The Wanderers is quite an ambitious film. It touches on a wide variety of themes, considering it’s a product of the film-making, writing, and acting techniques of the late 1970’s and the setting was the late 1960’s. While the effects are more common to B movies of this time period, the concepts and themes it attempts to shed light on – realistic, humanitarian themes – are more common in Blockbuster films such as musicals with the same general time period setting (West Side Story, Hairspray, Grease) and well-beloved cultural classics like Dirty Dancing and Back to the Future. The soundtrack even fits with these, with many of the same songs as on the Dirty Dancing soundtrack (though, this movie came first) – and if I do say so myself, it’s a pretty kickin’ soundtrack!
There are multiple gangs featured in this film, the main characters mainly belonging to The Wanderers. The Wanderers are the mostly-Italian-American youth gang. “The Baldies” (named so for the way their heads are shaved) are a more inclusive society, but considered the “toughest” youth gang, and they tend to wear leather jackets – much like the “Greasers” in Grease. There’s an unnamed gang of People of Color youth and another one made up of Asian students, run by Teddy Wong. The biggest issues at the start of the film are really between The Wanderers and the POC youth gangs because they attend school together in a relatively recently desegregated urban school environment. However, there is also another gang called “The Ducky Boys”, (“ducky” may be a derogatory term I’m unaware of for Eastern European immigrants), which I believe is made up of people who are supposed to be Eastern European in ancestry. “The Baldies” seem to be a bit older and don’t seem to attend school with the other gangs. The Asian gang sets itself up as an unbiased group that won’t take sides in a rumble until they deem it necessary. “The Ducky Boys” are set up through film effects, including background music and mist, as the “scariest” and “creepiest” gang, and end up being the major villains of the film. I believe this was done as a plot device to bring the POC and The Wanderers gangs together against a common foe, since the rest of the gangs are represented in a more realistic light throughout the film.
Meanwhile, the film also deals with the teenage lives of these characters in a realistic, if melodramatic, manner. We see their dramas, betrayals, sex and teen pregnancy, drinking, and military recruitment, as well as minor and major tragedies. Considering everything the movie attempts to cover, they are tied together relatively well. Though subtle, I do believe it also begins to deal with issues of belonging and teen sexuality, including some characters who may or may not be gay due to how they behave throughout the film. Not to mention the focus on Joey’s dysfunctional and abusive family life, Despie’s father and his organized-crime-like behavior (bribery, gambling, violence at a bowling alley, etc), and the teacher who works to get the Italian and “colored” kids to understand cultural differences and the concept of brotherhood between races and ethnicity.
The film has an upbeat and comic ending involving an inclusive set singing “I’m A Wanderer” by the Beach Boys and two of the main characters driving away into the night, leaving the state with comedic dialogue. Considering the time period it was made and all of the issues that it touched on, The Wanderers is a well-made film. It might even deserve to be considered an A- Movie.