Film Review: The Wanderers (1979)

Release Date: July 4th, 1979
Directed by: Philip Kaufman
Written by: Rose Kaufman, Philip Kaufman
Based on: The Wanderers by Richard Price
Music by: various
Cast: Ken Wahl, John Friedrich, Karen Allen, Toni Kalem, Jim Youngs, Tony Ganios, Alan Rosenberg, Dolph Sweet, Olympia Dukakis, Richard Price (cameo), Wayne Knight (uncredited)

Film Finance Group, Polyc International BV, Orion Pictures, Warner Bros., 112 Minutes

Review:

“It’s a shame to see kids beatin’ each other’s brains out, especially when there’s no financial advantage.” – Chubby Galasso

This movie’s been in my queue to watch and review for a really long time. I’m glad that I finally got around to it, though, as it’s pretty damn enjoyable. Especially, if you like teen gang movies that take place in the ’50s and ’60s.

The Wanderers kind of feels like one-part The Outsiders mixed with one-part The Warriors but then it meets somewhere in the middle.

Mostly, this is a dramatic, coming-of-age story that just happens to be set in the Bronx in 1963, which was overrun by youth gangs. It also reflects a time when America was just about to head to Vietnam and the civil rights movement was starting to make significant changes in American culture.

I liked most of the characters in this movie a lot, except for the one kid that was always causing all the problems for the gang because he was tiny and couldn’t shut his mouth. I had a friend like that in my high school crew and when he thought he could talk shit and then hide behind us, we let him get his ass kicked. That cured his short man’s syndrome really quick.

Anyway, I like that all of the gangs have unique identities and that many are segregated by race. It allows the story to show the racial tensions between the different groups of kids but ultimately, it shows many of them from various backgrounds, coming together to fight the biggest asshole gang of the bunch. Through that unity, the kids of different cultures gain each other’s respect and a broader sense of brotherhood.

All of the young people in this were really good. I was really impressed with Ken Wahl and Tony Ganios’ performances, as they’re the two that really stood out. Karen Allen also held her own and was as sweet and charming as always. I also thought that Toni Kalem was really good and your heart kind of breaks for her, witnessing what she goes through in this.

I also have to point to the incredibly intimidating performance of Dolph Sweet. As a kid of the ’80s and ’90s, I only really knew Sweet as the loving police chief father on the sitcom Gimme A Break. Here, he essentially plays a 1960s Tony Soprano. Honestly, he’s like a proto-Tony Soprano that gives such a powerful performance that I wouldn’t be surprised if James Gandolfini didn’t look at it and take some pointers. The scene with the bowling ball was an absolutely chilling but perfect sequence.

I like that this movie also included a side plot about a shady Marine recruiter that dupes a bunch of drunk youth into joining up, just as America is one the verge of war.

There are a lot of characters in this and they’re all pretty well-balanced. You mostly care about everyone and there are just so many good sequences that they all get their moment to shine in some way.

The Wanderers isn’t a film that people talk about today. It feels kind of lost to time. But I think that fans of The Outsiders, The Warriors, Rumble Fish, etc. will find a lot to love in this picture.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: other youth gang movies of the ’50s through ’80s.

Film Review: Death Wish (1974)

Also known as: The Sidewalk Vigilante (working title)
Release Date: July 24th, 1974
Directed by: Michael Winner
Written by: Wendell Mayes
Based on: Death Wish by Brian Garfield
Music by: Herbie Hancock
Cast: Charles Bronson, Hope Lange, Vincent Gardenia, William Redfield, Stuart Margolin, Steven Keats, Jack Wallace, Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Guest, Olympia Dukakis, Art Evans (uncredited)

Dino De Laurentiis Corporation, Paramount Pictures, Columbia Pictures, 94 Minutes

Review:

“Nothing to do but cut and run, huh? What else? What about the old American social custom of self-defense? If the police don’t defend us, maybe we ought to do it ourselves.” – Paul Kersey

While I still haven’t seen the 2018 remake of this film, I wanted to at least revisit the originals. I’ll probably check out the Bruce Willis starring remake pretty soon but it’s been quite awhile since I’ve seen the original Paul Kersey clean up the mean streets of the United States.

