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 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 and their ongoing power struggle with the rival 'Fordham Baldies'.

Based on the novel of the same name by Richard Price, the film is notable for featuring a number of then-unknown actors. For example, actor Ken Wahl made his acting debut in the movie, but went on to find fame in the TV series Wiseguy. Also, Karen Allen had only starred in one feature film before The Wanderers, but found fame two years later; for her portrayal of Marion Ravenwood in Raiders of the Lost Ark, the first installment in Steven Speilberg's Indiana Jones film franchise.

Produced on a relatively low budget,[2] the film was a critical and commercial success upon release. It has since garnered a significant cult following,[3] and as a result, was given a theatrical re-release (in the U.S.) by Warner Bros.; in 1996.[4] It was also featured in Danny Peary's book Cult Movies III.[3]


Joey and Turkey are members of an all-Italian street gang; known as the 'Wanderers'. Joey notices Turkey walking down the street, and realizes that he intends to join the 'Fordham Baldies' (because of his shaved head). Joey tries to talk him out of joining the gang, but before Turkey has a chance to ask, Terror's girlfriend - Peewee - overhears Joey insulting the gang. As a result, the 'Baldies' chase Joey and Turkey. Richie (the 'Wanderers' leader) and Buddy come to help, but after realising it's the 'Baldies' who are chasing them, they also run. When they are cornered, the 'Wanderers' are helped by a tough stranger named Perry. Perry is Joey's new neighbor and is convinced to join the 'Wanderers'.

At school, the 'Wanderers' get into an argument with the 'Del Bombers' - an all-Black gang. 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. Despie's father Chubby, 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. Before Nina leaves, Richie convinces her to accept Joey's telephone number. Richie, Joey, Buddy, and Perry start to follow Nina, but get lost. After getting lost, they are attacked by the 'Ducky Boys'. They manage to escape, but Perry's arm is broken.

Heavily intoxicated with alcohol, the 'Baldies' are tricked into joining the Marines. Before leaving for military training, they decide to crash a party held by 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. Heavily upset, he travels to a nearby Catholic church. After being spotted by a 'Ducky Boy' attending mass, Turkey is chased down the street and murdered by the gang.

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 manages to rekindle his relationship with Despie. After discovering that Despie is pregnant, Chubby accosts Richie into marrying his daughter.

To settle the dispute between the 'Wanderers' and the 'Del Bombers', Chubby has organized 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'. The 'Ducky Boys' lose the battle and flee.

Joey decides to avoid Emilio, his abusive father, 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. They then rush out of the apartment and head for Richie's engagement party. At the engagement party, Joey spots Peewee outside and invites her in for food. 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 heading down a turnpike.


Primary cast
  • Ken Wahl as Richie Gennaro, the leader of the 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.
Secondary cast
  • 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 is somewhat gullible and aspires to become a member of the 'Fordham Baldies'.
Supporting cast
  • 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, Richard Price; who portrayed a hustler, and Wayne Knight; who had an uncredited role as a waiter.


  • The '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.
  • The '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.
  • The 'Del Bombers': They are the toughest all-black gang in the Bronx. They have 23 members, and are prejudiced against Italian's. They wear purple and gold hoodies with "DB" written in Old English lettering on the back. Their leader is Clinton Stitch.
  • The '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.
  • The '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.


Director Philip Kaufman, pictured at the 48th Venice International Film Festival in September, 1991.

Not long after the novel came out, Kaufman's teenage son, Peter, read the book and said "you guys [Kaufman and his wife Rose] should make a movie out of this!". Rose started listening to songs like The Wanderer by Dion and so forth, and said "Okay, let's make it". Rose wrote the first draft of the screenplay, and during that time, she encountered many problems.[5] She had to go back and forth with her husband, combining characters and taking parts of the novel; and putting it all together.[5] All in all, the Kaufman's spent a few years writing the screenplay.[5]

After completing the screenplay, Kaufman and Richard Price tried to pitch the project, but to no avail.[5] 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.[5] The film was to be produced in England, with Jerry Isenberg serving as executive producer. Allan Scott (Scottish screenwriter) and Chris Bryant were hired to write the film's screenplay, but after their attempt was rejected, Kaufman attempted to write the screenplay himself.[5] However, before he could finish the screenplay, Paramount Pictures abandoned the project; deeming that there wasn't a market for science-fiction movies.[5] 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.

