, John Friedrich, Karen Allen and Toni Kalem. Set in the Bronx in 1963, the film follows a gang of Italian-American teens known as the 'Wanderers', and their ongoing power struggle with the rival 'Fordham Baldies'.

Based on the novel of the same name by Richard Price, the screenplay was written by Philip Kaufman and his late wife, Rose.[2] After a troubled development stage,[2] the film was produced on a relatively low budget.[2] It premiered on July 4, 1979, to a mixed critical reception,[3][4] but has since garnered mainly positive reviews.[5] The film was a financial success, grossing $23 million at the worldwide box office.[1] Since its release, the film has gained a significant cult following,[6] and as a result, was given a theatrical re-release (in the U.S.) by Warner Bros. in 1996.[7] It was also featured in Danny Peary's book Cult Movies III.[6]

The film is notable for featuring a number of then-unknown actors. Ken Wahl made his acting debut in the film, but later found fame in the TV series Wiseguy. Likewise, Karen Allen, who had only starred in one feature film before The Wanderers, found fame two years later; for portraying Marion Ravenwood in Steven Spielberg's Raiders of the Lost Ark.


Joey and Turkey are members of an all-Italian street gang known as the 'Wanderers'. Joey tries to dissuade Turkey from joining the 'Fordham Baldies'. But before he has a chance to ask, Terror's girlfriend, Peewee, overhears Joey insulting the gang. Joey and Turkey flee, with the 'Baldies' giving chase. Richie (the 'Wanderers' leader) and Buddy come to help, but flee also. After being cornered, the 'Wanderers' are helped by a tough stranger named Perry. Joey convinces Perry to join the 'Wanderers'.

At school, the 'Wanderers' get in a fight with the 'Del Bombers'. Both gangs agree to settle their scores in a rumble. 'The Wanderers' struggle to find another gang willing to back them, so Richie asks his girlfriend's father for help. Chubby Galasso, the local mafia boss, agrees to help them solve their problems in a "civilized manner".

During a game of "elbow-tit", Richie gropes a woman called Nina. Feeling ashamed, he apologizes for his actions. He then convinces her to accept Joey's telephone number. While following Nina, the 'Wanderers' get lost, and are attacked by the 'Ducky Boys'. They manage to escape, but Perry's arm is broken.

Heavily intoxicated, the 'Baldies' are tricked into joining the Marines. Before reporting for military training, they decide to crash a party held by Richie's girlfriend, Despie. Turkey — who recently joined the 'Baldies' — is told to draw the 'Wanderers' outside. After drawing them out, Turkey realizes the 'Baldies' have ditched him. He tries to run after them, but fails. After being spotted by a 'Ducky Boy' attending mass, Turkey is chased down the street and murdered.

In school, the 'Wanderers' are mourning Turkey's death. Richie is ousted by the rest of the gang, for sleeping with Nina; Joey's date. Immediately following the Kennedy assassination, Richie rekindles his relationship with Despie. After discovering that Despie is pregnant, Chubby accosts him into marrying his daughter.

To settle the 'Wanderers' dispute with the 'Del Bombers', Chubby organizes a football match between both gangs. Richie uses the opportunity to make amends with Joey. During the match, hundreds of 'Ducky Boys' take to the field. Many of the 'Wanderers' and 'Del Bombers' flee, with the remainder standing their ground. The 'Wanderers' and 'Del Bombers', along with the spectating 'Wongs', join forces to fight the 'Ducky Boys'. After losing the battle, the 'Ducky Boys' flee.

Joey decides to avoid his abusive father, Emilio, by staying at Perry's for the night. Perry tells Joey that he's leaving the Bronx and heading for California. Joey asks Perry if he can go with him. Perry is skeptical at first, but eventually agrees. Emilio enters Perry's apartment very drunk. He gets into a fight with Perry, but Joey knocks him unconscious with a glass bottle. Rushing out of the apartment, they head for Richie's engagement party. After saying their goodbyes, Joey and Perry leave. Realizing that things aren't going to be the same again, the 'Wanderers', the 'Del Bombers', and the 'Wongs' all embrace one another while singing The Wanderer. The movie ends with Joey and Perry traveling down a turnpike.



  • Ken Wahl as Richie Gennaro, the leader of the 'Wanderers'.
  • John Friedrich as Joey Capra, Richie's best friend and a fellow 'Wanderer'. At the end of the movie, he travels to California with Perry LaGuardia.
  • Toni Kalem as Despie Galasso, Richie's girlfriend, and Chubby Galasso's daughter.


