Philip Kaufman’s The Wanderers, financed by Orion and released in 1979 by Warner Brothers, is a special movie, and special for so many reasons. It defies genre, it’s got a live-wire spark that few other movies could ever match, and the blast of young, hot-blooded talent that this film featured in front of and behind the camera would be very hard to replicate. Grossing $23 million worldwide and receiving mixed reviews at the time of its release, this is the type of movie that just seemed to be born as an immediate cult classic, as it’s one of those idiosyncratic efforts that can’t really be compared to too much else, though intentionally or not, it did seem to set the stage for Walter Hill’s Streets of Fire. Co-written by Kaufman and his wife Rose, the film stars Ken Wahl, John Friedrich, Karen Allen, Toni Kalem, Jim Youngs, Alan Rosenberg, Dolph Sweet, and Linda Manz, and is set in the Bronx circa 1963, with the action revolving around a gang of Italian-American teens who go by the name the Wanderers, and how they butt heads with rival groups, including the Ducky Boys, Del Bombers, and the Fordham Baldies.
Based on the novel of the same name by crime scenarist Richard Price, the film had a long journey through development, with Kaufman finally able to get The Wanderers made due to his previous box office success, Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The depiction of American youth through the prism of the coming-of-age narrative was a perfect way to stage the passionate material, with multiple romances taking center stage of the story, which was peppered with wild and woolly bouts of fisticuffs-laden action and beat-downs. Cinematographer Michael Chapman stressed fluid, lateral movement, bold and vibrant color, and a shooting style that maximized energy at every turn. Stuart H. Pappé and Ronald Roose’s sharp editing kept a faced pace and was in perfect synch with the dynamic, pop-vintage soundtrack that was selected by Kaufman and Price, while Robert De Mora’s fabulous costumes were characters in and of themselves. John Hay Moore’s evocative production design is the icing on this particularly sweet piece of cinematic cake.
Kino-Lorber went all out with their two-disc special-edition of The Wanderers, presenting the theatrical cut of the film in 1.85:1 widescreen via a 2K scan, while a second disc includes Kaufman’s “preview cut,” which runs roughly seven minutes longer, and is featured in 1.78:1 and looks expectedly rough considering a likely obscure source. The main platter offers superb overall picture quality, with bright whites, deep blacks, and punchy reds, and always retaining that shot-on-celluloid texture that can easily be lost during digital conversions of older films; purple and gold look positively velvety here. The audio pops at every turn, with a 2.0 DTS-HD sound mix that feels especially well balanced during the various scenes of multiple audio sources being utilized. Special features include two commentaries, interviews, various featurettes and trailers, and a wonderful two minute text intro written by Kaufman that plays before the film begins, and which clearly demonstrates his love for The Wanderers.