After Star Trek was shelved, Kaufman went on to direct the remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. He still wanted to make The Wanderers,[5] so right after filming Invasion of the Body Snatchers, he headed to New York with the hopes of obtaining finance for the movie and starting production.[5] According to Kaufman, "the pieces somehow fell together".[5] This was partly due to the increasing popularity in gang movies at the time.[5] 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 production. The former went on to achieve widespread commercial success, and a cult following.



The works of Italian filmaker Federico Fellini were an inspiration to Kaufman's adaptation,[6] as were "classic" comic books.[6] When asked about his inspirations even further, Kaufman said:

"When I was growing up, comic books were read to be swept into a world of your own imagining. And the main thing you had to ask yourself was, ‘did you want to hang out with these guys and be a part of their world?’ And I wanted to hang out with The Wanderers."[6]


Philip Kaufman's wife, Rose, wrote the first draft of the screenplay, and during that time, she encountered many problems.[5] Because of this, she went back and forth with her husband, combined characters from the novel, and took parts of the stories (within the novel), and put it all together.[5] All in all, it took a couple of years for the Kaufman's to write the screenplay.[5]

The movie's screenplay is noticeably different to the book itself.[5] For instance, in the book, it is Buddy Borsalino who marries Despie Galasso; not Richie Gennaro. In the movie, Buddy was also relegated to a supporting role; despite being a major character within the novel. A more noticeable difference is the complete absence of a 'Wanderer' named Eugene Caputo; another major character within the novel. Also, in the book, Terror isn't the leader of the 'Fordham Baldies', he is the strongest. Terror is also said to be of Mexican descent within the book. Despite the differences to his novel, Richard Price approved of Kaufman's adaptation. He said:

"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][7]


Alan Rosenberg.jpg
Alan Rosenberg
Karen Allen1.JPG
Karen Allen
Ken Wahl

The casting process, which Kaufman described as "arduous", began in New York City.[5] With radio searches having commenced, there were teenagers from all over New York seeking to audition for roles.[5] Academy Award winning producer Scott Rudin was the film's casting director.[5] Rudin was the one who found Erland van Lidth[8] and Linda Manz.[5] Unlike in the movie, there was no character named Peewee in the novel. When casting roles for the movie, Rudin brought Linda Manz in for an interview.[5] Philip Kaufman and Richard Price were present during the interview, and they all thought that she had "great character".[5] Manz was so convincing, that during the interview, everyone assumed she was a member of a real street gang.[5] Because of this, the character Peewee was specifically written for Manz.[5] A year after the interview, Manz gained prominence for her role in Terrence Malick's movie; Days of Heaven.[5]

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. Kaufman intentionally cast unknown actors in the movie.[5] Wahl was on his way to a job in a pizza parlor,[5] when someone sent his photo to Rudin; thinking he could play one of the smaller roles in the film.[5] But when Kaufman finally met with Wahl, he noticed Wahl's talent for acting, and instantly cast him in the lead role.[5]

To cast the role of Perry LaGuardia, Kaufman phoned all of the gym's around New York; asking for a "six-foot, four inch, 18 year-old kid".[5] Eventually Kaufman was put into contact with Ganios, who after being met, was cast in the role.[5]



Filming began in September, 1978,[9] and the majority of the film was shot in the Bronx.[5] At times, problems occurred during filming.[5] Kaufman recalled 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. They pushed everyone aside and then they just bumped right into Terror, looked up; smiled; and walked away. They realized they were out-sized here."[5] There was another time when former members of the "real" 'Baldies' caused a ruckus.[5] 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!".[5] Eventually Rose Kaufman told them "fuck off",[6] and it nearly resulted in a brawl between Wahl (along with a few other actors) and the "real" 'Baldies'.[6]

Van Cortlandt Park, pictured 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.[6] Kaufman has compared this scene to what he calls a "brutal British soccer brawl".[6] This scene is not only viewed as a victory for all the gang's that defeated the 'Ducky Boys', but also as the act that finally united them all.[6] When asked about this scene, Ganios said:

"The final fight with the 'Ducky Boys' was absolutely wild. It was the Bronx version of the battle of Mons Graupius, 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 director Phil Kaufman yelled cut. Some of the actors and camera crew were seriously injured and had to be hospitalized."[10]



