The Flickers: The Wanderers

The Wanderers (1979)

Starring Ken Wahl, John Friedrich, Karen Allen, Toni Kalem, Tony Ganios, Alan Rosenberg, Jim Youngs, Dolph Sweet, Val Avery, Erland Van Lidth, Linda Manz, Michael Wright, William Andrews, Olympia Dukakis and Wayne Knight. Directed by Philip Kaufman. From Warner Bros.

Poster by Tony Stella. Tony-Stella.com.

Richie (Wahl), Joey (Friedrich) and Turkey (Rosenberg) are three friends that are part of the Wanderers, an Italian gang in the Bronx of 1963. Richie loves Despie Galasso (Kalem) and wants to take their relationship to the next level. She faces the quandary of many young girls of the time. While Richie tries to talk Despie into going all the way in the den of her home, Turkey runs into Joey in the street. Pragmatic Turkey is planning for the future; after graduation, he plans to join the Fordham Baldies, a menacing gang of older guys who shave their heads so their hair won’t get in their eyes when they fight.

Turkey (Rosenberg) tells Joey (Friedrich) he’s joining the Fordham Baldies. All film images © Warner Bros.

When Joey sees that Turkey has already shaved his head in anticipation of joining the gang, he is enraged by the betrayal. The two run into the Baldies in the street and have words and the shaved head bruisers give chase while Joey and Turkey light out. While they run, they whistle the Wanderers’ signal for trouble. Richie hears the call and leaves Despie laying on the couch. The Baldies catch the Wanderers and are about to lay the boots to them when mystery man Perry (Ganios) shows up. The leader of the Baldies, Terror (van Lidth), sizes up the substantial Perry and backs down. Terror’s girl, Peewee (Manz), tells the Italians they better watch it next time.

Joey, Turkey, Buddy (Youngs) and Richie (Wahl) wonder where the stranger who helped them with the Baldies went.

Joey learns that Perry lives in the apartment across the hall. While the two are returning home one day, they stumble on Joey’s father, Emilio (Andrews) leaving Perry’s apartment after an assignation with Perry’s mother. The next day at school, Joey introduces Perry – recently arrived from Newark – around to the guys. They all want Perry to join the Wanderers but he at first plays it cool. In class, Mr. Sharp (Avery) tries to mark Brotherhood Week by talking some “straight talk” about the various ethnicities in the class. Unfortunately, his efforts result in a brawl. Richie and Clinton Stitch (Wright), the leader of the toughest black gang at school, the Del Bombers, arrange a rumble. Both Richie and Clinton canvass the other gangs at the school to join them. Richie approaches the mysterious Wongs, “27 guys all named Wong”, but leader Teddy Wong won’t commit.

The Del Bombers cut up in class while their leader, Clinton Stitch (Wright) plays it cool.
Don’t f*** with the Wongs.

The Wanderers are also a football team and avid bowlers. The next day they are talking strategy at the Paradise Lanes when Despie tells Richie “my daddy wants to see you”. Chubby Galasso (Sweet) and his equally massive brothers run the neighbourhood and hold court at the Paradise. Richie is intimidated by their substantial size and their power, power Chubby displays for Richie by manhandling some bowling hustlers. Afterwards, Chubby brings the Wanderers together with the Del Bombers. Having colluded with black sportsmen who enjoy a good athletic contest, Chubby informs Richie and Clinton that the rumble will be replaced by a football game between the gangs.

Chubby Galasso and his brothers summon Richie and Joey at Paradise Lanes.

Out on the street one day, Richie, Joey, Perry – now a Wanderer – and Buddy (Youngs) are carousing and Richie runs in to Nina (Allen). He is immediately smitten. In order to keep in touch with Nina, Richie gets Joey to make a date with her. Driving around later, the Wanderers get lost and end up off the beaten path and into Ducky Boy territory. The Ducky Boys – more a sect than a gang – are mute, 5 foot, 3 inch stone killers. The Wanderers get stopped by the Ducky Boys and Perry gets his arm broken before the guys can get away.

