The Wanderers Blu-ray Review: Philip Kaufman’s Cult Classic Captures a Bygone Era 

I think it’s safe to say everyone can relate to being a teen. Doesn’t matter what time period you’re in, there are always going to be trials and tribulations of the “youth years.” There are some films about teenagers that have stood the test time (Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club), while others instantly falter as soon as they’re released (Bring It On, Twilight). Fortunately, Philip Kaufman’s 1979 cult classic adaptation of Richard Price’s best seller gets it quite right: from how it captures a bygone era (1963), and how it succeeds in telling a very modern story.

Set in the Bronx during 1963, the film centers on the titular Italian-American group of teens and their continuing power struggle against the Fordham Baldies. In a series of vignettes: some hilarious, others very tense, we meet Richie (Ken Wahl), Joey (John Friedrich), and newcomer Perry (Tony Ganios), as they deal with growing up on a day-to-day basis, the many challenges of life as rebellious teens. Richie falls in love with the headstrong Nina (Karen Allen) while dating the gum-smacking Despie (Tony Kalem), whom he eventually gets pregnant; Joey deals with his bodybuilding bully of a father and a nonchalant mother; and Perry, an outsider from New Jersey, copes with an alcoholic mother. Everything culminates in not just a thrilling rumble in a football field, but more poignantly, a television broadcast of President Kennedy’s assassination. In the final moments of the film, Richie is forced to marry Despie, while Joey and Perry leave the Bronx on a road trip to an uncertain future.

What elevates the film, and makes it actually better than the other teen-gang film of the time, The Warriors, is that it’s more grounded in reality rather than stylized fiction. The soundtrack, featuring a classic array of golden oldies, gives the film a wild and energetic atmosphere that brilliantly accentuates every moment in both comedic and dramatic detail. The cast is excellent, especially Kalem as Despie, but there are also amazing supporting turns by a very young Alan Rosenberg, Linda Manz, and Dolph Sweet as Despie’s father. Kaufman’s direction is near-perfect, and the iconic Michael Chapman’s cinematography is surreal and otherworldly.

For a Kino Lorber release, the Blu-ray is unusually packed with special features, giving much-needed new life to a film that was unfairly neglected upon its release in the U.S. Not only does it have the original 118-minute theatrical cut and the rare 124-minute preview cut, but there are also introductions to both versions.

Special features:

Disc One: Theatrical Cut

  • Audio Commentary by Kaufman
  • Back to the Bronx with Richard Price Featurette
  • Wanderers Forever– Live Q&A at NYC’s Film Forum with Allen, Kalem, Ganios, and Price
  • Original theatrical trailer

Disc Two: Preview Cut

  • Audio Commentary by the great Annette Insdorf, film professor at Columbia University
  • The Wanderers Q&A at LA’s Cinefamily with Kaufman, Rosenberg, and Peter Kaufman
  • Audio Q&As at NYC’s Film Forum with Kaufman and Price
  • Re-Release trailer
  • TV Spots

In the end, I was completely won over by this amazing film, because it captures the spirit of a generation, and the nostalgia of an ancient world. I know this is a cliche, but they just don’t make them like this anymore. WANDERERS FOREVER!!!

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