Friday, 1 June 2007
The Warriors (1979) dir. Walter Hill
Starring: Michael Beck, James Remar
Can you count, suckers? “The Warriors” is product of the late 70’s. It’s a punk-film – anti-establishment and nihilistic. It’s also a fun romp through the streets of New York City when it was tough and mean and to be feared. The highly quotable best lines are heard in everything from video games to hip-hop songs. Why such a cultural impact? “The Warriors” began as a novel by Sol Yurick published in 1965 though only a skeleton of the book remains in the film. The filmed version was all its own and perfectly represented the time and place of New York in 1979.
The opening credits are awesome - a Peckinpah-style montage which intercuts the title credits with members of a street gang discussing a secret meeting of all the gangs of New York. These are “The Warriors”, a group of Coney Island bad-asses, led by Cleon (Dorsey Wright). Cyrus, a Dr. King-like orator, has assembled every gang in the city to propose a truce, unite in full nihilistic attitude, and takeover the city in a giant gangland revolution. He has 200,000 gang members ready to fight, “We take over one borough at a time. Secure our territory... secure our turf... because it's all our turf!” Can you dig it?
But when Cyrus is assassinated and the cops show up all hell breaks loose. In the melee the murder gets pinned on “The Warriors”. Cleon, their leader, is beaten and captured forcing the remainder of the gang to flee on their own. With the Warriors marked for death by every gang in the city, it becomes a desperate flight for survival to get back home to Coney Island – the last stop on the D-Line.
Along the journey a battle for the vacated leadership ensues between Swan (Michael Beck) and Ajax (James Remar). Swan’s the muscle, Ajax is the brawn. It’s a classic conflict. Each of the minor members of the gang are distinct, but they aren’t all tough guys, most are just scared kids looking for camaraderie and a sense of family. A journey wouldn’t be such without a nod to Homer’s “Odyssey,” and indeed, it has the token ‘siren scene’ when the gang encounters a group of girls who are both naughty and nice.
New York, of course, is a main character in the film. The film was made at the height of the graffiti craze. This was a time when virtually every subway car in New York was tagged. It was pre-Giuliani - a violent and scary place. Citizens were scared to walk the streets, subways or parks at night.
Walter Hill directs the film with his usual panache. He’s a master of close-quarters action, choreographing the action and suspense with confident skill. Michael Beck (Swan) succeeds as the hero. In fact, it’s a mystery why his career didn’t pan into a Hollywood leading man because he clearly has the chops. Perhaps it was the failure of his next film…ahem… “Xanadu”.
“The Warriors” and “Escape From New York” would make a great double-bill. They both reflect the pessimism from the late 70’s crossing over into the 80’s. With America coming off a stagflated economic recession the city could easily have fallen off the map and become what “Detroit” became or in, on film, turned itself in the city-prison in “Escape From New York”. Enjoy.
PS A remake by Tony-Scott is being shot, set in L.A. using real area-gangs. Interesting to see what comes of that.
Buy it here: The Warriors (The Ultimate Director's Cut)
One of the BEST opening credits sequences in history: