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USA 1979
Directed by
Philip Kaufman
114 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
David M. Brown
3.5 stars

The Wanderers

Synopsis:The Bronx in the 60s is a dangerous place for a teenager. As well as the usual trials and tribulations of the teenage years like chasing girls and racing cars they have to worry about gang warfare. The Baldies, The Cavaliers, The Duckie Boys, The Del Roy's and The Wanderers stalk the city streets, guarding their turf and acting tough before running home to their alcoholic mothers, abusive fathers and awful family lives. Their school is a hotbed of racism and violence that erupts in the classroom as the teachers desperately attempt to prepare them for adulthood. All roads lead to a massive rumble at an American football game when the Wanderers find themselves in a giant race war. It's the Wanderers against the world.

The Wanderers
plays like a gritty version of TV's mega-successful Happy Days crossed with West Side Story (1961)

The sensational  soundtrack drives the film along, Dion's 'The Wanderer' and the wonderful tunes of the Four Seasons, The Shirelles and The Isley Brothers add to the period authenticity. Beautifully shot and well-played, stylised realism is the name of the game. The scenes as gang member Turkey is chased and killed in the streets of New York is a dazzling combination of choreography and lighting worthy of Robert Wise's adaptation of Bernstein's musical. The gritty dialogue, by Richard Price who scripted Scorsese's The Color of Money (1986) and Spike Lee's Clockers (1995) is excellent. Perfectly depicting the growing pains of the kids and the decade itself as America lost its innocence.

The young cast is largely made up of enthusiastic newcomers with a few familiar faces such as Karen Allen from the Kaufman-scripted Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) appears in the role of Nina and Ken Wahl from TV's Wiseguy stars as Richie, the leader of The Wanderers.

At the core of the film Kaufman expertly examines the racial tensions of the era as well as commenting on the draft, betrayal, peer group pressure and the tight-knit Italian community of New York. Not that everything is so serious; the temptation of tight-sweatered girls is always on the boys' minds and lends the film an interesting line in humour as the guys fumble in the dark.

The Wanderers is fine entertainment, a winning combination of social commentary and dark humour, it looks back at a bygone age with affection. Indeed the final battle is a perfect example of Kaufman honing his craft and a sign of great things to come.




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