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Film / The Wanderers

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The Wanderers is a 1979 American comedy-drama film, directed by Philip Kaufman and adapted from a novel of the same name by Richard Price, centering on the members of a Bronx youth gang in 1963, and their interactions with other local gangs.

When a high school teacher accidentally sparks a race war between the Italian gang the Wanderers and the Black gang the Del-Bombers, the Wanderers—looking to gather allies for their fight to augument their smaller numbers—are rejected (humiliatingly) by the Fordham Baldies and by the Chinese Wongs. But they do get a new member with the arrival of bulky Perry LaGuardia, a newcomer to the neighborhood who proves himself in a fight. Just as things look bleak for the gang, the local mafia hoods led by "Chubby" Galasso intervene and negotiate to replace the rumble with a football game.

Features the examples of:

  • Adaptation Distillation: Price's novel is episodic in nature. Director Philip Kaufman and his wife Rose re-wove the narrative into a more coherent plot.
  • Ambiguously Gay: This subpage elaborates on this for Perry and Joey, from their hands touching, to them being paired up at the dance, to them running away together to San Francisco, Joey denies it but the possibility remains. Turkey also has a few moments, including in the extended cut, in which he propositions another man when he's feeling completely abandoned.
  • Ax-Crazy:
    • The Ducky Boys gang does little more than try to kill anyone they come across.
    • Joey's father, Emilio, shows this trait when he joins in against the Ducky Boys, because it at first seems like he might finally have come around to his son, only for him to also punch Joey when he gets close.
  • Big Bad: The Ducky Boys. They're the one street gang that's not only willing to kill, but doesn't seem to even consider the possibility of anything else.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Richie came back to the Wanderers in time to help out with the football game, and with the fight against the Ducky Boys. While re-affirming his friendship with Joey, they still end up parting ways as Joey flees to California with Perry to escape Joey's Ax-Crazy father. Richie stays to marry his knocked-up girlfriend. And their other friend Turkey was killed by the Ducky Boys. Meanwhile The Baldies are all gone serving in Vietnam (with future drafts looming), the life of being in a street gang is getting more violent, and the feeling of New York City changing for the worse heading into The '60s and The '70s hovers over the ending.
  • Broken Pedestal: The Baldies, especially Terror, become this to Peewee in the end of the film when they head out for Vietnam, basically acting as if she never existed.
    Peewee: *sobbing* All that time I was with the Baldies...and not one of them even drops me a card...
  • Bully Hunter: Perry singlehandly decks all the Baldies when they're about to beat up Joey. When he talks to Joey in their apartment, he admits hating to see "big guys pick on little guys".
  • The Cavalry: Downplayed; Joey's father ends up wanting to get in on the action when the Ducky Boys invade the school, and the Wongs keep their word on "taking a side when the time was right". While a few of the Wongs get trashed, most of them fight the enemy off and Joey's father is almost unstoppable.
  • Coming of Age Story: The plot forces many of the main characters to mature, going from a care-free street gang that started fights or harassed women for kicks, to burying the hatchet with old rivals, settling down with a family, and becoming independent from an abusive situation.
  • Dirty Coward:
    • The one member of the Wanderers and Del-Bombers who split before the fight with the Ducky Boys.
    • Terror is heavily implied to be one as well despite his body size and leadership of the Baldies. After Perry takes on and beats up several members of the Baldies, Terror backs off. The Wanderers accuse him of being a coward, but Turkey claims he’s just waiting for the right time to get back at Perry. But as we can tell, he never attempts to go after Perry and just further picks on Richie and Joey who are easy targets. So, The Wanderers claims might have some merit.
    • Even the sadistic Ducky Boys are this as seen during the climax. When the other gangs start to turn the tide against the Ducky Boys, they are visibly shocked and flee as soon as things look bad for them despite having greater numbers. They start to rip up Joey’s poster for the game just to have some measure of victory but makes them look like sore losers.
  • End of an Age: On several levels. For the characters, it's the end of their care-free days together as a gang. For the world, culture is changing and America will be deploying troops soon (which becomes especially relevant for the Baldies).
  • Forgotten Fallen Friend: Turkey is killed by the Ducky Boys before the climax. After a very brief mention by Joey in the next scene, everybody just moves on and Turkey is never mentioned again. Heck, it’s implied that Richie never found out. Even shortly after when Richie approaches a group of people morning, making us believe that he is about to discover Turkey’s body, instead the people were watching a news report on JFK’s assassination. It’s as if Turkey never existed.
  • For the Evulz: The Ducky Boys. All of the other gangs appear to have some motivations or standards. The Ducky Boys barely even emote beyond drawing weapons and advancing on their victims.
  • Gangster Land: The city is portrayed as if it is almost entirely populated by gangs, whether that be young street gangs or adult mafia. This is most prominent when Perry is being shown around the high school, and the halls are filled with nothing but groups identified as a variety of gangs.
  • Grievous Harm with a Body: Emilio gets a lot of mileage doing this against the Ducky Boys. Observe.
  • Huge Guy, Tiny Girl: Terror and Peewee. Terror is a large man and the biggest of the Baldies, while his partner Peewee is small for her age.
  • Hustler: The bowling team from Long Island is established to have been challenging people for money while hiding their professional skill.
  • Improvised Weapon: Plenty, during the final fight with the Ducky Boys. Most notably, when Emilio comes down from the bleachers to join the fight, he tears a huge plank from a bench in order to use as a weapon.
  • Jerk With A Heart Of Jerk: Joey’s father big time. We can already get the vibe that Joey’s father wasn’t the nicest of guys in the film from the way he treated Joey and for being such a fitness freak. But when the Ducky boys started attacking the football game, Joey’s father joined the fight and even went up to Joey first to check on him. When the fight was over, it looked like Joey was going to celebrate with his father as the two of them looked happy over the outcome; making the viewer think he won his father’s respect. Instead, his father punched Joey in the gut hard and looked happy doing so. Reminding the view that Joey’s father is still an abusive asshole, making Joey decision to runaway with Perry understandable.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Turkey recommends that the Baldies attack a party for the gang he betrayed. The Baldies drop him off there, then betray him by leaving, so Turkey has to flee and runs into the Ducky Boys, who attack and get him killed.
  • Loner-Turned-Friend: Perry with the whole gang, specially with Joey and Richie.
  • One-Man Army: Perry goes through the entire Baldies gang (sans Terror and Peewee) and scares them off before they can lay one hand on Joey.
  • One of the Boys: Peewee is the only female gang member in the movie and she is treated much the same as everyone else (even being a member of the Baldies despite not being bald).
  • Precision F-Strike: Don't fuck with the Baldies/Wongs.
  • The Mafia: Richie's father-in-law.
    • The gang fight between the Wanderers and Del-Bombers get taken over by both the Italian and Black mafias and turned into a football match that the mobsters could bet over.
    • At the end of the movie, it's obvious that Richie is getting too old to be with the Wanderers and will promote upward into his father-in-law's gang.
  • The '60s: The movie takes place in 1963, as the culture of The '50s gives way to this one. Towards the end of the film, John F. Kennedy is assassinated, the Baldies all drunkenly signed up for Vietnam, and Richie watches as the proto-hippie girl he liked leaves him to go watch some new folk singer named Bob Dylan perform. The movie itself ends with Joey and Perry fleeing for California in the footsteps of Joey's favorite author Jack Kerouac.
  • Sore Loser: When the tide turns against the Ducky Boys during the football fight, they start to rip apart Joey’s poster he made for the game as they flee. Most likely to get some form of victory, but it shows how pathetic they really are.