Friday, August 16, 2013

Film Friday: The Warriors (1979)

The Warriors is a 1979 cult classic by Walter Hill about a gang that must traverse New York City from Van Cortlandt Park to Coney Island as hundreds of other gangs hunt them down. Even though that description sounds simple and exploitative, the film is deeply complex and interesting. Believe it or not, it’s also a Greek epic playing out in New York City.
Plot
The plot is straight forward. The story opens with the main characters traveling to Van Cortlandt Park under a flag of truce. They are the leaders of a street gang called the Warriors. They’ve been told to send nine unarmed representatives to the park to hear a proposal from the leader of the most powerful gang in the city (the Riffs). His name is Cyrus and he proposes that all the gangs stop fighting each other and band together. With there being 60,000 of them, and only 20,000 New York City cops, they could take over the city.
As he reaches the high point of his pitch, a shot rings out and Cyrus is killed. He is shot by a gangbanger named Luther (David Patrick Kelly). At this moment, the cops show up to attack the gangs, which sends everything into confusion as all the gangs flee. In the confusion, Luther starts screaming that the Warriors are the ones who shot Cyrus. The Warriors’ leader Cleon is attacked and taken down but the rest escape, though the rest aren’t yet aware of what they’ve been accused.

Word goes out to hunt down the Warriors... alive is preferred, dead is acceptable. As the Warriors make their way back to Connie Island, they are hunted by various gangs, all in ridiculous costumes, as well as the cops. Their new leader, Swan (Michael Beck), picks up a woman (Deborah Van Valkenburgh as Mercy) with whom he argues the entire way. The gang feuds about leadership. They get sidetracked. One dies, one gets caught by the cops, and the rest need to overcome all the obstacles in their way as they try to make it home.
Why The Film Works
This film became a major cult hit, and the main reason for that is the depth. I’ve noted before that what makes a film a cult hit, rather than a popular hit, seems to be that it’s a smart film with lots of depth, but doesn’t spell everything out as clearly as general audiences need. Thus, general audiences will see the film as confused or pointless because they just don’t get what is going on. This film has those traits as well, and likely will seem like a schlock action film to general audiences... akin to how Rollerball is wrongly seen as a film about violent sports.

Indeed, this film traffics heavily in ambiguity. The dialog here is sparse and terse. Little is explained. Questions are answered with actions, not exposition. The characters speak in slang which doesn’t get translated. Character actions aren’t explained through exposition either. The relationship between Swan and Mercy is all handled through looks and levels of tolerance rather than professions of love. For example, the fact he lets her continue with them speaks volumes and, even then, he only tells her near the end of their journey that she can come with them and he talks around why. Characters, like the leader of the Orphans, change their minds in dramatic fashion, but never say what caused it, though you can understand it if you get the context. The only reason you know the Lizzies are lesbians is the absence of males and that they are dancing together. Fox dies, but it’s never clearly said or shown. We have no idea if the Warriors’ original leader Cleon lived or died, or what was Ajax’s ultimate fate after he stars fighting with the cops. The Riffs never even say they know the Warriors didn’t kill Cyrus, they just tell them they’re all right. These are the types of things general audiences typically need explained.
But ambiguity alone does not a good movie make. What makes this film so good is all the depth packed into it. Indeed, what appear to be little more than a movie about one gang being chased by others is so much more. Consider these themes and issues:
1. The film is about leadership. Cyrus is a messianic leader. He is replaced by a man who is almost the polar opposite, almost robotic or satanic. Swan takes over the Warriors when Cleon vanishes. There is immediately a power struggle and we see the troops pick Swan. Why? Was it his toughness or his responsibility or something else? Swan must immediately show that he’s up to the task by becoming a diplomat, when he has never been that before. He must understand when to stand up for pride and when to swallow his pride. And he must motivate his troops. His actions are a study in leadership.