  • Jim Youngs as Buddy Borsalino, a leading member of the 'Wanderers'.
  • Tony Ganios as Perry LaGuardia, a strong member of the 'Wanderers', and one of Joey's best friends.
  • Alan Rosenberg as Turkey, a member of the 'Wanderers'. He aspires to be (and eventually becomes) a member of the 'Fordham Baldies'.


  • Dolph Sweet as Chubby Galasso, the local mafia boss, and father of Despie Galasso.
  • Linda Manz as Peewee, Terror's short (but big-mouthed) girlfriend.
  • William Andrews as Emilio Capra, Joey's abusive father.
  • Samm-Art Williams as Roger, the only black member of the 'Fordham Baldies'. He is the cousin of Clinton Stitch.
  • Val Avery as Mr. Sharp, a high school teacher.
  • Dion Albanese as Teddy Wong, the leader of the 'Wongs'.

Additional actors included Olympia Dukakis, in a brief role as Joey's mom; the novel's author Richard Price, who portrayed a hustler; and Wayne Knight, who had an uncredited role as a waiter.


Prominent gangs (featured in the film) are listed in the table below.

Gang Description
The Wanderers An Italian-American street gang, consisting of 27 members who are seen on screen. They wear bright yellow/brown jackets and blue jeans. Their leader is Richie Gennaro.
The Fordham Baldies As their name suggests, they are all bald (with shaved heads), reportedly to prevent their hair from getting in their eyes while they fight. The only ethnically mixed gang, the 'Baldies' consists of 41 members. They wear black leather jackets with a skull on the back and "FB" (Fordham Baldies) on the arm. Their leader is Terror.
The Del Bombers Consisting of 23 members, the gang is purportedly the toughest all-black gang in the Bronx. They are prejudiced against Italians, and wear purple and gold hoodies with "DB" written in Old English lettering on the back. Their leader is Clinton Stitch.
The Ducky Boys The 'Ducky Boys' are an Irish gang with no consistent hierarchy. They are the largest gang in the Bronx (with over 500 members), and are the only gang to have no colors. They have a twisted take on the Catholic faith, in which they deem it all right to kill people, as long as you attend mass and confession afterwards. They are the only gang willing to kill.
The Wongs The 'Wongs' are a Chinese gang. All of them have the same surname "Wong" (despite most of them not being 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.

Other gangs are briefly seen or mentioned in the film, including: the 'Executioners', whose members are said to be poor; a Jewish gang known as the 'Pharaohs'; an Irish gang known as the 'Del Rays'; and three Black gangs known as the 'Cavaliers', the 'Pips', and the 'Mau Maus'.



Philip Kaufman and Richard Price tried to pitch the project, but to no avail.[2] Because of this, Kaufman signed on to direct what would have been the first motion picture based on Star Trek: The Original Series; called Star Trek: Planet of the Titans.[2] The film was to be produced in England, with Jerry Isenberg serving as executive producer. Allan Scott and Chris Bryant were hired to write the film's screenplay, but after their attempt was rejected, Kaufman attempted to write the screenplay himself.[2] However, before he could finish the screenplay, Paramount Pictures abandoned the project; deeming that there wasn't a market for science-fiction movies.[2] This was all within a matter of weeks before the release of Star Wars, which remains one of the highest-grossing films of all time.[8]

After Star Trek was shelved, Kaufman went on to direct the remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. When filming wrapped, he headed to New York with the hopes of obtaining finance for The Wanderers.[2] According to Kaufman, "the pieces somehow fell together".[2] This was partly due to the increasing popularity of gang movies at the time.[2] For example, both Walter Hill and Michael Pressman were directing their own gang movies (The Warriors and Boulevard Nights, respectively) at the same time The Wanderers entered pre-production. The former went on to achieve widespread success (both critically[9] and commercially),[10] and now has a significant cult following.[11]


Kaufman's wife, Rose, wrote the screenplay's first draft.[2] Due to the problems encountered, it took a few years to complete.[2] The screenplay is noticeably different to the book itself.[2] For instance, the book is more serious in tone. There are two examples: the death of Scotty Hite (a young boy who is tricked into jumping off a building)[12] and the rape of Nina Becker.[13] Buddy Borsalino and Perry LaGuardia are also leading characters within the book, whereas the Kaufman's script relegated them both to being less prominent. 'Wanderer' Eugene Caputo is also entirely absent from the movie, despite appearing consistently throughout the book. Terror is also said to be of Mexican descent,[14] but appears to be Caucasian in the film. Regardless of the differences to his book, Richard Price approved of Kaufman's adaptation, saying:

"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][15]