Nina – interested in Richie – goes with Joey to a party at Despie’s place. Richie can’t help himself and makes a move on Nina. The two are discovered and Richie is ostracized from the group. While this is going on, Turkey and the Baldies are hanging out in front of the Marine recruitment center and spoiling for a fight. The Marine at the recruitment center calls them in and tricks them into joining up. Terror and the gang, resigned to a life of soldiering, abandon a drunken Turkey in the street and he winds up alone in the Ducky Boys’ neighbourhood.

“Y’know what I think we just did?”

Walking alone one day, Richie sees people on the street crying. Joining a group in front of an appliance store, Richie looks in the window at the TV’s there. He sees the news playing on the screens and hears an announcer sombrely reporting on the assassination of President Kennedy. Richie sees Despie among the group and the two walk off together.

Richie is still on the outs with the gang and not involved in the big football game, which the Wanderers are losing badly – until Richie joins the huddle and rights the ship. Before the game can finish, the Ducky Boys show up. The Del Bombers join the Wanderers – and the Wongs, who have been watching the game – and engage in a major rumble against the silent savages. Even Joey’s father Emilio and Perry with his arm in a cast come down from the stands to throw the dukes.

The Ducky Boys crash the big game.

Despie drops the bomb that she is pregnant. Richie is dumbstruck and frightened when Despie tells him “my daddy wants to see you”. Chubby is enraged but cottons to the idea and says Richie and Despie can live in the basement; “I ain’t no hard guy!”. Despie is thrilled. Richie not so much.

Later, the gang throws a surprise bachelor party for Richie at a Little Italy restaurant. Out through the window, Richie thinks he sees Nina walking by. He gives chase and watches her go into a folk music club. He realizes he is watching her go into another world and out of his life. Resigned to his fate, he goes back to the party. Life, as he has known it, is over.

The trailer for The Wanderers.

I went to Pierre Laporte Junior High School. Laporte was the Quebec politician kidnapped and killed by the FLQ in 1970. During my grade 8 year – 1985-86 – I had two close friends, Rob Caputi and Richie Gallant. We had skateboarding and oldies in common. Rob lived across the street from our school and we would go to his place for lunch. In some format, I don’t recall, Rob had a copy of The Wanderers and we would watch pieces of it in Rob’s appropriately furnished Italian basement until it was time to go back to class. I distinctly remember how struck I was by the way the Chantays’ “Pipeline” was used. Because summer was over and we had just returned to school, we were watching it during the autumn. Because of this, it is a film that I often connect with the fall. The film resonated with me then and it always stayed with me and it remains one of my Top 25 favourite films, listed among those I enjoyed as a youth. Through the years, I found it hard to find to rent and only caught it – heavily edited – on A&E. Finally, as a young, married man, I bought it on DVD.

My copy.

The Wanderers began life as a novel written by Richard Price (born 1949) who grew up in The Bronx and graduated from Bronx High School of Science, Bobby Darin‘s alma mater. Price gives credence to my assertion that 24 is often the age of the artist when he creates his seminal piece of work; Price was 24 when The Wanderers, his first novel, was published in 1974. The novel is more a collection of short stories with recurring characters, all of whom are forced to mature and face adult responsibility by the end of the book. I was pleased to find a copy years ago. Price’s second novel, Bloodbrothers (1976) was turned into the film of the same name, released the year before our film was. Price then turned to screenwriting and has had some success in Hollywood. He was nominated for an Oscar for his script for The Color of Money (1986), he scripted the neo-noirs Sea of Love and Night and the City. Spike Lee turned Price’s Clockers into a film – with a script by Price – in 1995. Price also wrote the screenplay for 2000’s version of Shaft and he wrote for the TV show The Wire and “wrote and conceptualized” the story for the 18-minute film that accompanied the release of Michael Jackson’s “Bad” single.

