The Warriors

Shootin' out the walls of heartache, bang! bang!
★★
☆☆
Released: 
1979
Director: 
Walter Hill
Starring: 
Michael Beck, James Remar, Dorsey Wright, Brian Tyler, David Harris
The Setup: 
Greek-like story of a group of warriors marooned far from home.
Discussion: 

I have basically been watching my friend’s Netflix queue lately, since he’ll say “The next movie I have is ____,” and I’ll say “Oh, I really want to see that,” and so it becomes the next choice. Such was the case with The Warriors, which neither of us had seen, but knew only from reputation—and didn’t even know the reputation all that well. Some movie that’s attained cult status, they made a video game out of it… something like that. Anyway, both of us were ridiculously eager to become acquainted with the phenomenon.

First we see some sort of scroll or such that tells of some ancient Greek warriors that found themselves far from home and held off in some battle and it’s a story of courage. Then we shift right next door to a panel from a comic book of THIS movie, and are told that this, too, is a story of courage. Okay, Greek warriors same as street gang warriors, got that?

Things get off to a very promising start with this credits sequence that is visually amazing, musical, and informative. I really liked this effect of a blue-tinted subway station’s many layers coming at you while a hot red credit would also seem to move toward you. During this time we get an awesome 80s instrumental, and an assload of exposition about all the different gangs in the city [there’s a gang of mimes out there, just so you know], and how they’re all under the power of Cyrus, and there’s a big meeting that night with every gang in the whole of New York City’s five boroughs.

We are also introduced to THE WARRIORS, this group of white male anorexics in brown leather jackets. They are led by Michael Beck, who also graced Xanadu and Megaforce. And they, too, are in attendance at this mega-gang event, where, surprisingly, all the gangs split up and mingle with each other, rather than remain in their groups. Huh, fuck I know about gangs, right? So then Cyrus gets up and makes a speech—shot with him on a huge pulpit in front of a crowd of hundreds of gang members! And he calls on them to unite as one mega-gang, and they could take over the entire city, one borough at a time!

SPOILERS, LEVEL ONE > > > YOU PROBABLY ALREADY KNOW THIS, BUT IF YOU’VE NEVER SEEN THE MOVIE, YOU MIGHT NOT KNOW IT > > > And everyone is into it! All the gangs are going to join together! When all of a sudden Cyrus is shot! And one of the Warriors saw this Roger Daltrey dude do it! Then the police show up and pandemonium breaks out! Real, filmed-with-hundreds-of-live-extras pandemonium! And Daltrey fingers the Warrior of the killing!

So let’s think back to how this was explicitly tied to these ancient Greek warriors back in the day… and what’s happened now is that we have a group of eight warriors marooned far from home—only where the Greeks would be on an island 50 miles away, the Warriors are only 17 miles from home… and it MIGHT AS WELL BE an island 50 miles away. So that is clever. And guess what? Not only is every gang in the city after them, but every policeman, too. So props must be given for a fascinating and clever topic.

Unfortunately it can’t fill in the shading of the overall story with equally clever details. So the guys are in the Bronx and they need to get to Coney Island. They need to catch the D train. It’s late at night, and the D train’s not going to come but every 20 minutes at least. And every second they spend on the street is one of extreme peril. I was SO into this, and the movie develops incredible tension by how much they NEED to catch that train.

But then it deflates it all by having the train linger in the station for a ridiculous amount of time. The guys do this whole running thing that lasts at least two minutes, then they run up on to the platform, and the train is just a sittin’ there and waiting. Okay, hold on, I am writing this on the A train at midnight right now, and I am going to time how long the doors stay open at the next stop: 6 seconds. Maybe, as my friend insists, subway service has so vastly improved in the last 30 years, and trains really would linger in stations for two minutes or more before proceeding, but I don’t believe it. It’s one thing to disappoint, it’s another to disappoint so badly on a setup that promised to be so exiting—and for me, the movie never recovered.

So they make the train [the doors close just after they’ve stepped on, leaving their assailants outside… convenience itself!] and think they’re all set to get back to Coney Island. But! Someone has set a fire on the track! So they have to get off the train again. Now a further fiction this movie floats is that if there’s a fire in one station, the MTA won’t shut down the entire line five stops in either direction, but one need only walk to the next station, where, as before, a train will simply be WAITING for you. But first the Warriors must pass through the territory of fledgling gang the Orphans, where they pick up this woman who kind of becomes the love interest but was so hateful and malicious in her first appearance I could never warm up to her. I liked the whole delicate political negotiations that had to go on for the Warriors to pass through the Orphan’s turf, and how they would have been allowed to do so if the woman hadn’t come out and called them all wusses. One other thing I really appreciated is that the subway here [and all the locations, but the subway gets the most coverage] is the REAL NYC subway, circa 1979. It was cool to see recognizable stations [though some of the numbers were switched] and note what has remain the same and what changed.

So it continues, with the guys having to make it through one challenge after another. They are chased [in a nice long running-and-music scene] by the Baseball Furies, who run forward in one shot clearly holding their bats as penises. Then the guys get split up, and fall into the lair of the Lizzies, obviously meant to evoke the Sirens, as the guys get waylaid there and forget their overall purpose. And while all this is going on we see the lips of an evil DJ who is playing songs like “Nowhere To Run” as commentary on the Warrior’s journey.

At one point one of the guys sits down with an older woman who just happens to be sitting in the middle of Central Park at four in the morning, and is quite receptive to his flirtations—what does she need to do, wear a button that says “Hi, I’m a cop?” She is played by Mercedes Ruehl by the way. Then it turns out that “The Lizzies are packing,” and the guys narrowly escape, then make it to Union Square, where they must catch their final train. The train stations are, for the most part, absolutely deserted, despite how we keep hearing the cops are swarming the city. Yes, cops do show up and key intervals when necessitated by the script, but other than that they are quite noticeably absent. Anyway, eventually the guys make it home and the whole situation is resolved, their name cleared of the murder, and the end.
< < < SPOILERS END

My friend who I was with wanted me to compile a PHOTO ESSAY on the approximately 230 shots here that show Michael Beck staring defiantly. I’d love to see such a thing, but doing that would be a pain in the ass. But yes, Mr. Beck’s performance seems to be composed entirely of that one dramatic stare. I can't wait to go back and read reviews of the time that say what a great performance he gives, which would soon be disproved in later roles that would require him to move and speak. Other than that, not too many of the characters made much of an impression on me. They come, they go, they yell, they run.

Now apparently what I watched was the “Ultimate Director’s Cut,” and it would seem that the main differences are the addition of the scroll-thing at the beginning, explicitly telling you that this story has parallels to the ancient Greeks, and the comic-book transitions between scenes. From the tone of comments on the IMDb, it would seem that many of this film’s fans are not thrilled with the addition of these elements.

Overall, definitely worth watching, but so clever in concept that one wished they could have followed through to the end [although obviously this film has many fans who feel that everything is perfect]. For me, the lack of realism symbolized by having the trains just wait until it is thematically convenient for them to move and things like the absence of police [in subway stations, which is precisely where they hang out] disappointed, especially in light of how the scenario was initially presented. Well, now I can say I’ve seen it.

Now before the movie started, my friend asked me if this movie was the provenance of the Patty Smyth and Scandal hit "The Warrior" and I informed him that no, it was not. But by the second half of the movie I was really wishing that it was.

Should you watch it: 

Yes, regardless of everything, it’s still definitely worth watching.