Walter Hill’s The Warriors

Duke here.

Watching the Kentucky Derby at my favorite haunt.

  • Singapore Sling …. Check
  • Mezcal …….Check
  • American Spirit Yellow …Check.

I was reading the NY Post and came across an article that once again fired up long dormant neurons. That’s how it works with me. Some random thing just sets it off.

1979 … a time when the greatest city in the world was in turmoil. Crime was rampant, the economy was rising and falling like the sea during a storm and Time Square was a seedy den of porno theaters, hookers and strip clubs. I know because every second Tuesday of the month, I along with 3 of my companions would ditch catholic school and go there. Fake ID … Check. A 17 year old with a beer looking at boobies … heaven.

Ahhhh … the memories!

Like I said before I’m a 70s movie slut. I’m a slut because I was there, I saw it.

But I digress.

The movie …. “

"The Warriors” .

The Walter Hill directed gem starring Michael Beck, Dorsey White, Brian Tyler, David Harris, Tom McKitterick, Marcelino Sanchez, James (I have you’re gun! … I have the money! … I have everything!!!) Remar, Terry Michos, David Patrick Kelly and the love interest, Deborah (what a f*cking name) Van Valkenburgh. You’ll recognize a lot of these young actors in future movies.

The movie is an adaption of a book of the same name, by Sol Yurick, The book, is actually based on a 4th Century B.C. story about a bunch of Greek mercenaries during the Persian War trying to get home after their leader Cyrus is killed. Updated and molded to modern day the final product shines. The mercenaries are now a gang from Coney Island NY.

The plot in a nutshell:

One man, Cyrus, wants to unite all the gangs for a takeover of NYC. So he arranges a meeting with all the major gangs in the city. He puts the word out. Send 9 delegates, no weapons, to the Bronx.

The opening scene of all the gangs heading there sets the tone perfectly and the soundtrack by Barry De Vorzon is spot on.

Once all the gangs (and there are a lot of them!) get there Cyrus fires them up with a speech outlining the plan.

  • Their sheer numbers gives them the advantage.

“CAN YOU COUNT SUCKERS!”

  • They outnumber the police

“CAN YOU DIG IT!

  • and that’s all they need for the takeover.

“CANNN YOUUUU DIG ITTTTTTT!!!!!!!!”

In the middle of his speech...the scene cuts to a low shot of police cars slowing creeping up in the bushes, lights out. The only sound is the tires on the gravel.

Again great film making. Seeing that you know the shits about to hit the fan. Cut back to the speech. At the height of the excitement and cheering, the crowd in a frenzy, the aforementioned shit hits in the form of a gunshot. Cyrus falls and the crowd goes silent. The police lights flash and the siren sounds, The crowd goes into chaos. Why he was killed is never explained but I suspect it was a hit based on the phone call at the candy store later on.

During the craziness The Warriors, unknown to them at the time, get blamed for the shooting and their War Chief gets jumped. With their leader MIA Swan becomes War Chief and takes control of the group. Beck plays him no nonsense, cool, and calculating. Deep behind enemy lines they now have to “bop their way back home” to Coney Island and home.

During the course of the film we get introduced to some of the gangs, Turn Bull ACs, The Lizzies, Gramercy Riffs, Baseball Furies … to name a few. Click here for a list of all of them.

Along the way they cross paths with The Orphans, led by Paul Greco. A low level gang who in short order gets put in their place by a well tossed Molotov cocktail. But not before we’re introduced to Deborah’s character...

“You know what that is don’t you?”

“Yeah ….. trouble.”

 

Named Mercy. She comes across a “real tough chick”, but as the movie unfolds the façade cracks and you see that she’s really a woman feeling trapped in a life she doesn’t like and is looking for a way out. You can feel her angst in the subway tunnel scene with Swan. You hear the desperation in her voice. She sees The Warriors as that way out.

Welcome aboard Mercy.
Like I’ve said about 70s movies, they are gritty and this film is as gritty as a car ride back from a day at Jones Beach. There are so many elements of this film which make it a classic:

  • The DJ’s (Lynne Thigpen) lips by the microphone throughout the film giving the gangs commentary on the chase … perfect.
  • The wet streets after the rain and they still don’t look clean.
  • The city at night is shot so seedy and grimy looking it makes you feel like you have to wipe down the TV screen …. excellent.
  • Also great are the fight scenes.

They’re not like the choreographed crap in today’s movies.
These fights look real.
No holds barred, no rules and balls to the wall.

Case in point the

“I know they’re on my ass. But now they know that I know”

bathroom fight scene in Union Square Station.

Then of course there’s the legendary...

"Come out to playyy!!!!"

Clinking of the bottles.

I’ve read it was improvised on the set by David Patrick Kelly.

Good one Dave!

The mark of a great film is in the little details.

My favorite part in the film is the Baseball Furies chase.

Again the scene is made even better with the score by Barry De Vorzon. When James Remar’s character (Ajax) hisses at one the Furies:

“I’m gonna shove that bat up your ass and turn you into a popsicle”

...you know he means it.

Good one James!

Unfortunately, as his character shows throughout the film, he’s impulsive and reckless. He lets his little head get the better of his big head and ends up getting busted by an undercover cop.

Sorry James…. gonna miss you.

I won’t go into further details just in case there are people out there who have been living under a rock for the last 35 years.

Are they cleared of the killing?

Do they make it back to Coney Island?

You’ll just have to watch to find out.

Cue the Joe Walsh music.

Duke out

A.O. Scott | New York Times Film Critic

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