2. Why do they fight? The obvious answer is that they fight because they don’t want to die. But that’s not really true. Cyrus thinks fighting is the natural order of things and it’s “a miracle” when they don’t. Swan fights first to survive, but then fights for pride even when he could avoid a fight. They all seem to cite their territory as the real reason they fight, but when the Warriors reach Connie Island and see it in the morning, Swan asks derisively if this is really why they fought and he thinks of getting away from it.
The characters are complex too. Look at Mercy’s character. She takes great offense at being called a whore, even though she probably is. She talks about how the future promises her nothing and she wants to live now, but at the same time, she’s looking for a better future. Yet, she joins this group knowing they are being hunted and will likely be dead by the end of the evening, and she does so despite Swan showing her nothing but contempt. Cyrus, who seems like such a fantastic leader with the power to unite them all is actually a murdering thief who wants to unite them so they can steal the city blind and terrorize its people. Luther is a true sociopath who just wants to see the world burn. He proves why Cyrus’s plan can never work... it’s doomed by the very nature of the people required to make it work.
There’s an interesting social commentary too. The film is based on a novel and in adapting it, the filmmakers added a bunch of white characters (there are no white characters in the book). Still, despite these token whites, for most middle-class white people in suburbia or Minnesota, this film would have been a shock in 1979. Cyrus is talking about a minority uprising. He is talking about 60,000 mostly black and Puerto Rican gangbangers overwhelming the cops and taking over the city. This plays into the black power movement, which scared the crap out of white America in the 1960s/1970s – the Riffs even borrow from the Black Panther/Viet Cong look and affect military-like precision. This film digs deeper than Hollywood ever delves into this issue.
The film also explains why people join gangs: poverty, lack of education, fear, a desire to feel powerful, and psychopathic/sociopathic personalities. It shows the cops as faceless oppressors (indeed, try to get a good look at one in the face anywhere in the film), which reflects the gang mindset. Again, this is deeper than Hollywood ever gets when it talks about gangs - Hollywood talks only about economics or fear of the cops. And while the film does make the Warriors sympathetic, it also reminds us that they too are rotten. We see this as one tries to rape a woman, as they fight for stupid reasons like refusal to take off their vests as they pass through a street, and as they strike terror into some kids riding home from the prom.

And if all of that isn’t enough to be packed into a film about a gang being chased, there is another level which I find the most fascinating. This film is based on a 1965 novel by Sol Yurick, but it’s ultimately an adaptation of the Greek Epic Anabasis by Xenophon.

Xenophon was a soldier who accompanied a large army of Greek mercenaries hired by Cyrus the Younger. They intended to take the throne of Persia, but even as they won the battle, Cyrus was killed, making the expedition pointless. Their leaders were then killed, and the remaining troops needed to fight their way home. It even ends at the sea, where The Warriors also ends.
In other words, this simple film about some gangs is actually a Greek epic. What’s more, once you start to think of it in those terms, each of the encounters takes on a new significance. In many ways, Mercy becomes a Helen of Troy figure, the prize Swan wins. The gangs represent challenges like the Cyclops or armies they come across. The Lizzies are Circes. The Furies are Furies or the Harpies. Turnbull is the Minotaur. The subway is the labyrinth. You have very classic-Greek betrayal in them being falsely accused of killing Cyrus. Characters who fail morally fail in the story and end up dead or captured. And in the end, you have the unveiling of the truth and the retribution against the betrayers. Very classic. These things don’t all come from Anabasis, but they give the film a mythical, epic feel.

This is why this film continues to have such a following, because it offers so much. There isn’t a scene in this film which doesn’t give you a lot to think about or multiple ways to see it. And to get this, you need to use your brain because the film feeds you nothing. That makes it all the more interesting because it leaves it up to the audience to solve the riddle.

78 comments:

Tennessee Jed said...

interesting review. I had never even heard of this film, but now it is on my radar.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, It's definitely worth checking out. The first time I saw it, it struck me that it was just a really strangely compelling film. It wasn't what I expected.

And the more I've seen it after learning it was based on a Greek epic, the more influences I see from Greek mythology. It's almost like seeing a hidden movie within the movie.

I have really come to be impressed by this one. Let me know what you think.

AndrewPrice said...

BTW, once you see the film, you also start to see other films that were influenced by it. There is a lot in this film that is alluded to in other films. Cyrus's speech style and speech cadence, for example, gets repeated when Morpheus speaks in the cave in the Matrix sequel... very similar.

Dave Olson said...

Questions are answered with actions, not exposition.

Stallone got a bad rap back in the 80s for making movies in which he played monosyllabic or even nonsyllabic meatheads. I seem to recall an interview in which he said that the perfect script would contain just one word. That may be overkill, but hey. Film is a visual medium, and IMHO it does a better job of showing a story than telling one. To stay with Stallone for a moment, consider the helicopter chase from the second Rambo movie. From the time he picks up the POWs until he calls the airbase to land, there is almost no dialogue. There really isn't any need to hear what is going on. Imagine how bad the scene would be if the writer had lines like "We're hit! We're going down! OK, I gotta lure this Russian dude in close for the RPG so when I hit the water, play dead!" Not that the actual scene was high art, but still. (In the novel, Rambo passed the time between shooting down the Russian chopper and returning to the airbase by trying to explain Star Wars to the POWs.)

