by Mel Valentin
Directed and co-written by Walter Hill from a mass-market novel by Sol Yurick, "The Warriors" is a New York City gangs-on-the run flick made in the late 1970s. It's also acquired the rank of "cult classic" for Hill's bold stylistics, taut direction, quotable dialogue, loopy thematics, pulpy storyline, and for some, the references to a Greek legend about a Greek army fighting its way out of a hostile Persia, Xenophon's "Anabasis." At the time of "The Warriors" release in 1979, Unfortunately, Hill, in a fit of misjudged revisionism, made significant, if unnecessary, changes for "The Ultimate Director's Cut." Hill adds colorful comic book panels and enhanced vertical wipes, presumably to foreground "The Warriors" pulpy, comic book origins and to bridge scenes with explanatory material (none of it necessary).The Warriors, a Coney Island, multi-ethnic gang, have been invited to Pelham Bay Park, Bronx for a "conclave." At the direction of Cyrus (Roger Hill), the charismatic leader of the Gramercy Riffs, the largest gang in New York, a truce has been called. The gangs will meet to discuss the future of gang cooperation. Cyrus, called the "one and only" in an early scene, is clearly marked as a combination messiah figure/African-American revolutionary. He has the rhetorical skills of a Malcolm X or Martin Luther King, Jr., but social or racial justice plays no part in his plans. Cyrus instead wants to create a coalition of gangs, with the Gramercy Riffs as the vanguard, and wrest control of New York City from the politicians and organized crime families.
"The dictionary definition of 'cult classic.'"
A bullet cuts Cyrus’ vision short, however. Another gang, unhappy with the idea of ceding control to Cyrus and the Gramercy Riffs, assassinate Cyrus in mid-speech. The leader of the Rogues, Luther (David Patrick Kelly), vociferously blames the Warriors for the murder (they're innocent, course). The leader of the Warriors, Cleon (Dorsey Wright), is violently separated from his gang, leaving Swan (Michael Beck), his second-in-command as the new leader. Swan, in turn, is immediately challenged by the hot-tempered Ajax (James Remar), but exigencies (i.e., the cops and the other gangs) leaves their conflict momentarily unresolved. Swan must now lead his gang back to Coney Island, their home turf, where, presumably, they'll be safe.
The rest of Swan's multi-ethnic gang includes Snow (Brian Tyler), Cochise (David Harris), Cowboy (Tom McKitterick), Rembrandt (Marcelino Sánchez), Vermin (Terry Michos), and Fox (Thomas G. Waites), Swan's right-hand man. The gang must pass through (and fight their way through) various neighborhoods controlled by other gangs, including a mixed-race of skinheads, the Turnball A.C.'s. The storyline pivots on the Warriors making it to Coney Island via subway. Without a direct route back to Coney Island, the Warriors have to first make it to Union Square, and from there catch the subway that will take them home.
Along the way, they must pass through the turf of the Orphans, a weaker gang with an inferiority complex (they weren't invited to the conclave). There, the Warriors run across Mercy (Deborah Van Valkenburgh), a local girl of easy virtue. For no discernible reason, Mercy first taunts, then joins the Warriors, ultimately becoming Swan's love interest. Before the night is over, the Warriors have to come face to face with several other gangs, including the brightly colored Baseball Furies and the Lizzies, an all-female gang. A Radio DJ (Lynne Thigpen), obviously aligned with the Gramercy Riffs, sends periodic updates over the airwaves noting the Warriors progress.
Predictably, the Warriors are separated into smaller groups, forcing them to rely on their wits, instincts, and fighting prowess. Interestingly, the Warriors who lose sight of their goal, getting home, are the ones most likely to get lost or be captured (sex or sexual control plays a large role in determining who makes it out alive). There are one or two surprises along the way, including the memorable reappearance of Luther calling the Warriors out to play (although usually remembered as "Warriors, come out and play," Luther's actual dialogue is "Warriors, come out to play," while he taps three empty beer battles between his fingers).
Outside of Hill's egregious, nonsensical decision to alter a film best left along, The Warriors does suffer from notable (and noticeable) flaws, not least of which is the underwritten romantic subplot that depends on several undermotivated character reversals. In its treatment of the female characters, as either deceptive or promiscuous, The Warriors can be easily (and accurately) characterized as misogynistic. The misogyny is partially ameliorated by the almost dreamlike logic that permeates The Warriors, a film that takes place in semi-isolation, with New York City seemingly abandoned to the gangs whose costumes, attitudes and behavior are far from realistic (it's nearly impossible to accept the multi-ethnic composition of the Warriors, a decision dictated by the film's producers rather than any attempt at verisimilitude).
Then too, The Warriors isn't without its plot holes, none larger than the Warriors not finding alternate means of transportation when they discover that other gangs and the police are watching the subways. Switching from one means of transportation to another would have been more credible and opened up different possibilities beyond the characters absurdly outrunning a busload full of skinheads incapable of catching them or the characters attempting to find a safe haven for the night until the cover of day (and other people) allowed them an easier path back to Coney Island. It's also hard to imagine how The Warriors was controversial or "caused" gang violence to break out at screenings back in 1979. The reports of violence led a studio nervous about bad publicity and potential lawsuits to prematurely remove The Warriors from circulation. Given the often laughable gang costumes (even mimes seem to have a gang of their own, as do pimps), The Warriors is far campier than some fans care to recognize.Ultimately, "The Warriors" isn't the kind of film that will convince viewers that they're watching a socio-political treatise on gangs, their psychology, causes, or offer solutions. It's quite the opposite. "The Warriors" is campy, over-the-top, occasionally so bad-it's-good (especially the dialogue) genre effort that, more than twenty-five years after its initial release, continues to be highly entertaining, if sometimes for the "wrong" reasons.
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originally posted: 11/01/05 00:09:06