- Movie Rating -

The Wanderer (1979)

| July 4, 1979

Watching The Wanderers, I kept thinking back to American Graffiti, not in accusing the film of being a rip-off but in the need to catch the youth culture that existed just before the murder of John Kennedy and before Vietnam really got out of control.  It is apparent that filmmakers really want to zero in on this particular time period.  If those two events really did rob America of its innocence, then maybe it is not unreasonable that we would want to see ourselves when we were more innocent, like look at old photographs of our younger days before we became hard and cynical.

The Wanderers is not nearly as good as American Graffiti, but I felt the same affection.  It was written by Richard Price, a New Yorker who understands the landscape here.  His story is set in Brooklyn and focuses on an Italian-American street gang called The Wanderers, like by a nice guy named Richie (Ken Wahl), whose days are in a state of perpetual adolescence.  They pick up girls, fight with other gangs and generally just hang around.  Meanwhile the soundtrack of their lives is provided by Dion, The Four Seasons, the Shirelles, Chet Baker and other invaluable anthems of the time. 

The leisure pace of their lives makes for the better scenes in the movie.  When they’re hanging out and just being together, the movie works.  But Kaufman doesn’t tighten the movie down to just a slice-of-life.  Frequently this portrait of nostalgia keeps getting interrupted by grim, real-life stuff that undermines what is ostensibly a comedy. 

There are nice human touches, like a romantic triangle that occurs between Richie, a new girl in town named Nina (Karen Allen) and his possibly pregnant girlfriend Despie (Toni Kalem),  Those scenes I liked, but other are just violent showdowns like the several rival gangs that keep showing up like The Ducky Boys and at one point a gang called The Fordham Baldies and those rivalries make the film grim and kind of unpleasant.  Added to that is a weird subplot involving a violent mob boss named Chubby (Dolph Sweet).

I kept thinking of the tone of American Graffiti, how the film used one night to show us how the kids in Modesto California spend their time: driving, scoring booze, making trouble.  But the tone of that picture worked because we were always on equal footing with the characters.  Here, Kaufman doesn’t have a consistent tone.  This is a nice movie that is frequently interrupted by things that are unnecessarily violent and unpleasant.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1979) View IMDB Filed in: Uncategorized