Walter Hills third film as director was almost life changing for me when I saw it for the first time as the support feature to ‘Friday the 13th part 2’ in 1981. It was one of the movies that turned me on to a lifelong love of cinema.
The Warriors was adapted from Sol Yurick’s frankly depressing and bleak novel about an unnamed gang on the run through hostile territory from the Bronx all the way back to their turf in Coney Island. Taking the source material and stripping the story back to basics, heavily influenced by the ancient Greek tale Anabasis by the Spartan General Xenophon, Hill made what appear to be a few minor but very important changes. The first was calling our gang ‘The Warriors’, the book title refers to all the gangs amassed at the Bronx meeting who are after the gang we follow back to Coney Island. The other change being that the gang is of mixed race. This no doubt contributed to the film’s success at the US box office on release. No racially divided gang, a cool name and look as well as toning down the books less appealing character aspects gave us a group of guys to cheer for. And cheer we did as teenagers. The look, the colour, the action, the dialogue, the music and the near non-stop pace made for a perfect teenage movie.
Wrongly accused of the murder of ‘The One and Only’ Cyrus, leader of the Gramercy Riffs, The Warriors have to ‘Bop their way back’ from the Bronx to Coney Island. Along the way they are chased by cops and other gang members including the real killers The Rogues. They are spurred on by the unseen radio DJ who keeps the gangs, and us, up to date with their movements; she also plays some of the movies incredible score that provide the backdrop to some cool montages.
Any guy in their teens or early 20’s during the 80’s knows more than a few lines of dialogue from it and they all remember the Baseball Furies chase and fight in the subway station men’s room. The interaction with the gangs is priceless; Cyrus, leader of the Riffs “Can you dig it?”; The Orphans “So far down they ain’t even on the map”; The Baseball Furies “I’m gonna shove that bat up your ass and turn you into a popsicle” and Luthors final act chiding “Warriors, come out to play”
The young cast are all good, with Michael Beck as leader Swan, James Remar as the feisty Ajax and David Patrick Kelly the only members who had any real post-Warriors career. James Remar the more successful with roles in subsequent Walter Hill movies and on TV in Sex and the City and Dexter. However the other gang members are less well known but leave their mark on the movie: Brian Tyler (Snow), Tom McKitterick (Cowboy), Thomas Waites (Fox), David Harris (Cochise), Terry Michos (Vermin), Marcelino Sanchez (Rembrandt) and Dorsey Wright (underused as original Warriors leader Cleon) are all solid and give us characters to believe in. Deborah Van Valkenberg (Mercy) provides real heart as the girl looking for some excitement and hitching a ride with the gang.
The soundtrack is as memorable, an excellent electronic score by Barry DeVorzon sprinkled with classics such as ‘No Where to Run’ and new material from Joe Walsh ‘In The City’. However, this is Walter Hills’ movie, the lean script, sparse memorable dialogue and most importantly, the look of the film, which has no doubt been an influence on countless movies, TV series and MTV videos over the years. Neon lights reflected on wet city streets predated the 80’s look. Hill himself took this to its natural conclusion with 1984’s ‘Streets of Fire’
Released in 1979, The Warriors has always been compared with the other classic gang culture movies of the time: ‘The Wanderers’ and ‘Quadrophenia’. However unlike those movies which looked back at teen angst of the past, The Warriors was set slightly in the future. This near future setting along with the neon light visuals and comic book dialogue adds to the timelessness of the movie and it is as iconic today as it was back in the early 80’s.
One of my all time favourite films, I own at least 4 versions of it! In 2005 ‘The Warriors’ was rereleased as a ‘Directors Cut’ in which Hill was finally able to release a cut with his originally intended comic book panel style… I’m sure I would have enjoyed the movie like this if I’d seen it that way in the 80’s, however I prefer the original cut which is worth seeking out on DVD. A Criterion release is overdue as there are numerous out takes and deleted scenes out there that have never made it into an official DVD. It would surely sell in huge numbers, I’d buy it again! Check out the excellent website for all Warriors information.
Quality: 5 out of 5 stars
Any Good: 5 out of 5 stars