Writer and director Philip Kaufman (born 1936) had written the 1976 Clint Eastwood film The Outlaw Josey Wales and production started with him as director. Kaufman had a falling out with Eastwood who took over direction duties. A year later, Kaufman was hired to direct a film based on the original Star Trek television series but the project was killed due to the imminent release of what was assumed would be the more significant science fiction film at that time, Star Wars. Sticking with the genre, Kaufman directed the remake of The Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978). Price and Kaufman then got the green light to go ahead with The Wanderers due in part to the popularity of gang movies and movies set in the Fifties and Sixties at the time. Kaufman co-wrote the script for our film with his wife, Rose, who passed in 2009. Philip Kaufman would enjoy success through the 1980’s. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) was based on a story of his, and then he wrote and directed four notable films between 1983 and 1993 including the award-winning The Right Stuff (1983) and 1993’s Rising Sun. Get ready for the cast of The Wanderers now. People who walked off the street and into the movie, nailing their parts. Some who then turned around and walked right back out onto the street.

Richie meets Perry. Wahl and Ganios.

Ken Wahl was able to forge a career in Hollywood despite being somewhat snakebit. Born in Chicago, Wahl has always been secretive about his origins, even the name he goes by. “Ken Wahl” is said to be the name of the man who saved his father’s life during the Korean War. Wahl has never confirmed his actual date of birth; “There’s a reason for that”, he has said, “but I’m not gonna get into why”. Ken had never before acted when he was tapped for a smaller role in The Wanderers. Director Kaufman had only to talk with Ken for a short time when it was decided that he should play Richie, the lead. From our film, Wahl scored a chance to shine opposite screen legend Paul Newman in another Bronx film, Fort Apache, The Bronx (1981, directed by Canadian Daniel Petrie). Wahl was never able to land prime film roles but made his name on the small screen as the star of Wiseguy, a role for which Wahl won a Golden Globe. On his way to meet with Diane Keaton regarding the making of the film Mrs. Soffel, Wahl was in an accident while riding his motorcycle without a helmet. Wahl got 89 stitches in his scalp, Mel Gibson got the role in Mrs. Soffel. During the second of four seasons of Wiseguy, Ken tripped over a camera and ruptured his Achilles.

Then in 1992, Wahl was said to have suffered another crash on his bike resulting in a broken neck. In actuality, Wahl had fallen down some marble steps while at the home of Joan Child. Wahl had been dating Child despite her being engaged to marry Rodney Dangerfield. Not wanting to be exposed, Child begged Wahl to lie about his injury. A botched surgery and his doctor’s refusal to prescribe pain meds lead to alcoholism and the abrupt end to Ken Wahl’s acting career. Much like Jennifer O’Neill, Wahl today spends his time supporting wounded veterans and he’s also involved in animal rights, protecting horses and other animals.

Perry and Joey at Despie’s party.

John Friedrich had appeared in one film previous to The Wanderers and get this. Bittersweet Love (1976) is a film about two young people who fall in love. The girl gets pregnant and the two marry. The girl discovers that she is the result of a one-night stand her mother had – with Michael’s father. The young married couple, expecting their first baby, realize they are half-siblings. The young couple are portrayed by Canadian Scott Hylands and Meredith Baxter (Birney) and the mother is played by 55-year-old Lana Turner in her penultimate feature film appearance. Friedrich has a small role as do Celeste Holm and Robert Alda. Amazing, the oddly notable films you’ve never heard of. Much like Wahl, Friedrich was not long for Hollywood. He can be seen in Thank God It’s Friday (1978), Almost Summer (1978) with a soundtrack supervised by Mike Love and The Thorn Birds (1983). He soon quit the business to start a family and works today as a financial consultant.

Pretty Karen Allen as Nina.