The casting process, which Kaufman described as "arduous", began in New York City.[2] He claims teenagers from all over New York were seeking to audition.[2] Academy Award winning producer Scott Rudin was the film's casting director.[2] He was the one who found Erland van Lidth[16] and Linda Manz,[2] respectively. Unlike in the movie, there was no character named Peewee in the novel. Rudin had organized an interview with Manz.[2] Kaufman and Price were present, and they all thought she had "great character".[2] Manz was so convincing that everyone assumed she was the member of a real street gang.[2] Because of this, the character Peewee was specifically written for her.[2]

Many actors in the film were unknown at the time of casting. For example, the film saw the acting debut of four cast members: Ken Wahl; Tony Ganios; Erland van Lidth; and Michael Wright. It also marked the feature film debut of Toni Kalem, who had previously acted on television. According to Kaufman, he intentionally cast unknown actors.[2] Wahl was on his way to a job in a pizza parlor,[2] when someone sent his photo to Rudin, thinking he could play one of the smaller roles in the film.[2] But because Kaufman felt Wahl was talented, he cast him in the lead role instead.[2]

According to Kaufman, to cast the role of Perry LaGuardia, he phoned all of the gym's around New York asking for a "six-foot, four inch, 18 year-old kid".[2] Eventually Kaufman was put into contact with Ganios, who after being met, was cast in the role.[2] On the same subject, Ganios recollected:

"After a mysterious phone call, he [my uncle] politely asked me to stop training and get dressed. He 'insisted' that I accompany him downtown to what was supposed to be a commercial audition, [but it later] turned out to be an interview for The Wanderers. I thought acting was for sissies, but I went anyway."[17]


Filming began in September, 1978,[18] and the majority was shot in the Bronx.[2] At times, problems occurred during filming.[2] Kaufman said when they were filming in the street one day, "[This] Puerto Rican motorcycle gang came pushing its way through the crowd; wanting to see what was going on", and "they pushed everyone aside". After bumping into van Lidth, Kaufman said they walked away.[2] There was also a time when former members of the "real" 'Baldies' caused a ruckus.[2] They complained that the film portrayed the 'Baldies' incorrectly, but then had the audacity to say: "[The movie] is a lie! This was not a bad neighborhood. There was no crime, no robbery. Murder, yes, but no crime!".[2] Eventually Rose Kaufman told them "fuck off",[19] and it nearly resulted in a brawl between Wahl (along with a few other actors) and the "real" 'Baldies'.[19]

Van Cortlandt Park in September, 2008.

The final battle with the 'Ducky Boys', which takes place during the football match between the 'Wanderers' and the 'Del Bombers', was filmed in Van Cortlandt Park.[19] Kaufman compared this scene to a "brutal British soccer brawl",[19] whereas Ganios compared it to the battle of Mons Graupius.[17] When asked further about this scene, Ganios commented:

"The final fight with the 'Ducky Boys' was absolutely wild, [and] for all practical purposes it was real. For an entire week hundreds of screaming, stunted madmen - armed with real baseball bats, axe handles, and chains - hurled themselves at us in wave after wave of unabated Celtic fury. It got totally out of hand, with the mayhem sometimes continuing for a full five minutes after [the director] yelled cut. Some of the actors and camera crew were seriously injured and had to be hospitalized."[17]


During editing, Kaufman cut six minutes of footage from the film.[20] The director's cut premiered at the Telluride Film Festival in 1995.[20] Seventeen years later it was screened again, but this time to the Film Society at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.[20]


The Wanderers was released on July 4, 1979.

Critical reception[edit]

The film's initial reception was mixed. After an advance screening on December 31, 1978, Variety magazine praised the film, saying that "despite an uneasy blend of nostalgia and violence, The Wanderers is a well-made and impressive film". The Kaufman's were also complimented for their script, which was described as "accurately" capturing the "urban angst" of growing up in the late 1960s.[4] On the contrary, Janet Maslin (of the New York Times) was very critical of the film in her 1979 review. She said "the movie never attempts to tell a single story", and instead, "settles for a string of boisterous vignettes, which are heaped carelessly atop one another without any consistent scheme".[3]

Due to its increasing popularity, The Wanderers was given a theatrical re-release by Warner Bros. in 1996.[7] A number of critics praised the film during this time, including Peter Stacks of the San Francisco Chronicle.[21] Stacks noted Kaufman's talent for effectively changing the film's tone, and praised the acting abilities of both Wahl and Ganios.[21] He also complimented the film's soundtrack.[21]

The film currently has a rating of 89 percent on Rotten Tomatoes (based on 18 reviews; 16 "fresh" and two "rotten" - with an average rating of 6.8 out of ten),[5] indicating mainly positive reviews. Dennis Schwartz gave the film a B- in 2012, calling it "crudely entertaining". He also took the time to applaud Wahl, Friedrich, and Sweet for their acting.[22] The film's popularity is evident by its cult status.[6]