2001: A Space Odyssey didn't explain a damned thing and it's regarded as a great, even seminal achievement in moviemaking. Mission to Mars tried to explain everything and it's (rightly) regarded as a piece of crap.

Anyway, I've never seen Warriors and it's not available for streaming on Netflix. I'll be sure to keep an eye out for it on my cable channels.

T-Rav said...

Eh, you probably shouldn't suggest all gangs join forces to overthrow the cops when the odds are just 3:1. Cyrus sounds charismatically stupid. Anyway, I can honestly say I've never heard of the flick.

AndrewPrice said...

Dave, Sadly, we don't even need to imagine -- every other film that deals with things like helicopter air-to-air combat has the pilots screaming exactly those things... and it's totally lame: "I'm hit, let me try to save the helicopter! I think I can turn it left." Blech.

I think Stallone's statement is a bit of overkill, but he's right. I generally believe that the less you are able to say through dialog while still getting the point across, the better the film will be because the more realistic it will feel. Humans simply don't run around exclaiming what they are doing, thinking and feeling. They say these thing through subtle body language.

Even question and answers don't work like they do in movies. People rarely answer a question with a direct answer. Instead, they answer with counter-questions, gestures, or evasions. It's just the way we are. And when filmmakers understand this, they tend to have a lot stronger dialog.

Moreover, the less dialog you have, the more you are forced to make sure that the visuals of your film tell the story and that is what makes these cult films so visually compelling even if they aren't top budget films -- they grab your eyes and keep them on the screen.

Unfortunately, general audiences really do need blatant exposition to follow films. They struggle with body language answers, they struggle with evasions, they don't like ambiguity.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the film. It's got a fascinating vibe to it. There is so much going on, every scene is packed with things that turn your brain on and make you think. It's got some truly memorable images. The characters are likable and interesting or deeply disturbing. The story is unpredictable. And like I mention above, you start finding yourself seeing this movie within a movie when you realize it's a Greek epic.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, He's ignoring some things like the army. But if you had an uprising in NYC of 60,000 gang bangers who could blend in with the population, it would be a national nightmare.

And the film does do an excellent job of making Cyrus charismatic. It's an interesting portrayal that evokes what it probably was like for Germans to hear Hitler speak or other dictators in the making. And it's easy to forget that he's talking about evil.

But of course, that's ultimately just a pretext to start the plot.

Anonymous said...

Andrew, I didn't know that about the Greek Epic, but it really fits the feel. How about adding the woman in the park is a Siren. On the stalled train, he says "Man, we could be here forever," which is Limbo. Greek fire when they set fire to the car.

K said...

I didn't know they had baseball gangs in Ancient Greece.

Yes, this is a good and compelling movie, but I had some difficulty rooting for the characters.

AndrewPrice said...

K, Yep. The Olympus Sluggers.

I think you're supposed to have trouble rooting for the characters, which again adds depth. Indeed, throughout, you can marvel at their deeds, but then the film right away reminds you that these characters are thugs, rapists and thieves. They are not nice people and the film, to its credit, doesn't whitewash them. A modern movie would. It would make them the gang with the heart of gold who only want to help people. This film doesn't and that introduces a moral tension to the film that keeps you on edge.

AndrewPrice said...

Anon, My ancient Greek mythology isn't good enough to trace everything in this film, but there is definitely a lot that is symbolic.

Mike said...

Loved this flick when it came out, the soundtrack is great. I tried watching it again the last time it was on the tube, but I guess I had seen it too many times or I outgrew it.

I was drinking some sodas w/ my nephews a couple of years ago and I picked up the bottles after we were done and stuck my fingers in the tops of them and started clicking them together and sing-songing: "Warriors, come out to play-ya!" The boys thought I was nuts and I told them about the film and said they should rent it. They did and thought it was great...making me think it is a movie that appeals mainly to younger guys.

Mike said...

Something else I meant to add: I've seen the "Can you dig it?" line by Cyrus in other things, TV and/or movies but I can't remember where it was.

The Warriors - Can You Dig It

Michael K said...

