The Warriors (1979)
Directed by Walter Hill
The first VCR my family bought was a shiny electronic monstrosity, a behemoth status symbol of the '80s about the size of a suitcase and weighing in at roughly 5,000 pounds. Through a special promotion at the electronics store, we were given one full year of free video rental--one rental per week for 52 weeks. You can bet your sweet ass my family drove all the way across town to get our movie-lovin' mitts on our free video. Every week we would pack into the trusty ol' blue station wagon and head out to the video store. And if my uncle Archie happened to come along with us, one thing was certain--we were coming home with a copy of The Warriors.
Directed by Walter Hill (Streets of Fire), The Warriors is an adaptation of the 1965 novel by Sol Yurick, which happens to be a retelling of the ancient story Anabasis by the Athenean General Xenophon. In its original version, the story recounts an actual expedition of 10,000 Greek mercenaries led by the Persian governor Cyrus against the Persian king. When Cyrus is killed, Xenophon must lead the Greeks from the gates of Babylon back to the coast, fighting their way through Persia to get home.
In the film version, we are introduced to the Warriors, a New York street gang from Coney Island, who are on their way to a “big meeting” in the Bronx. Cyrus, the charismatic leader of the Riffs, has called the gangs of New York together in an effort to unify them as one army with a single objective: to take over the city. But each gang has to abide by a strict set of rules: Only nine soldiers may attend and no weapons are allowed. In the film's most memorable sequence (and one of the coolest scenes in any movie ever) Cyrus gives a spectacular speech rallying the armies of the night.
But the gangland love-in is short lived when Luther (David Patrick Kelly), leader of the Rogues, decides to shoot Cyrus dead. A Warrior named Fox sees Luther pull the trigger, so Luther quickly covers his tracks by screaming, “The Warriors did it!” framing our heroes and making them a target for every gang in the city.
Unarmed and alone, the Warriors soon realize that they must “bop” their way through the five boroughs to get back to Coney Island. Now ... whoever said studying ancient history doesn't kick ass?
If you desire a gritty urban gang drama such as Menace II Society or American Me, you may not find exactly what you're looking for in The Warriors. Not that it matters much, because this movie kicks some major ass. You see, instead of red and blue bandanna-wearing thugs, these tough guys sport matching outfits (which sometimes includes makeup, top hats and roller-skates!) and bear monikers like “the Orphans,” “the Turnbull ACs,” “The Riffs,” and of course, everyone's favorite “the Baseball Furies.”
Part of the fun in watching The Warriors is recognizing so many familiar faces from '80s film and television. Deborah Van Valkenburgh (“Too Close For Comfort”) plays Mercy, the slutty tough chick who tags along for the ride after the Warriors fire-bomb the hell out of her old boyfriends. Ginny Ortiz and Marcelino Sanchez both appeared on “3-2-1 Contact,” Michael Beck went on to star in (shudder) Xanadu and the recently departed Lynne Thigpen plays the radio DJ who relays messages to the gangs of the city via the airwaves. The film also features Mercedes Ruehl in her first screen role as an undercover cop who busts my favorite Warrior, Ajax (James Remar), in the park.
After making their way back to Coney, the Warriors must face off with the Rogues, who want to ensure that the Warriors don't spill the beans regarding Cyrus' death. In a cool little game of cat and mouse, the Rogues stalk the Warriors through the boardwalk in their beat-up jalopy as Luther calls them out by rattling beer bottles together on his fingertips, chanting the films most widely quoted dialogue: “Warriors ... come out to play!”
The Warriors is one of my favorite films of all time. Hell, I still get chills when Joe Walsh's original version of “In the City” kicks in as the credits roll. I once read a review of this film saying that it had a cheesy “camp” factor that made it watchable, and that the movie was “so bad it was good.” Well, come into my turf talking that kind of noise, and I'll shove a bat up your ass and turn you into a popsicle.
Can you dig it? (Paramount)