Box office performance[edit]

The Wanderers made $5 million at the domestic box office[1] and $18 million overseas,[1] for a worldwide gross of $23 million.[1]


The Wanderers: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Soundtrack album by Various artists
Released April 12, 1989
Recorded 1959–1964
Genre Rock & Roll, Doo Wop, Pop-rock, R&B
Length 27:71
Label Warner Bros. Records
Various chronology
The Wanderers: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack[23]
Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 3/5 stars[24]

Kaufman and Price compiled the soundtrack themselves.[25]

The film also includes the songs:

  • "Stranger Girl" by The Slapbacks

In popular culture[edit]

Since its release, The Wanderers has gained a significant cult following, and as a result, was featured in Danny Peary's novel; Cult Movies III: 50 More Hits of the Reel Thing.[6] Due to its popularity, the film was given a theatrical re-release ( in the U.S.) by Warner Bros. in 1996.[7]


  1. ^ a b c d e "The Wanderers (Box Office Performance)", The Numbers. Retrieved 01-28-2015.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag City Island Clam Fritters. "TV Bites: The Wanderers (Philip Kaufman Interview)",, published 01-05-2013. Retrieved 06-25-2015.
  3. ^ a b Maslin, Janet. "The Wanderers (1979) Screen: 'The Wanderers,' a Bronx Gangs Story",, published 07-13-1979. Retrieved 07-01-2015.
  4. ^ a b Variety Staff. "Review: ‘The Wanderers’",, published 31-12-1978. Retrieved 07-01-2015.
  5. ^ a b "The Wanderers (1973)", Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 12-24-2014.
  6. ^ a b c d Danny Peary, Cult Movies III: 50 More Hits of the Reel Thing, (Great Britain: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1989). Retrieved 06-27-2015.
  7. ^ a b c Schumann, Howard. "The Wanderers", Retrieved 27-06-2015.
  8. ^ "DOMESTIC GROSSES: Adjusted for Ticket Price Inflation",, published 2015. Retrieved 07-23-2015.
  9. ^ "The Warriors" Critical Success, Retrieved 07-24-2015.
  10. ^ "The Warriors (gross)", Retrieved 07-24-2015.
  11. ^ "Top 50 Cult Movies" by Entertainment Weekly,, originally published by Entertainment Weekly (May 23, 2003 Issue). Retrieved 07-24-2015.
  12. ^ The Wanderers by Richard Price, pages 79-80, 1993 UK paperback edition (first published in 1974), Bloomsbury. Retrieved 07-24-2015.
  13. ^ The Wanderers by Richard Price, pages 226-239, 1993 UK paperback edition (first published in 1974), Bloomsbury. Retrieved 07-24-2015.
  14. ^ The Wanderers by Richard Price, page 10, 1993 UK paperback edition (first published in 1974), Bloomsbury. Retrieved 07-24-2015.
  15. ^ Danny Peary, Cult Movies III: 50 More Hits of the Reel Thing, (Great Britain: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1989) p. 266. Retrieved 06-27-2015.
  16. ^ Reverend (26-04-2010). "Erland Van Lidth, aka Terror, Grossberger, and Dynamo", Retrieved 26-06-2015.
  17. ^ a b c Ladyland, Retro. "Telling Porky's... an interview with Tony 'Meat' Ganios",, published 06-17-2015. Retrieved 07-01-2015.
  18. ^ Marcus, Greil (12-07-1978). "The Return Of The Wanderer", Rolling Stone. Retrieved 06-26-2015
  19. ^ a b c d Philip, Tom (24-04-2014). "Behind the Scenes with The Wanderers’ Philip Kaufman", first published at daepnyc. Retrieved 06-27-2015.
  20. ^ a b c Sragow, Michael. "“The Wanderers” Comes Home at Last",, published 07-16-2012. Retrieved 07-02-2015.
  21. ^ a b c Stacks, Peter. "`The Wanderers' -- '60s Innocence Lost / Classic gang film has revival run", San Francisco Chronicle,, published 06-21-1996. Retrieved 07-01-2015.
  22. ^ Schwartz, Dennis. 'The Wanderers' review, Ozus' World Movie Reviews, published 07-28-2012. Retrieved 07-31-2015.
  23. ^ "The Wanderers: Soundtrack", Retrieved 06-26-2015.
  24. ^ "'The Wanderers: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack' AllMusic rating ", Retrieved 06-26-2015.
  25. ^ von Bagh, Peter. "Full interview with Philip Kaufman",, published 11-05-2013. Retrieved 26-06-2015.


External links[edit]