In this, the first film of five, he cleans up the streets of New York City. He moves around from city to city in each film, as he can’t stay put in one place for too long.

Anyway, the film follows Paul Kersey, played by Chales Bronson, a man’s man. He is a pretty liberal and pacifistic guy until his wife is murdered and daughter raped and attacked in their home by vagrant, criminal scum. Kersey, unable to accept the failure of the system, becomes a vigilante and sparks a one man war on crime. However, his actions inspire the people of New York City to stand up and defend themselves as well. Soon, city officials want to put a lid on it but they kind of like Kersey, as crime rates are dropping and it looks good for the people in power.

This is a pretty political and social film for its day, as crime in New York City in the 1970s was at an all-time high and people were legitimately scared just walking down the street. I kind of wonder how the 2018 remake will address these issues, as Hollywood hates controversy these days, unless they’re reminding us of how much they hate Republicans, especially our current president. But I digress.

Charles Bronson is known for being a badass in a ton of films but this might be the best he’s ever been. It certainly evolved into his most famous role but playing a character five times will do that.

This is a gritty, realistic film. Bronson isn’t some invincible warrior, he is an everyday man, in over his head. A man with flaws and inexperience who fucks up because of that. But it’s his drive and ambition that really makes the character work. He is kind of driven by a type of mania, not caring that the law is on to him. He just commits to the bit, no matter what repercussions he may face. It’s refreshing to see, all these years later, because nowadays, everyone is a f’n John Wick or Frank Castle.

This first Death Wish movie is the best of the lot. But in saying that, it isn’t my personal favorite even though it’s the superior film. I really love the third one but I’ll get into that when I review it in the future.

But overall, this is a solid ’70s action flick with a giant barrel of testosterone concentrate.

Also, it is the film debut of Jeff Goldblum and has very early roles for Christopher Guest and Olympia Dukakis.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: its sequels and the Dirty Harry film series.

Film Review: Sisters (1972)

Also known as: Blood Sisters (Ireland)
Release Date: November 18th, 1972 (Filmex)
Directed by: Brian De Palma
Written by: Brian De Palma, Louisa Rose
Music by: Bernard Herrmann
Cast: Margot Kidder, Jennifer Salt, William Finley, Charles Durning, Olympia Dukakis, Art Evans (uncredited)

American International Pictures, 92 Minutes

Review:

“I saw a murder, and I’m going to prove it!” – Grace Collier

Brian De Palma is a very talented director. This early film from him has him tapping into Alfred Hitchcock territory. While De Palma is no Hitchcock, this is as good as Hitchcock’s ’70s films, after he moved on from his prime.

Funny enough, De Palma got Bernard Herrmann to do the score for this film. For those that don’t know, Herrmann was a regular collaborator with Hitchcock. He also did the scores for Citizen KaneThe Magnificent Ambersons, The Day the Earth Stood Still and a slew of other classic pictures.

Herrmann’s score here is incredible and this wouldn’t be the same movie without Herrmann’s melodic, enchanting and otherworldly music. Sometimes the score is slow and beautiful, other times it is pounding, a bit shrill but always interesting.

De Palma channels his inner Hitchcock in his style and narrative structure. This is like a Hitchcockian thriller turned up to 11. This is a murder mystery story but it has very dark and unusual twists. In fact, I had never seen this before and having now seen it, I can see where all these other films and novels I’ve enjoyed have taken cues from the story’s twist.

The visual style is also heavily borrowed from Hitchcock but De Palma does it so well that this is much more of a strong and respectful homage than the director simply emulating a master.

The dream/hallucination sequence towards the end is majestic and nightmarish.

De Palma also taps into Hitchcock’s cinematic obsession of voyeurism. There are elements of Rear Window and Psycho in this but De Palma pulls this all off without a hitch.

This was a really cool film, which makes me appreciate the early work of De Palma even more.

Plus, Margot Kidder was absolutely superb in this. Jennifer Salt was a lot of fun too.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other early De Palma films: Obsession, Dressed to Kill, Phantom of the Paradise and The Fury.