Great exposition. One minor thing that stuck with me was when the Warriors talked about "packing" it ends up meaning carrying weapons like baseball bats. How quaint bats when today gangs "packing" means at a minimum a handgun. The movie fits into the NYC going to hell genre along with Pelham 123, Escape from NY, and Death Wish. I find it interesting you posted about this movie when just recently some liberal judge ruled the stop and frisk policies, that have helped make NYC livable, again unconstitutional.

shawn said...

Ha! I'm old enough to remember when this came out. Riots and gang violence broke out at theaters in New York city as gangs ran into each other at the theaters. There was even talk of banning the movie for inciting said violence.

I enjoyed it later on cable when I was almost old enough to see it. Very entertaining. Didn't know about the Greek mythology cross over, very interesting.

PikeBishop said...

1. One major flaw I had with this film was the whole introduction of Mercy scene. It just struck me as clichéd, bad Hollywood bullshit writing. Guys are on the run for their lives and they decide to get their peacock feathers ruffled over a street whore. (I think someone even mentions her shaking her ass) Plus her taunting of the Orphans just seemed so clichéd.

2. As far as minimalist writing as someone wrote above, harken back to the original "Mission Impossible" where there were long stretches with no dialogue and no exposition. You were literally dropped into the mission, bypassing the entire second act basically. You HAD to pay attention.

I have a book on the show and the writer goes to great lengths to mention how all that changed by 1988 when they tried to reboot the show. He mentions that our national attention span had already been shortened in the 15 years since the show left the air and the average tv viewer couldn't follow complex things and thus you now had awful lines like "Our plan's working." And "He just took the bait." Lines that would have been laughed out of the script by the original show runners. Sad that is, and now almost 25 years later it's gotten even worse.

tryanmax said...

I never heard of this movie, but since I saw the title, I can't get THIS SONG out of my head. (Check out how incredibly 80s that video is.)

AndrewPrice said...

Mike, People's tastes change over time and things you liked at one point, sometimes you don't like anymore after a while. I would say that the themes in this are definitely "young themes," but they aren't childish, they're "young man at start of adulthood themes."

I've seen a lot of the quotes from this film make it into other films. This film has been surprisingly influential.

AndrewPrice said...

Michael K, This film definitely fits into the "New York going to hell" films from that area -- it almost has an apocalyptic feel. It's interesting how everywhere they go looks like a ghetto and there is garbage all over the streets. This is not an advertisement for New York, that's for sure.

As for the judge, that's purely coincidental. That said, there seems to be a constant back and forth between reality and the people who live in it and liberal judges.

AndrewPrice said...

Shawn, When they filmed it, they used real gangs in the opening scene and apparently they kept fighting each other, so they had to fill the crowd with cops too. LOL!

I found out about the Greek mythology thing later myself and it gave the film a whole new meaning. It's pretty amazing how obvious it is once you know it, but how hidden it is if you don't.

AndrewPrice said...

PikeBishop, I think the Mercy works for a couple reasons. The Orphans are pathetic and Mercy taunting them shows that their leader is a weak leader who is too insecure to stand by his decisions -- she's the real leader, but she despises them. Secondly, she's a classic character who wants to see men fight for her. And she sees a great opportunity for that here because she is throwing down terms she knows the Warriors won't accept and then she goads the Orphans into fighting for her. And when the Warriors refuse her challenge, she sees them as something better she wants to become a part of.

Moreover, I think it works because the Warriors don't know what to do with her afterwards. I suspect they would have just walked off and left her if the Orphans hadn't attacked. But they seem to grab her as a prize at first, but quickly toss her aside. In fact, Swan keeps showing her nothing but disdain and abandoning her -- she's the one who keeps coming back. So while she is a very classical character, she's not really much of a cliche because this isn't a standard "oh, we need a love story" character at all.

Good point on Mission Impossible. I think things definitely changed by the late 1980s. Few of the 1970s films could be made the same way today because there is just too much silence for modern general audiences.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, LOL! No, that's not on the soundtrack at all. The soundtrack is 70's rock and the score has a John Carpenter feel.

PikeBishop said...

Andrew: we agree to disagree on that scene. It made me go, "Oh Puh-leez" but I respect your analysis. I haven't seen the film in years, but I do remember one good scene out of the encounter with the Orphans. When the Warriors are trying to BS the Orphans with false praise, one says, "Our social worker says the Orphans are really tough" or some such snow job. And I think the Orphan guy says, "We're so tough we don't have a social worker."

I always liked that exchange.

AndrewPrice said...