Fresh-faced Karen Allen is best known for her portrayal of Marion Ravenwood in two Indiana Jones films. She was something of a veteran among the cast of our film, having appeared in all of two films beforehand. She later appeared in A Small Circle of Friends (1983), a film with a recognizable score by the late Jim Steinman. After Raiders of the Lost Ark, Karen could be seen in Starman (1984), Scrooged (1988) and Malcom X (1992). Karen later became a personal chef and started her own textile company. Toni Kalem absolutely nails Despie Galasso. Toni is yet another that can list The Wanderers as her first film appearance but director Philip Kaufman has said that she was a true professional; to embody the character of Despie, Kalem even placed in her purse – unseen throughout the film – things she thought Despie would be carrying. Kalem went on to a middling career on television before landing a role on The Sopranos. She is most known for portraying Angie Bonpensiero but she also amazingly scripted an episode of the legendary show and wrote and directed the critically-acclaimed film A Slipping-Down Life (1999) that starred Lili Taylor, Guy Pearce, Veronica Cartwright and Bruno Kirby.

Toni Kalem as Despie.

Brooklyn’s Tony Ganios was a 6 foot, four inch weight trainer when he won the role of Perry. He gained a certain notoriety two years later with his work in the highest-grossing Canadian film of all-time. Tony played Anthony “Meat” Tuperello in Porky’s and its two sequels. He says the role brought him a modicum of fame but also a dissatisfaction with his association with the sex comedies. He did show up in Die Hard 2 (1990) as a ruthless mercenary who is killed when John McClane stabs him in the eye with an icicle. He appeared in five episodes of his buddy, Ken Wahl’s show, Wiseguy before bookending his short-lived career with an appearance in another Philip Kaufman film, Rising Sun. Later, Ganios became an expert in historical warfare and weapons and he is active along those lines on Twitter, also interacting with fans of classic film; cool when a “pro” is ready to engage with us regular folks in the ether.

“Leave the kid alone”.

Alan Rosenberg is great as Turkey. Another debutante in our film, Rosenberg is one of the few to parlay his work here into a sustaining acting career. He voiced Boba Fett in an early Star Wars television show and had recurring roles on television in Civil Wars, L.A. Law, Cybill, Chicago Hope, The Guardian and Suits. Alan was married to Marg Helgenberger and the two have a son. Rosenberg is the first cousin of Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen. Jim Youngs played Buddy and, believe it or not, this was Jim’s first film. Jim actually wrote the song “Stranger Girl” that the Wanderers sing in the car. The guys all worked together on the arrangement. Jim went on to play Chuck Cranston, the tractor-driving nemesis of Kevin Bacon’s Ren in Footloose (1984), Rob Lowe’s brother in Youngblood (1986) and Jim is another Wanderers alum to have found work on Wiseguy. But after 1995, Jim Youngs drifted off into the night. Hopefully not into Ducky Boy territory. Dolph Sweet served during World War II in the Air Force, spending two years as a prisoner of war. Dolph appeared in 23 films, playing someone from the police department or the Armed Forces in 11 of them. He’s perfectly cast as the mob boss-type, Chubby Galasso. He can be seen opposite Kirk Douglas in A Lovely Way to Die (1968), in the great though lesser-known 1970 film Colossus: The Forbin Project, in a film similar to The Wanderers, The Lords of Flatbush (1974) and he wrapped his film career in 1981’s Reds. He is best known, though, for his run on TV’s Gimme a Break! from 1981 until his death in 1985.

6′ 6″ Terror was thought to need a love interest. Enter Four-foot-nothing Peewee.

Erland Van Lidth de Jeude was born in the Netherlands, a member of a Dutch noble family; he “held the predicate of untitled nobility Jonkheer. An Olympic wrestler standing 6 foot 6 and weighing 340 pounds, the Dutchman was well-cast as Terror. After debuting in The Wanderers, Erland taught computer programming and sang with the Amato Opera in New York. His fourth film was Arnold Schwarzenegger’s The Running Man (1987), in which de Jeude played the stalker Dynamo. Eight weeks before the film was released, a day after his first wedding anniversary, Erland Van Lidth died of heart failure at 34. Linda Manz plays Peewee, head of the Baldies Ladies Auxiliary. Manz actually was a gang kid on the streets of New York when she was pegged to make her debut in Days of Heaven (1978). After half-a-dozen films, Manz retired to raise a family. She died in 2020 of lung cancer.

