Seldom Scene
Movie reviews by Gerald Panio

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The Wanderers (1979)

Everyone knows that the real power in the North Bronx in ’63 was in the hands of the Italian Bowling League—big men wearing loud Hawaiian sport shirts who treated bowling sharks (who knew there was such a thing?) at Galasso’s Paradise Lanes the way local boys treated Fast Eddie in The Hustler. Dion and the Belmonts were making the greatest rock ‘n roll records of all time, and even the most terminal punks knew better than to mess with the Wongs, the Fordham Baldies or the Ducky Boys (“who roamed their turf like midget dinosaurs, brainless and fearless”).

I have no idea if the North Bronx of Philip Kaufman’s The Wanderers, taken from Richard Price’s novel of the same name, ever existed. It doesn’t matter. For two hours, this movie walks you into a neighborhood that’s scary and sad and hilarious and rings so true you want to step into the screen and crank the jukebox a little higher.

The soundtrack alone is worth the price of admission—it should have made Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me” a comeback hit eight years ago. Better still, Kaufman chose his camera shots with the same loving care he chose his music. There’s hardly a frame in The Wanderers you couldn’t freeze on your VCR and look at like a choice photo from your high school yearbook. Watch for ‘s expression when her boyfriend’s dancing with the new girl; PeeWee’s face when a drunker Terror joins the Marines; Richie Gennaro’s confusion as he looks through the bars in the windows of Gerde’s Folk City at a very young Bob Dylan singing “The Times They Are A-Changin’.”

This film cares about people. People are what neighborhoods—even in the North Bronx—are all about. In the hands of a less capable director, The Wanderers would have been a cartoon of violence and grotesquerie. Thanks to Kaufman, it’s an inner city American Graffiti. Thanks also to Richard Price, whose novel set the tone. Fans of Bruce Springsteen might be grateful that someone’s actually captured the spirit of The Wild, the Innocent, and the E-Street Shuffle on celluloid. For the kids of the North Bronx even the victories are bittersweet, and the defeats often fatal, but at least for this one time no one is patronizing them. In this movie without major actors, there are no minor characters.

Movie Information

Genre: Drama, Teen
Director: Philip Kaufman
Actors: Ken Wahl, Karen Allen, John Friedrich, Linda Manz, Toni Kalem, Alan Rosenberg
Year: 1979
Original Review: May 1987


ALL-TIME 100 Movies

There are countless “Best of” lists on the internet, but this one, from 2011, is a personal favorite. Updated by Time magazine long-standing film critic Richard Corliss, each movie comes with a concise summary of why it’s on the list. Also, included, a lengthy & engaging “Behind the List” discussion and sidebars on “Great Performances” and “Guilty Pleasures.”

Films Worth Talking About:

Manhattan, Monty Python’s Life of Brian, Apocalypse Now, Love on the Run, Hair, The Brontë Sisters, The Tin Drum, Alien, My Brilliant Career, The Marriage of Maria Braun, The American Friend, Tess, Kramer vs. Kramer, Being There, All That Jazz, Mad Max, And Quiet Rolls the Dawn, Star Trek—The Motion Picture, 10

The Bigger Picture

Films: The Warriors (1979), West Side Story (1961), Romeo + Juliet (1996), Cry-Baby (1990)

Music: Dion—Runaround Sue, Eddie Cochrane—The Legendary Masters Series Vol. One, Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band—Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. & The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle

Books: Richard Price—The Wanderers. A sample:

“The Hite brothers were idiots. Scottie, ten years old, was best friends with Dougie Rizzo, C’s brother. Scottie’s brother, Rockhead or Frank, was as old as the Wanderers but was considered a maniac jerk-off, and a leper.

The Hite boys were so blond they seemed white-haired. They always went around moving their lips wordlessly and squinting like they were figuring out a calculus problem. Only a fellow maniac, though far more evil, like Dougie Rizzo could have befriended Scottie Hite—but only so he could use Scottie as Igor for his fiendish plots. As for Franki, he was friendless although he had many enemies. Mr. Hite worked in a factory that made roller skates. His job was checking that the right number of rollers were on each skate. He was on probation because he once let a three-wheeled skate get by and a fifty-year-old lady in her second childhood broke her leg zooming down a hill. The lady sued, and the company traced the error to him—so if he let one more faulty skate go past him again he’d be canned. They were purposely sending three-wheeled roller skates down the assembly line, but he caught every one. He was a conscientious worker.”

The Word on the Street

it captured the timelessness of the transition from being a boy to becoming a man and how you leave childish things behind. Funny, raucous and, at times, both disturbing and moving, this film has it all.” 


Those halcyon “Happy Days” weren’t all happy! Ken Wahl and Karen Allen give gritty, gutsy gusto and pre-Beatles gestalt to this uncompromising teen tale from the doo wop era.”