BikeBishop, We can disagree. :)

I like that too, especially as Fox is rolling his eyes right after he says it and the Orphan clearly sees that but doesn't know how to respond. As an aside, the Orphan says "We don't have a youth worker," which he says in a way which sounds like he's feeling like not having a youth worker makes them less important. So the Warrior says, "Oh, you guys must be so tough they're afraid to give you one." I like the whole exchange actually.

ScottDS said...

Andrew -

La-La Land Records literally released the complete score (for the first time) with the songs just a couple weeks ago.

As for the film, I've heard of it but never seen it.

It's been on my radar for a while but I might have trouble tracking it down. The only version available on Blu-Ray is Walter Hill's director's cut and I don't know if it's an improvement or not.

As for the Greek part, I find that's one of those interesting ideas where, if the movie is good, then the Greek story connection adds an additional layer of complexity and appreciation.

If the film is bad, then it just makes the filmmakers look pretentious!

AndrewPrice said...

Scott,

I'm not sure. I understand that the director's cut adds some cartoon transitions, which seem out of place to me. The film is on the pay channels now and then, so look for it there if you want to see the original version.

I do like the score. It's got a great feel to it.

I recommend seeing the film, especially if you're a film buff. I think you'll find that a lot of people know it and talk about it. It got mentioned at BH a lot. I think Nolte might even have done an article on it at one point.

On the Greek stuff, I agree. I think the key is to both do a good movie and to not make the Greek stuff too "cutesy." That's one of the problems with the myriad of Wizard of Oz remakes -- they start going to places like "The Wizard" (a casino) or running into cab companies called "Yellow Brick Road Cabs." If you're going to do it, be subtle.

A good example of that in this film is Turnbull. The gang is the Turnbull AC's. A minotaur is a bull, but you have to think to put that together, i.e. they aren't "The Minotaurs" and no one mentions the word. In Greek mythology, the minotaur is imprisoned in the Labyrinth and must be defeated. Here, they need to get past Turnbull to get into the subway, which is their version of the Labyrinth. No one calls it that, but they act confused about the subway map and talk about how no know can understand the maps.

So the connections are there, but you have to be looking for them. A weaker film would be much more literal and have the characters say things like: "Good thing we escaped the minotaur, but this subway is like a Labyrinth." If you're going to do depth, then trust your audience to spot it.

PikeBishop said...

Agreed on the light touch needed with classical references and allusions. Just last year my wife and I were watching a film (can't for the life of me remember it now), but all of a sudden the lightbulb went on over my head and I said, "My God, its the Odyssey!" I went back and reviewed the plot to that point and was able to piece together the relevant memes: Lotus eaters, Cyclops, sirens etc. Wow!

I wonder if James "Unobtainim" Cameron ever gave this deft touch a second thought! Naaaaaaaaaaah!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

AndrewPrice said...

PikeBishop, I've had moments like that and I really enjoy those, when you realize there's something hidden within the movie like it's based on something famous, but you have to dig to find it. To me, that's great writing when you can hide things in plain sight like that and it adds real enjoyment that you can see the film on multiple levels.

As for Cameron, yeah, right. He's actually not the worst, but Hollywood has gotten so heavy-handed with dialog and messages that it definitely feels like the director thinks you're an idiot. And it will only be a matter of time before characters say things like, "I am now walking." "And I am walking beside you." Arg.

ScottDS said...

Andrew -

Your line reminds me of a line said by the lead character in The Newsroom, NOT the Sorkin series but the Canadian dark comedy I reviewed a while back.

I've used this line to describe myself (at times!) but the news director character says something like, "I'm so pathologically self-absorbed that I can't take a step without thinking to myself, 'I'm taking a step.'"

Sadly, studio execs usually underestimate the intelligence of their audience. But at the same time, in an environment where Honey Boo-Boo is a star, can we blame them? (It's a vicious circle and probably a conversation for another day.)

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Just the idea that Honey Boo-Boo can be a star damages my soul. That said, the studio love to blame the public, but that's bunk. The studio drives what will be in theater and if they wanted smarter films, they would make them and they would sell just as well... probably better. The problem is fear and lack of ability.

Anonymous said...