“It was a time of American mythology, of American monsters, of American dangers of the street. But it was a time when the dangers were all part of the fun of growing up and the mystery of growing up.”

– director and co-writer Philip Kaufman

I’ve always felt that Michael Wright is very familiar to me but I don’t think I’ve seen him in anything else he made, things like V, Oz and one Miami Vice (which I’ve seen). Val Avery’s face is a welcomed one as beleaguered teacher, Mr. Sharp. During his long career he turned up in many notable films, as I have shared while reporting on The Long, Hot Summer and The Pope of Greenwich Village. Oscar-winner Olympia Dukakis appears as Joey’s mom and Wayne Knight can barely be spotted as a waiter. One of my favourite unsung performances in film history belongs to unknown actor William Andrews who plays Joey’s violent, philandering father, Emilio. Chicago-born Andrews made a total of three films, The Gambler (1974), Saturday Night Fever (1977) and The Wanderers. Andrews went on to do not a heck of a lot; he was a regular on the daytime soap, Texas, a 1981-82 spinoff of Another World. Andrews is ferocious as Emilio and his performance encapsulates a certain type from this era; the “post-war man”, I call them. His rage is compelling and enigmatic. Andrews made it to 93 and died in 2018 in tiny Exeter Township in Pennsylvania.

This cast then can mark The Wanderers as their introduction to film acting; most debuted in this film, some had never acted before, most would go on to nothing, really, of note. This adds to the aura of this film. Because of the lack of credits, these actors ARE these characters. You are not distracted at all by the memory of them having played some other role. They embody these characters well. Director Kaufman says that, near the end of the film, he and some of the cast had an experience similar to the ending of the film. It was emotional. Referring to the crazy world of Hollywood, Kaufman said tenderly to John Friedrich “I’m sorry I got you in to this”. Friedrich – 20 years old – started to cry. The cast went on to work with one another and also to meet socially, always greeting each other with a line from the movie; “Wanderers forever”.

Looks pretty lightweight, this movie.

I finally purchased The Wanderers on DVD years after first discovering it. When I saw the cover of the case, I was disappointed. When I realized that they had simply borrowed art from a poster made upon the film’s release, I became enraged. I wondered why this serious film was marketed in this misleading way. In the image, the boys are hanging out a car window, ogling a girl walking by on the sidewalk. It makes the film look slight. The thing about The Wanderers, though, is that it is anything but. Indeed there is a gritty, heartfelt and almost destitute feeling to it.

The Bronx. Autumn, 1963.

First of all, the look of the film is authentic. Filming on the streets in the actual locations was essential to this story and the costumes are excellent and natural-looking. All the gangs mentioned in the film were real gangs, though they may not all have had their heydays concurrently. Guitarist Ace Frehley was once a Ducky Boy; apparently they weren’t as demented as depicted. The Baldies – seemingly older, in their early-to-mid twenties – look mean and menacing. The Wongs all wear leather jackets and never smile. The jackets the Wanderers wear are fantastic and you’ll notice some employ a differing colour scheme, alternating the gold and burgundy. The actors all kept their jackets and still wear them when they get together. Good looking copies of these windbreakers can be purchased on eBay – but bank. The Ducky Boys go a long way to establishing the tone of this film. They are creepy. They are psychotic mutes bent on murder and death. After a fight, it says in the novel, they just sit on the steps and bleed. Never saying a word. Ducky Boy territory is a sort of post-apocalyptic world with wet, grimy streets with a smoky mist hanging over everything. The Ducky Boys are shown in church having communion, receiving the Host with all manner of cuts and bruises on their faces; every one of them a stone killer. When Turkey shows up, just wanting to connect with another human being, he is sliced and chased off by a savage horde. It’s disturbing to know that Turkey has wandered into this region while looking for Terror and the Baldies. Significantly, Turkey enters this barren nightmare world yelling “Terror!”. Why do the Ducky Boys bother to make the trip, in daylight, to the football game to wage war? It’s unsettling to think it is simply because that’s how they are wired.

