“The Warriors” is a real peculiarity, a movie about street gang warfare, written and directed as an exercise in mannerism. There’s hardly a moment when we believe that the movie’s gangs are real or that their members are real people or that they inhabit a real city.
That’s where the peculiarity comes in: I don’t think we’re supposed to. No matter what impression the ads give, this isn’t even remotely intended as an action film. It’s a set piece. It’s a ballet of stylized male violence.
Walter Hill, the director and co-writer, specializes in fables like this. His first two films were “Hard Times” and “The Driver,” and they were both at arm’s length from realism. Hill likes characters that take on a legendary, mythic stature, and then he likes to run them through situations that look like urban tableaux.
“Hard times,” a good and interesting film, starred Charles Bronson as a professional street fist-fighter who went up against opponents with all the dimension of a James Bond villain. “The Driver” didn’t even have names for its characters; they were described by their functions, and they behaved toward each other in strangely formal, rehearsed, unspontaneous ways.
“The Warriors” takes that style to such an extreme that almost all life and juice are drained from it; there’s great vitality and energy (and choreography and stunt coordination) in the many violent scenes of gang fights and run-ins with the cops. But when the characters talk, they seem to be inhabiting a tale rehearsed many times before.
One example: Three members of a street gang are lined up in a row. The camera regards the first one. He speaks. The camera pans to the second, and he speaks. The camera pans to the third. He speaks. Because the movement of the camera dictates the order and timing of the speeches, there can be no illusion that the characters are talking as their words occur to them.
This same kind of stiff stylization dominates the film. The street gangs take stances toward each other as if they were figures in a medieval print. The deployment of the police and gang forces is plainly impossible on any realistic level; people move into their symbolic places with such perfectly timed choreography that they must be telepathic. And the chase scenes are plainly impossible, as in one extended shot showing the Warriors outrunning a rival gang’s school bus.
All of this is no doubt Walter Hill’s intention. I suppose he has, an artistic vision he’s working toward in this film, and in his work. He chooses to meticulously ban human spontaneity from his films; he allows only a handful of shallow women characters into his stories; he reduces male conduct to ritualized violence. And in “The Warriors” he chooses, with a few exceptions, to cast against type: Only three or four of the movie’s characters look and sound like plausible street-gang members. The rest look and sound like male models for the currently fashionable advertising photography combining high fashion and rough trade.
All very well, I suppose, except that Paramount chooses to advertise the movie as a violent action picture — and action audiences, I suspect, will find it either incomprehensible or laughable. Walter Hill has a considerable visual skill, and he knows what he’s doing in “The Warriors” and does it well. But is this style suited to this material? And does Hill have other notes to play? All three of his films have shown a certain skittishness in the face of human juices and the unrehearsed flow of life. And so his street gangs, and his movies, walk lockstep through sterile streets.
Awesome gang figurines from the classic movie, The Warriors, by Benjaminography…
John Michael Beck Taylor (born February 4, 1949), commonly known as Michael Beck, is an American actor, perhaps best known for his role as Swan in the 1979 film, The Warriors.
Beck was born in Memphis, Tennessee, the third of nine children. He attended Memphis University School and Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi, on a football scholarship. After graduating with a degree in Economics, he was one of 30 (out of 2,500) applicants chosen for London’s Central School of Speech and Drama. His stage credits, beginning with college, include: Camelot (he was King Arthur); and Cat On a Hot Tin Roof. Besides acting, his hobbies include reading, music and cooking.
Michael Beck is predominantly known for his role as “Swan” in the Walter Hill classic cult action film ‘The Warriors’ (1979). The plot follows The Warriors from Coney Island, Brooklyn. Cyrus (Roger Hill), leader of the Gramercy Riffs, the most powerful gang in New York City, has requested all NY gangs to send nine unarmed representatives to Van Cortland Park, where Cyrus proposes the assembled crowd a permanent citywide truce that would allow the gangs to control the city. Most of the gangs laud his idea, but Luther (David Patrick Kelly), leader of the Rogues, shoots Cyrus and frames the Warriors. In the ensuing panic, the Warriors escape. Unbeknownst to the Warriors, however, the Riffs call a hit on them through a DJ (Lynne Thigpen), believing them responsible for Cyrus’ death. Swan (Michael Beck) takes charge of the group and they head back to the subway… Awesome.