YEAH BABY! I absolutely love The Warriors. It's one of my favorite films and it's so great to read a review by somebody who actually gets it.
I'm funny with movies. Most of the movies that I like I can watch any time they're on. Some of them I save for certain times.Smokey And The Bandit and Field Of Dreams are for summer. Every Opening Day I watch Major League. I save The Crow for Halloween.
I only watch The Warriors in October. It just feels like fall to me for some reason. It just works for me on every single level.
I was 14 when this came out and I had a crush on Debra Van Valkenburg.The baseball furies are terrifying to this day. The Riffs were just such badasses,like a machine. As soon as Cyrus went down his second in command assumed power and the Riffs just fell in line. They didn't have a power struggle like the one,however brief,between James Remar and Swan.
And,like Greek drama, each character was punished if they gave in to vice and rewarded if they resisted.Remar got arrsted because he fell for the rape decoy. (a young Mercedes Ruehl)
As he went back to get her Swan told him "You never were very smart." And in the scene with the Lizzies,the two older guys fell right in to the trap. They just wanted to get laid. It was the young kid,who hung back because he was still nervous around girls, who realized it was a trap because "THE CHICKS ARE PACKED! THE CHICKS ARE PACKED!(Continued)
GypsyTyger

Anonymous said...

Walter Hill has directed so many movies that I love,but he doesn't really have a signature style,like Sergio Leone or Sam Peckinpah.
Hard Times, The Warriors,48 Hours and Extreme Prejudice have certain things in common but if you didn't know he directed them there's nothing that would cause you to think "I wonder if Walter Hill directed this."
Hill used James Remar and David Patrick Kelly again in 48 hours, and he employed Remar in a brief role in The Longriders.
I wasn't aware of the interview with Stallone that Dave mentioned but it made perfect sense.Remember First Blood? The movie that made the word Rambo a common slang term in the the english language. The movie that spawned 4 sequels,the last one 27 years after the original film. In the original version Rambo died at the end but audiences had bonded with the character so much that they used the ending where he lived.In that movie,with the exception of the speech at the end,Stallone really doesn't have a lot of dialogue. Brian Dennehy and Richard Crenna use far more words talking about John Rambo than Stallone does in playing the actual character. He acts with his eyes,his facial expressions and his body. He expresses fear,frustration,fatigue and rage all with a minimum of dialogue. When people think about John Rambo they lump all the films together and all they remember is machine gun fire and explosions but they forget what a great job of minimalist acting Stallone did in the first one. Sometimes less is more.
The Warriors is certainly one such case.
GypsyTyger

AndrewPrice said...

GypsyTyger, I love this film. There is so much to it, and it's totally unexpected from what the movie seems to be at first blush.

The Riffs are really terrifying because they are machine-like. They stand at attention in formation and don't move without permission. Their leader yells, they respond in unison. They barely speak. And you're right, there isn't even a hint that anyone thinks anything of Cyrus being gone -- there are no tears, no power struggle, just the next leader steps up and they move on. It's almost Borg-like. And you know that if these guys let loose on the city, it would be a nightmare.

I also think Cyrus is amazingly cool. He's got this strange mix of unity/brotherhood and an insulting tone, which still works: "Can you count, suckers?!!!!!" Then they do this great job showing the kids in the audience totally mesmerized. You can see them seeing the paradise he's describing. Characters like the bad Bridges in Tron Legacy could learn so much from watching this scene.

I love that this is a Greek mythology. I loved discovering that and then trying to match up the scenes with things I knew from Greek mythology.

And you're right, the ones who fail in their "virtues" end up getting killed or caught. And I say "virtues" because the rules they live by really are the virtues of Greek soldiers, not morality as we know it today. Their code is loyalty, courage, strength of mind and body, vigilance, and putting the mission above pleasure.

I love that "You never were very smart" comment. This film has little dialog (comparatively) but it all hits you with how on point, how efficient, how deep, and how strong it is. These guys are spouting off dramatic statements, not petty dialog.

In terms of seeing the film at a particular time, I don't have a particular time of year for this one, but I do with other films. I always watch Something Wicked This Way Comes and The Trouble With Harry in October. They just fit.

AndrewPrice said...

GypsyTyger, I totally agree about Stallone and First Blood. There is very little dialog and what there is comes from Dennehy and Crenna. Yet, the film is all the more gripping because of it because that makes Rambo this mystery you want to know more about. And Stallone does a truly underrated job of acting. You know everything he's thinking even without him speaking a word.

On Walter Hill, I'm amazed how many films I love that he had a hand in - especially as a producer. Another one of his that I love that includes little dialog is Last Man Standing... great film that again features David Patrick Kelly.

Koshcat said...