“Perry, he’ll kill ya”. Emilio; handsome but ferocious.

Joey’s pop, Emilio, is obsessed with his biceps and he lifts weights in the family’s tiny apartment. He has his wife measure his bicep; 18 inches. Emilio says that in ’40/’41 it was 17 1/2. He laments losing a weight-lifting competition at that time to “the Greek”, who he saw the other day. Emilio happily reports that his old nemesis is now a “tub of lard”. “Who do think the judges would pick now?”, he asks his wife, victoriously. Life with Emilio has beaten her and she doesn’t answer. Emilio is trapped in the past; he longs still to right the wrongs he has suffered. He looks around at his station in life and he fumes. His wife is dried up and defeated. His son is slight and wastes his time drawing. He discovers the new tenants across the way – Perry and his mother – and notices that there is no man of the house and the lady is a lush. He claims what is there for the taking. It occurred to me only recently that Emilio is likely a veteran. He is a post-war man. A man who has been trying to adjust to civilian life. It has been a struggle. Emilio feels cheated and he reacts angrily, bitterly. This reaction had served him well in wartime and he has not been able to turn it off.

Emilio is encouraged by his wife to go see Joey play football. Emilio scoffs but then goes and sits in the bleachers. Emilio looks on blandly as hordes of Ducky Boys circle the football field, closing in on the Wanderers and the Del Bombers. Slowly, he rises and removes his coat. Not knowing who this diminutive, vacant-eyed gang is, he nonetheless murmurs murderous curses against them as he breaks a hunk of bench off with his bare hands. Or is he cursing the Ducky Boys at all? Is he cursing instead his life, his lack of good fortune? As a veteran, he is hardwired for warfare. Combat is what this civilian life has been lacking. “Friends of yours?”, he asks, smirking as he joins his son and his gang. Back in his element, Emilio destroys all who come near him, blind to everything else. When Joey triumphantly approaches his father heralding their victory, Emilio absently punches Joey in the stomach, sending his son breathless to the ground. There is a compelling slow-motion shot of Emilio shaking his raised fists and yelling curses into the dusty air. His whole life on display in one shot. Poor Emilio, trapped by his rage. As a kid, I could not fathom why he would punch his son. As an adult, I think I understand the significance.

Emilio’s rage.

Perhaps this was not the intention of the filmmakers but I had a thought during a recent viewing of this film. In class, Mr. Sharp makes note that it is Brotherhood Week. Unfortunately, his students get into a ruckus when comparing racial epithets and this sets off much of the movie’s violence. The Ducky Boys – while all white – care nothing about such things as race and in fact do not discriminate at all; they will knife anyone regardless of skin colour. The unpredictable mute killers can easily be seen as the real threat on the streets. The Wanderers and the Del Bombers can rationally plan their rumbles and lay down ground rules and perhaps the two gangs can settle scores on the gridiron instead of in the alley but the Ducky Boys have no time for sports. They are the enemy of all, of everything and anybody. Of life.

At the football game, the Ducky Boys show up. There is no reason for this except to cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war. Hurting for hurting’s sake. At this point, the white Italians join with the black kids to fight this enemy. Even the Asian Wongs come together with their fellow teenagers, fellow human beings, to combat this inhuman menace. After their victory, they all celebrate together, having overcome evil, their common enemy. Even later at Richie’s bachelor party they socialize together. Perhaps in honour of Brotherhood Week then, all races have combined to fight for the good of the community.

Brotherhood. Richie invites the other gangs to stick around and enjoy his bachelor party.

