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I’ve ducked watching WALTER HILL’s THE WARRIORS (based on Sol Yurick’s book of the same name) for all them years for one reason and one reason only: the production stills I had seen (the varied gang members, like the Mime gang for example) made it look uber cheesy – and by rule of middle finger up – I don’t care for Musicals or “man’s man films” going the tacky route. I’m not saying that’s a fully rational way to go about shit – but it’s how I usually roll. Many have tried to have me watch this sucker over time and I wanted NATHING to do with it. That’s until my bro Eric Red tricked me into it. We sat down for a movie we had chosen, he pressed play and it was THE WARRIORS (WATCH IT HERE) that popped up onscreen instead. He told me to watch it for 10 minutes and if I didn’t dig it, he’d switch it back to what we had picked. I of course wound up watching the WHOLE THING and completely fell in love with it.
THE WARRIORS was mucho ahead of its time in terms of high concept, and bold execution. Watching this 1978 jamboree today, it actually reminded me of that 80’s side scroll fighting video game Double Dragon. I also realized fairly quickly that a movie I've always loved JUDGMENT NIGHT (WATCH IT HERE) owed a lot to Walter Hill’s classic. Now although THE WARRIORS somewhat caused a controversy when it came out (lots of real gangs went to catch it and caused trouble in cinemas), the film itself was way too heightened in terms of its reality for it to be controversial today or to be perceived as a “gang bait” movie if you will. The setting was some unspecified future world where street gangs basically ruled the streets, chunk by chunk. And even though the violence was at times brutal, the varied “get-ups” mixed in with the movie’s late 70’s i.e. "now a tad dated" aesthetics resulted in them coming off as cartoon characters instead of REAL people. Think A Clockwork Orange Extra Light! And I mean EXTRA.
In fact, at the time Walter Hill perceived the picture as a comic book (the recent Director’s Cut added comic book panel scene transitions to the film – something Hill wanted done back then – I hear it blows) and in a way, it’s the angle in which to take on the film. This is not supposed to be “reality” – it’s just a crazy ride! Just ENJOY IT! And that I did! This one oh so appealed to my individual film sensibilities. It gave me a sturdy set up and then unraveled its narrative in an action driven fashion. Dialogue arose only when it was needed and there wasn’t a single boring minute to be found here. Moreover, the tension was cranked up to FUN TIMES while the many chases and hand-to-hand fights were incredibly well shot & choreographed and randomly brutal as hell (the one in the Subway bathroom was one for the macho man fistfight books – nice!). The “mythic” like sensibilities on display didn’t go unnoticed by this clown either! The story itself was classical in spirit and the characters were more archetypes than actual layered people. Upon some research after my sit down with it, I discovered that the book and the film were semi based on the Battle of Cunaxa which went down in in 401 BC. Long story short, that fight saw men trapped behind enemy lines and trying to get home after a hefty throw down. All that to say; quasi futuristic, over the top reality, story/characters based on historical Legend - yeah... lots of unique shite going on here!
The thespians on hand got the job motherf*cking done too. Michael Beck had the stoic presence and good looks the role of gang leader Swan needed, James Remar was menacing as the pervy Ajax, Dorsey Wright was mucho affable as Cleon, Deborah Van Valkenburgh brought in some much needed estrogen as Mercy while David Patrick Kelly was one creepy ass dude as the shit disturber Luther. The entire cast did what they had to do and very well at that! No complaints. Add to that a handful of insane set pieces (the Lizzies scene...lol), a breath neck pace, a groovy score/Pop tunes, a deliciously politically incorrect vibe (when compared to where we're at as a society today) and a on location shooting M.O. that added an air of stern authenticity to the whole (it wouldn’t have had as much impact if some of it was shot in Studio) and you get a bad boy that EARNED its classic status and then some!
Any complaints? Yeah some of the gangs still looked like candy-asses to me when it came to how they were dolled up and I also kept thinking throughout the film: “Why won’t The Warriors just take off their sleeveless "colors" leather jackets?" Nobody would know who they are then... no? But hey, maybe it was a gang ego thing – colors stay on till death! No biggie. When all was said and done – THE WARRIORS came through gangbusters! I'm happy somebody finally finagled me tapping it. Can you dig it?