It has been along time since I last saw this film. I remember some of the lines but overall I was too young to get the movie as a whole.

AndrewPrice said...

Koshcat, Give it another try. I think you'll find it has a very different meaning now that you're older.

tryanmax said...

Just watched it. Very different from most anything I've seen. Pacing-wise, very hard to believe this was from the late 70s. It moved along at a very nice clip.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, It definitely moves along nicely. It's over almost before you know it and I think it is a fairly long movie.

And yeah, very different movie.

Did you enjoy it?

tryanmax said...

I'll have to sleep on the answer to that. I was certainly engaged. I can see why it's a cult film.

AndrewPrice said...

It's funny, but it's actually fairly easy to spot cult films, isn't it? There's just something different about them.

Anyway, I'd love to hear your thoughts when you've processed it -- pro or con.

Floyd R. Turbo said...

The Warriors is available on Amazon Prime -- free if you have Prime. $2.99 to rent. It's the original cut. The movie is 90 minutes or so... lean and short compared to todays films. Just re-watched it. The gangs are goofy, but the story holds up very well because it's universal.

tryanmax said...

I can only say that time will tell whether I like this movie or not. If I ever get the inkling to watch it again, then I must like it.

I think there are five things that make this film work: 1) universal theme, 2) minimalist approach, 3) novelty (moreso as time passes), 4) competent (if not superb) performances, 5) pacing (when in doubt, move quickly). These are really just basics of good storytelling and it's amazing how many films fall down on several of these.

AndrewPrice said...

Floyd, Thanks! Agreed. The gangs are goofy, especially the mimes, but the film holds up. And it is packed with universal themes.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, Fair enough. :)

I agree on what makes the film work and it is amazing how many stories don't achieve even 4/5 of those. In fact, when I look at most of the tent-pole films today, they fail on each of those points actually.

Anonymous said...

That's funny, I just started reading about Xenophon in The Ten Thousand: A Novel of Ancient Greece by Michael Curtis Ford...

I saw the movie as a kid and loved it on a basic level, the chase, the fights, the good(ish) guys vs the bad guys etc. But I watched it again again about 10 years ago and I expected it to be crap like a lot of movies I liked as a kid, but I still liked it. Partly because of nostalgia, but more so because it is a great movie with depth and morals as you mentioned. Even as a kid I realized that the 'good' characters lived (except for Cleon who we assume is good) and the 'bad' characters get what they deserve.

When I saw it again I didn't know of the Greek Epic tie in and didn't find out about it until I got more and more interested in history and I read Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae by Steven Pressfield and read about The Ten Thousand and bought it (but didn't actually start to read it for ages). That adds even more depth to an already great movie, I actually own the DVD so I might watch it again tonight.

PikeBishop, where you watching O Brother Where Art Thou? That is a telling of Homers Odyssey and done well, I didn't realize myself until I read it then it made all types of sense.

Scott.

Mike said...

Popped back in just to read the comments; thanks f/ the reply, Andrew. I've found I've lost a lot of enthusiasm for the things I used to enjoy as a younger man. (I hope I never get that way about...well, you know.) I think it's more of a "quality over quantity" deal w/ me now in most cases. (especially about "you know") Thinking about it, I think I just O.D.'d on The Warriors, having seen it at least a dozen times.

I did a quick look back through the comments to see if anyone had mentioned it, but one of the cool things about the movie was who played the DJ, the black chick playing the cool tunes and exhorting all the other gangs to find the Warriors and who, at the end, says "Sorry 'bout that." and plays them a song. We never see her face that I can recall, just those lovely lips with dulcet tone talking into the microphone ...was none other than the late Lynne Thigpen, veteran of many TV shows but probably most well known for being The Chief in Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego.

El Gordo said...

Gypsy Tyger, Hill does have one signature move: credits sequences that last forever. By the time the director´s name comes up, you are twenty minutes into the movie. Even The Getaway has that. Or maybe he took it from Peckinpah.

El Gordo said...

At the time (early 80s) most of my friends were movie fanatics and we considered Walter Hill the epitome of cool among directors. John Carpenter was his only rival. When we got VCRs we discovered Peckinpah, early Coppola, Leone, all kinds of good stuff from the 70s. We loved movies that weren´t too talky and weren´t too arty. We would have found nothing odd about a Taxi Driver/Dawn of the Dead double feature. First Blood and The Road Warrior was just about considered perfect.

When you think back on these movies you don´t remember lines, you remember characters and moments.