A major theme here at Your Home for Vintage Leisure is the pivot point. Those times of life – often depicted so well on-screen – when major changes are ushered in. “Coming-of-age”, this is often called though I don’t often use the term. The Wanderers presents this poignantly. Richie has only ever been with Despie. Despie is a simple girl who is content to be what her mother was before her; a dutiful, servile wife. Despie is not so compliant though that she is not enraged when she catches Richie cheating on her with Nina. “This is what I get for puttin’ out?! I knew this would happen!” A major pivot point of history is used to reunite these two. In a significant scene, Richie learns of the death of JFK as he and Despie watch the news on TV. This tragic event makes all other things seem insignificant and this serves as a reset for the young couple. This scene features one of the first uses in film of Ben E. King‘s legendary “Stand By Me” and it’s well-used. Life has been put into focus and perspective and these two are made to grow up. We see then just how much they are grown up; Despie is pregnant and her “Daddy wants to see you”. Mr. Galasso is enraged. He fooled around in his day, he says, but never with nobody’s daughter. He comes around quick, though. “I ain’t no hard guy!”. He says the young couple can live in the basement. “We got wood panelling!”, he boasts. Chubby hugs Richie who is in a daze and Despie who smiles and cries happily. Despie has hit the jackpot; she has gotten what she has always wanted and the rest of her life has just begun. Richie…is in a daze. At the bachelor party, Mr. Galasso welcomes Richie to the family and gifts him a Hawaiian shirt like he and his brothers wear. And it is huge. Mr. Galasso says he will grow into it. You will, Richie, become just like my brothers and I. Richie – who has just come from his job as a dish pig, remember – views the rest of his life laid out before him. And it’s demoralizing. Right at this moment, Richie thinks he sees a way out, an alternate route, an escape. Nina walks by outside.

“You’ll grow into it.”

Nina is perhaps the only triumphant character in the film. Nina has glimpsed the future and she rushes to meet it. Indeed, Nina is the future. Richie gives chase. He catches up to a girl and turns her around; only it isn’t Nina. He sees Nina going around a corner and resumes his pursuit. He finally catches up to her going into Folk City. Something about the club, the building, even its door makes it seem inscrutable and untouchable to Richie. He only gazes in through the window. He sees smiling, secure, confident Nina sitting down by the stage to hear a man sing. Director Kaufman knows Bob Dylan and got permission to use one of Bob’s timeless songs. Nina seems to be receding from Richie’s sight as he hears the young man sing of transition, renewal, revolution. “Don’t criticize what you can’t understand…your old road is rapidly agin’. Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand for the times they are a-changin'”. Richie turns and sadly walks away. The escape he thought he was chasing is not an escape at all. More than that, all this is incomprehensible to him.

Nina heads in to Folk City. It’s like she has crossed the threshold into another world.
Nina – hearing the call of the future – seats herself comfortably, more than ready for the trip.

When he gets back to the party, he sees Joey and Perry getting ready to leave. There is nothing left for either of them here in the Bronx and they are leaving to go where the future is unfolding; San Francisco, the fantastic end of America. Interesting to note that, during the earlier scene in which Joey and Perry plan their escape, the more serious sounds of jazz – Chet Baker – are heard. Richie is devastated by their leaving. He begs his friends not to go. They are free to travel and explore life; Richie is trapped. I recently wrote in these pages about my man, Dion DiMucci. I mentioned that Dion’s timeless classic “The Wanderer” is actually a sad song, for all its braggadocio. When Richie forlornly rejoins the party, the fellas happily get him to join in and sing the Italian gang’s theme song, “The Wanderer”. Slowly, Richie warms to the song and by the sax solo he is singing lustily, perhaps pushing his recent realizations out of his mind. He bonds with the friends of his past. The viewer has unexpectedly been delivered a stark conclusion to this tale. We see that it is an origin story of a life, perhaps a life not unlike Emilio’s. A life that started with an unplanned pregnancy, a job as a dishwasher and a portent of the empty years to come.

Curtains.

With The Wanderers you get a story of teenage life in the early Sixties with some light comedy. Mostly what you’ll get, though, is a compelling and realistic story about the many paths one can choose in life. And about the hard fact that sometimes the path is chosen for you.

“Wanderers Forever”

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