In a newly integrated Bronx neighbourhood in 1960s New York, Ritchie (Ken Wahl) leads the Italian American gang ‘The Wanderers’.
He’s a stud and has his sights on bohemian chick Nina (Karen Allen), but when he knocks up the daughter of a local mobster, he’s pushed into a shotgun marriage.
The Wanderers’ tough-talking runt Joey (John Friedrich) shows potential as an artist but his overly macho father discourages his sensitive side. He befriends his new neighbour Perry (Tony Ganios), a big sweet brute with his own parental problems.
The other main gang member is Turkey (Alan Rosenberg), but he has his sights on joining the much tougher posse, ‘The Fordham Baldies’ (lead by Erland van Lidth). Turkey shaves his head to look like them but still never seems to win them over.
Most of the gangs are realistically race-based; ‘The Wongs’, for example, are Asian kids, while ‘The Ducky Boys’ are almost mythically monstrous.
The film flashes between the gang’s boyish antics – like cheating at strip poker – with the almost surrealistic predatory danger of life in the Bronx.
Though less lauded than the broadly similar American Graffiti (1973), and more variable in its tone and quality (it’s a bit episodic), this tale of the high-school life of a bunch of Italian-American kids in New York’s Bronx in the early 1960s remains thoroughly entertaining.
Indeed, in some quarters it has become something of a retro cult fave.
Like Mean Streets and American Graffiti before it, The Wanderers is loaded with classic doo-wop and rock n’ roll music, most notably The Four Seasons and Dion. This helps to give the film’s sense of period detail an even stronger feel.
Late in the film, as Ritchie questions what to do with his life, he wanders into a Greenwich Village bar and sees Bob Dylan singing (not shown on screen).
Of its stars, only Karen Allen really went on to bigger if not necessarily better things, playing the love interest in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and Starman.