Walk Like A Man – Rediscovering ‘The Wanderers’ (US 1979 – 117 mins)

Posted in Rediscover by - July 10, 2015
Walk Like A Man – Rediscovering ‘The Wanderers’ (US 1979 – 117 mins)

A film that features in many people’s top 10, Philip Kaufman’s nostalgic ‘The Wanderers’ is a near masterpiece that still mesmerizes after all these years. An adult story of teenage angst, I think it’s one of the best coming-of-age movies ever made.

Set in 1963 in the Bronx, the story centres around various gang cultures (including the ‘Baldies’, ‘Wong’s’ and ‘Del Bombers’) and their bitter rivalry to rule the streets. Focussing on the slick Italian gang ‘The Wanderers’, the movie follows their fights, fortunes and female-chasing, before culminating in a rival football game where sworn enemies are forced to join forces to fend off the hardest gang of all, The Ducky Boys.

Sometimes violent and often funny, the acting here is superb across the board. Ken Wahl and John Friedrich are faultless as best friends Richie and Joey, while fellow Wanderer Alan Rosenberg is terrific as the tragic Turkey. A 28 year old Karen Allen has an early role as Nina, the object of Richie’s affection, two years before finding fame in ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ (’81), and Toni Kalem is excellent as Richie’s long-suffering girlfriend Despie. The wonderful Linda Manz shines as the tiny girlfriend of the giant leader of the ‘Baldies’, and William Andrews is unforgettable as Joey’s father, an angry bodybuilder obsessed with the Greek physique. Dolph Sweet is suitably menacing as a local Mafioso, while Olympia Dukakis has an early role as Joey’s mom.

‘The Wanderers’ has many classic moments including the very un-PC ‘elbow-titting’ scene, the rigged strip poker game, and of course the climactic football game which turns into an all-out battle with the infamous Ducky Boys, who are more frightening to me than any number of Freddy Krueger’s!

Writer-director Philip Kaufman lovingly captures the era, notably the fashions, the cars and of course the music. The fantastic Rock n’ Roll soundtrack is one of cinema’s best, and puts to excellent use such greats as ‘Runaround Sue’, ‘You Really Got a Hold on Me’, ‘Baby It’s You’ and a quite moving scene of JFK’s assassination newsreel while ‘Stand By Me’ plays out in the background. I also like the inclusion of a scene at the end where Karen Allen’s beatnik goes to an early Bob Dylan gig, hearing him sing “The Times They Are A-Changin’, ushering in a new type of sound for a whole new generation.

In an era of Vietnam, political assassinations and individual uncertainty, ‘The wanderers’ is a deserved cult classic and has not dated at all. It’s still very funny, brutally honest, and being about family, friendship, loyalty and growing up, it’s another of those Seventies classics that I never tire of watching. Maybe my choice for favourite movie of 1979.

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