Beck followed The Warriors with the role of “Sonny Malone” in ‘Xanadu’ (1980), and promptly ruined his career prospects. He followed that with b-movies such as ‘Megaforce’ (1982), and ‘Triumphs of a Man Called Horse’ (1982). (Both the Xanadu and Megaforce roles garnered him Razzie nominations for Worst Actor and Worst Supporting Actor respectively.) Beck also appeared in other b-movies such as ‘Warlords of the 21st Century’, ‘The Last Ninja’, ‘The Golden Seal’, ‘Alcatraz: The Whole Shocking Story’, ‘Rearview Mirror’, the 1984 TV movie ‘Blackout’, and ‘Wes Craven’s Chiller’ (as a cryogenically suspended sociopath). He also starred in a short-lived television series, ‘Houston Knights’ (1987). More recently, Beck has featured in the television shows ‘JAG’, ‘Robin’s Hoods’, Walker: Texas Ranger’ (in the episodes Flashpoint and A Difficult Peace), ‘In the Heat of the Night’ (TV Series), and as a Mars-born terrorist-turned-cyborg assassin “Abel Horn” in the science fiction TV series ‘Babylon 5’ 1994 episode “A Spider in the Web”, and as “Mr.Jones” in the spinoff series ‘Crusade’.
Michael has narrated numerous audiobooks of John Grisham novels. He has also narrated Confederates in the Attic by Tony Horwitz; A Darkness More Than Light by Michael Connelly; State of the Union by David Callahan; and the unabridged version of Bill Clinton’s My Life. He also lent his voice to the popular video game adaptation of The Warriors in 2005.
Streets of Fire. A Rock ‘n’ Roll fable. Another time, another place…
In a neon lit, 50’s style, nondescript city, Rock ‘n’ Roll star Ellen Aim (Diane Lane) has come back to perform a concert for her hometown neighbourhood. She is kidnapped off stage by Raven (Willem Dafoe) and his biker gang, The Bombers. Local cafe owner Reva Cody (Deborah Van Valkenburgh) writes a telegram to her brother Tom (Michael Pare) asking him to return home. Before the opening titles are over, Tom has returned and beaten up a gang of 5 guys threatening his sister.
Those first ten minutes set the tone for the rest of the movie. Tom is hired by Ellen’s manager Billy Fish (Rick Moranis) to rescue Ellen. He takes along McCoy (Amy Madigan) and 30 minutes in he’s saved her, in the process of which he manages to beat up most of the Bombers gang and destroy half of their headquarters bar, bringing him to the attention of Raven.
Ridiculously good fun, Streets of Fire was a massive flop upon original release in 1984. Being a fan of Walter Hills movies, I remember seeing it 3 times at my local cinema; it seemed to pull in some decent sized crowds but obviously not enough.
As is typical with most of Walter Hill’s movies, the story is compact, dialogue simple and direct, the music is great and of course the visuals are stunning. The movie is stylish, simplistic and although relies heavily on the 50’s retro look, was ahead of its time in 1984.
MTV owes a huge debt to this movie, the amount of music videos that referenced/paid homage/stole from it are countless. I’m not a fan of the OTT Jim Steinman theatrical song writing made famous by Meatloaf and Bonnie Tyler, but his music works here, and although recorded by Fire Inc., it is performed perfectly by Diane Lane who really looks the part. Well backed up by Hill regular Ry Cooder, whose music is a constant throughout the movie, proving again just how diverse he can be.
The sets are drab and grey during the day scenes and all multi-coloured neon-lit, rain swept streets at night. The other splashes of colour are provided by the musical set-pieces, these are quintessentially 80’s in look, a look that Hill helped usher in with this and his earlier classic ‘The Warriors’. This is all shot beautifully by Andrew Laszlo in his 3rd collaboration with Hill.