During editing, Kaufman cut six minutes of footage from the film.[11] The director's cut premiered at the Telluride Film Festival in 1995.[11] Seventeen years later, the director's cut was shown again, but this time to the Film Society at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.[11]


Critical reception[edit]

The film was well received upon release, and has garnered mainly positive reviews. 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).[12] On December 31, 1978, Variety magazine praised the film after an advance screening, saying that "despite an uneasy blend of nostalgia and violence, The Wanderers is a well-made and impressive film".[13] The magazine also complimented the Kaufman's for their script, which was described as "accurately" capturing the "urban angst" of growing up in the late 1960s.[13] During the film's 1996 re-release, Peter Stacks (of the San Francisco Chronicle) also praised the movie.[14] Stacks noted Kaufman's talent for effectively changing the film's tone, and praised the acting abilities of both Wahl and Ganios, respectively.[14] He also took a liking to the film's soundtrack.[14] Despite garnering many positive reviews, Janet Maslin (of the New York Times) was very critical of the movie in her 1979 review. Describing the movie as somewhat confusing,[15] Maslin said that "the movie never attempts to tell a single story",[15] and instead, "settles for a string of boisterous vignettes, which are heaped carelessly atop one another without any consistent scheme".[15]

The film 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. 'The Wanderers' was the name of an actual gang located in South Brooklyn, which 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'".

Box office performance[edit]

The Wanderers made $5 million at the domestic box office,[1] and $18 million at the international box office.[1] This means that The Wanderers grossed $23 million at the worldwide box office.[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[16]
Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 3/5 stars[17]

Kaufman and Price compiled the soundtrack themselves.[2] Price was very knowledgeable of the songs of the 1950s and 60s,[2] so he gave Kaufman a variety of possible songs to choose from.[2]

Track 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
"Shout" The Isley Brothers
"Do You Love Me" The Contours
"Runaround Sue" Dion
"The Wanderer" Dion

The film also includes the songs:

  • "Stranger Girl" by The Slapbacks


  1. ^ a b c d "The Wanderers (Box Office Performance)", The Numbers. Retrieved 01-28-2015.
  2. ^ a b c d von Bagh, Peter. "Full interview with Philip Kaufman",, published 11-05-2013. Retrieved 26-06-2015.
  3. ^ a b Danny Peary, Cult Movies III: 50 More Hits of the Reel Thing, (Great Britain: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1989). Retrieved 06-27-2015.
  4. ^ Schumann, Howard. "The Wanderers", Retrieved 27-06-2015.
  5. ^ 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 ah ai aj City Island Clam Fritters. "TV Bites: The Wanderers (Philip Kaufman Interview)",, published 01-05-2013. Retrieved 06-25-2015.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h Philip, Tom (24-04-2014). "Behind the Scenes with The Wanderers’ Philip Kaufman", Retrieved 06-27-2015.
  7. ^ Danny Peary, Cult Movies III: 50 More Hits of the Reel Thing, (Great Britain: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1989) p. 266. Retrieved 06-27-2015.
  8. ^ Reverend (26-04-2010). "Erland Van Lidth, aka Terror, Grossberger, and Dynamo", Retrieved 26-06-2015.
  9. ^ Marcus, Greil (12-07-1978). "The Return Of The Wanderer", Rolling Stone. Retrieved 06-26-2015
  10. ^ Ladyland, Retro. "Telling Porky's... an interview with Tony 'Meat' Ganios",, published 06-17-2015. Retrieved 07-01-2015.
  11. ^ a b c Sragow, Michael. "“The Wanderers” Comes Home at Last",, published 07-16-2012. Retrieved 07-02-2015.
  12. ^ "The Wanderers (1973)", Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 12-24-2014.
  13. ^ a b Variety Staff. "Review: ‘The Wanderers’",, published 31-12-1978. Retrieved 07-01-2015.
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ a b c Maslin, Janet. "The Wanderers (1979) Screen: 'The Wanderers,' a Bronx Gangs Story",, published 07-13-1979. Retrieved 07-01-2015.
  16. ^ "The Wanderers: Soundtrack", Retrieved 06-26-2015.
  17. ^ "'The Wanderers: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack' AllMusic rating ", Retrieved 06-26-2015.


  • Cult Movies III: 50 More Hits of the Reel Thing (1989) by Danny Peary. Great Britain: Sidgwick & Jackson.

External links[edit]