Thursday, July 14, 2011

"The Wanderers"(1979)d/Philip Kaufman

Released six months after Walter Hill's stylized gang vision, The Warriors, on the Fourth of July in 1979, Philip Kaufman's Bronx-flavored period piece and the subject of tonight's review, ended up on the losing end at the box office, but would go on to rightfully achieve cult classic status anyway.What looks like just another gang-related drama at first glance turns out to be a bittersweet and often very funny keepsake of bygone days of innocence, and a far superior movie than its predecessor.Kaufman expands on and transforms the 1974 novel by Richard Price(who cameos in the bowling alley scene btw) into a congruous time capsule of the turbulent sixties and coming of age therein; executed with ease due to zealous performances from a game cast of performers that include Ken Wahl, John Friedrich, Toni "The Sopranos" Kalem, Tony Ganios("Meat" from Porky's(1983)), Linda "gummo" Ganz, and everyone's favorite mountainous operatic bass-baritone(!!!) from the Netherlands, the late 6'6", 400 lb Erland van Lidth de Jeude(Interestingly enough, I must have known at least six van Lidth clones in my travels over the years, at least one of which who shares his cinematic monniker).Adding to the gnarl-gravy here is a mint soundtrack of fifties hits from Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, Dion and the Belmonts, The Shirelles, and others.All of the gangs' names, from the Del Bombers right through to the Fordham Baldies, are borrowed from real gangs that bopped through the streets of the Bronx during the fifties and sixties, with only the titular Wanderers being a real life Brooklyn-based unit of the day.Forwards!
"You're Italian, right? Then you got to get into an Italian gang, like the Wanderers."
We meet Joey(John Friedrich) as he unsuccessfully tries to talk fellow Wanderer Turkey(Alan Rosenberg) out of probating for the Fordham Baldies, when his insults send the bald boppers chasing after both boys with violence in mind.A trademark Wanderer whistle brings gang leader, Richie(Ken Wahl), who's been giving it to Despie(Toni Kalem) on the couch by the glow of a Three Stooges movie on the television, to their aid, but when he finds out it's the Baldies giving chase, he's soon running for his life as well.Cornered down an alley, the Wanderers are rescued by the hamfists of Perry(Tony Ganios), a hulking new kid in town.Living just across the hall from Perry(whose alcoholic mother has already begun having an affair with Joey's abrasive muscle-bound father, Emilio(William Andrews)), Joey quickly divulges the pecking order of neighborhood gangs to the newcomer and adds him to the Wanderer ranks.A study on equality in all men in Mr. Sharp's class goes from bad to worse when racial insults are hurled back and forth between the Italians and the blacks until a rumble between the Wanderers and the Del Bombers is promulgated.Worried that the black gang, premier in the area, is more than the crew can handle, the Wanderers look for help, first from other units, then from Despie's mob-tied father and his brothers, then finally, upon insistance from Turkey, the Baldies, who get the potential new member to tie ropes with rocks on the end to Richie's and Joey's dicks and drop them off a bridge("What about cock n' roll, muthas?" asks Roger, the lone black skinhead).At the bowling alley, the Galasso brothers dish out a hearty beating to some hustlers from Long Island that had conned them out of money a week earlier, then suggest to Richie and Clinton that their gangs should settle their differences like sportsmen, with a football game, instead.Some of the Wanderers enjoy a healthy bout of elbow-titting on the street, where Richie meets Nina(Karen Allen), and is instantly enamored of her.Perry tries to follow her car, but unwittingly drives into Ducky Boy territory, where the pint-sized Irish brawlers swarm his car, breaking his arm before the boys can escape by the hair of their teeth.
"You know what I think we just done? I think we just joined the fucking Marines."
With her father away, Despie, who registers an eleven on the annoying Dagette-o-meter, holds a large house party where Richie can barely harness his lust for Nina, who he's half-heartedly set up with Joey.Meanwhile, Turkey has been just been made an honorary Baldie, and the drunken gang celebrates by being tricked into being sworn into the Marines(!) by a shrewd recruiter.At the party, a fixed strip poker game goes awry, and while Richie and Nina get it on in her back seat outside, Turkey crashes the party with the Baldies, who drive off on him.The commotion brings the couple's makeout session to Joey's attention(betrayed, he punches his friend in the grill), then to Despie's(she weepingly calls him a shit heel).Turkey, drunkenly wandering the streets in search of his crew, stumbles upon a church full of Ducky Boys, who coerce him up a telephone pole, which he falls to his death from.At school, none of the other Wanderers acknowledge Richie, and his day just gets worse from there.He watches President Kennedy's assassination on a store window television set, and later discovers he's knocked Despie up.Chubby G. tells the terrified boy he should have bought his daughter an ankle bracelet and stuck to jerkin' off(!!), before telling him he's going to have to marry her.The rival football game looks bad for the Wanderers until Richie pads up and apologizes for being a dick to Joey, but the comeback trail is soon blocked by hundreds of brawl-hungry Ducky Boys who surround the game.The Wanderers and Del Bombers are joined by Joey's father and also the Wongs(an oriental gang who ought not to be fucked with, as their rep warns) and together they manage to stave off the silent psychos, while a battle-crazed Emilio wallops his own son in the bread basket.The punchy weightlifter later gets his when Joey smashes a bottle over his domepiece while hiding out at Perry's and his father comes a-knocking for the boy's mother with amorous intent.An impromptu bachelor party is held for Richie, who spots Nina passing in the street, impulsively darting out and following her to a club where, from the front window, he realizes he has no place in her Bohemian world, and returns to his own party where Wanderers, Del Bombers, Wongs, and Terror's tiny girlfriend/Baldies head of ladies' auxiliary, Pee Wee(Linda Manz), all have a good time together.Perry and Joey cut out early, hitting the road for parts unknown, but assure Richie that they're Wanderers forever.
Today's Wanderers vs. Del Bombers football game has been postponed due to a proliferation of Ducky Boys.A makeup game may be scheduled at a later date if anybody survives.
To any ambitious filmmakers aspiring to remake Wanderers(as I said earlier with Warriors), I'm available to play an updated Terror, if he was brilliant, better built, and gorgeous...Curiously enough, I first watched tonight's entry with a chelsea girl(I'm still a sucker for that hairstyle, sue me) who loved the movie so much she carried a VHS copy around in her bookbag.Thanks, Andy.Joey's football banner was drawn up by none other than artist extraordinaire, Neal Adams.Olympia Dukakis, who played Joey's mother, would go on to win an Oscar and a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress in 1987's Moonstruck.Her genre work came earlier, with roles in Brian DePalma's Sisters(1973) and Death Wish a year later.Karen Allen, who got her start in John Landis' Animal House(1978), went on to a very busy acting career, appearing in everything from Cruising(1980) to Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull(2008), and remains active today.Wahl, who was born Anthony Calzaretta(!), would be best remembered for his work on television's Wiseguy series.Interestingly, he was also married for seven years to Penthouse Pet/actress Corinne Alphen.Not bad, Ant'ny.Sadly, the Dutch noble, van Lidth died in 1987 at the age of 34, after only four movies, with 1982's Alone in the Dark his lone venture into genre films.On the ratings scale, Wanderers scores a perfect four wops, and comes with my highest recommendation.See it.
When people talk in the hallway, Emilio(William Andrews) gets angry.


Morgan said...

Great review! I've been meaning to see this movie for the longest time, but I keep forgetting to. Hopefully I'll remember to try to watch it this week.

beedubelhue said...


Thanks for the feedback!Let me know what you think after you've seen it, I'd love to hear your thoughts!


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