The cast are all good although to be fair their roles are somewhat limited. Pare is fine as the monolithic hero, he’s been better in Eddie & The Cruisers and The Philadelphia Experiment although his career never really took off. I always thought he and Michael Biehn would become bigger action stars after this and the first Terminator. Diane Lane is stunning; Amy Madigan and Rick Moranis are good fun and Deborah Van Valkenburgh steals every the scene she’s in.
Highly recommended if you want to see an old fashioned comic-book, action movie; don’t expect any character depth or development, as the movie says in the opening frames, this is a Rock ‘n’ Roll fable; stylish, dumb fun. The Wanderers meets Purple Rain…
Quality: 4 out of 5 stars
Any good: 4 out of 5 stars
A squad of Louisiana National Guardsmen set out for weekend manoeuvres in the bayou. Their objective is simple; all they have to do is navigate through the swamp to a designated meeting point then they can go home. These weekend warriors, led by Staff Sergeant Poole (Peter Coyote) are a disparate group; private Spencer (Keith Carradine) is the cool intellectual of the group, who has organised some prostitutes for the squad at the end of the training; Corporal Hardin (Powers Boothe) has been transferred from Texas; Corporal Lonnie Reece (Fred Ward) the redneck racist; Stuckey (Lewis Smith) the loose cannon; Sergeant Casper (Les Lannom): Corporal ‘Coach’ Bowden (Alan Autry), a gum teacher by trade who is more than a little gung-ho and private Tyrone Cribbs (T.K. Carter), and Simms (Franklyn Seales) are excellent support.
As they bitch and complain while trudging through the swamp they realise that recent rains have cut them off form their objective, desperate to finish the job and go home they steal some local Cajun canoes. In a moment of stupidity, Stuckey fires off some blank rounds at the locals who return live fire, killing Sergeant Poole. The guardsmen make it to the opposite shore where leaderless, their lack of experience is exposed as panic sets in and a thirst for revenge clouds their judgement.
They catch a one-armed local (Brion James), blaming him for Poole’s death, they beat him and accidentally destroy his home before dragging him off through the swamp to bring him to ‘justice’. However, they are pursued by a group of locals (including Sonny Landham) who know the swamp and are far more equipped to deal with the game of cat and mouse which unfolds.
Director Walter Hills feature ‘Southern Comfort’ (1981) stirs up comparisons to John Boorman’s ‘Deliverance’ and to a lesser extent ‘First Blood’. The film is an intense chase-thriller, full of suspense, exhilarating, tense and atmospheric. An excellent script, lean and taut, Hill spends a brief amount of time introducing us to the characters before throwing them and us headlong into the action. Their various character flaws bubble to the surface as their situation worsens and the tension mounts. The cast are all solid delivering a good ensemble performance.
Beautifully shot by Andrew Lazslo, cinematographer for Hill’s ‘The Warriors’ and ‘Streets of Fire’ as well as the similar ‘First Blood’. Using the light and reflections within the swamp to full effect to create a claustrophobic and haunting setting; the Cajun hunters are almost ghost like, we never see them clearly until the end of the movie.
The soundtrack by Hill regular Ry Cooder is eerie and seductive. It draws the viewer into the scenes, expanding the visuals; it’s both unnerving and beautiful. Cooder has supplied scores for other Walter hill movies ‘The Long Riders’, ‘Streets of Fire’, ‘Crossroads’ and ‘Geronimo’ as well as beautiful scores for ‘Alamo Bay’ and ‘Paris, Texas’.
The film was seen at time of release as a Vietnam allegory but that perception has waned slightly over the years. It still looks and feels contemporary and any first time viewer would be hard pressed to say with any certainty when it was made or indeed, when it is set.
Highly recommended; this is another triumph of muscular film making from director Walter Hill. Southern Comfort is as good as the best Vietnam movies of the 80’s and better than the rest.
Quality: 4 out of 5 stars
Any good: 4 out of 5 stars
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