By the way, French director Jean-Jacques Annaud made two big budget movies that are almost silent: Quest for Fire and The Bear. I like that. I think that took guts. Or think of the first 40 minutes of Wall-E. Today that must count as radical. And it worked, too.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I saw this when I was younger too and like it for the action. I figured it wouldn't hold up either, but it really did. And then I learned about the Greek epic bit and that really impressed me. All around, this is a fantastic movie.

AndrewPrice said...

Mike, Tastes change and I think that as we grow older, we do start to prefer quality over quantity, which is why tent pole films become even less attractive -- just pure action and explosions.

That is Lynn Thigpen. I think she has very distinctive lips and a very distinctive voice.

AndrewPrice said...

El Gordo, I think you remember moments in films and sometimes those moments are the perfect line of dialog. But it usually is stand alone dialog, not part of a longer sentence. That probably means that films that aren't too talky are more likely to be memorable because you're taking in the images mainly and then that is punctuated with moments of dialog, which then really stand out.

Take Empire. "I love you." "I know." That wouldn't work if they were in the middle of a lengthy discussion about their relationship. But standing alone as those lines do, it's perfect.

On silence, it's funny to me how obvious it is that silence is a really effective tool for films... it draws you into the visuals. But modern Hollywood is afraid of silence because general audiences don't have the patience for it.

PikeBishop said...

Scott (Anonymous) No it wasn't "Oh Brother" The English teachers in my school have been showing that film, when they teach the Odyssey, practically since it was released.

No, it was another film.

RetroHound.com said...

Excellent review and I can't believe people haven't even heard of The Warriors! It's been years since I've seen it, but good night, everyone of my generation saw it. "Warriors, come out to play!"

Rustbelt said...

Andrew, late to the party here, so not much to add. In the interests of full disclosure, I've only seen parts of this film, but have heard a lot of good...scratch that...terrific things about it.For the most part, I agree with your review. However, I would disagree that Luther killing Cyrus proves that Cyrus's plan would never work.

Turns out I've been reading about the old Mafia a lot these days. Recently, I went over an article that gave a brief overview of the formation of the old mob in the '30's, and it mentioned the 1930-31 mob war- a duel between Joe "the Boss" Masseria and Salvatore Maranzano. Long story short, Masseria tried to unite the various groups and form a group similar to what Cyrus proposes. He was killed in 1931 (set up by his number two, "Lucky" Lucinao). Maranzano then set up the groundwork for the mob (the 5 families, the Commission, and other stuff), but was soon killed himself.
Either way, the Syndicate still took shape under Luciano- despite its violent origins. I would add that, contrary to popular perception, many of the mob's hoodlums' (bosses, soldiers, associates, etc.) are just like Luther. They're not dapper, smart, and honorbound. They're cold, ruthless, sociopathic, and often not too smart. One leader going down and the organization being made up of thugs won't keep the plan of a criminal organization from taking effect.

Maybe I'm reading too much into this, but perhaps that's why the setup at the start of the film resonates so much. The faces are different, but the situation is similar. And history tells us such things have taken shape before- and can take shape again.

Rustbelt said...

By the way, I found some interesting goodies involving 'The Warriors' on the web.

Featuring the great Ernie Anderson... LINK

And I remember that you said you're not too familiar with TNT's Monstervision from the '90's, but here's an episode of "Last Call"- the late night showing that followed Monstervision- and an interesting take on 'The Warriors'...

Part 1
Part 2

AndrewPrice said...

Rustbelt, This film has a lot of connections to reality. You can see Malcolm X and the black power struggle in it. You can see the mafia in it. You can see movements like Ho Chin Min. You can see an apocalypse film in it. The themes here have really universal appeal.

On Cyrus, I think the reason it can't work is because Cyrus isn't looking to unite the gangs by force, he's hoping they band together in brotherhood. He's like a Messiah or a revolutionary who wants to unite these people, not just ally them. Luthor killing him shows that these just aren't people who can ever work constructively. They are too destructive by nature. And while they could probably be forced to work together, they will never be brothers in the way Cyrus envisions.

Rustbelt said...

Andrew, when you put it that way, I can definitely see your point.
I can also see Masai and the Riffs then trying to use violence to unite the gangs after taking care of the Rogues.

AndrewPrice said...

Rustbelt, That's why I think Cyrus is such a special character, because he's really talking about something much bigger than just an alliance. That's why he keeps saying things like "And miracles is the way things ought to be." He really is Messianic... a gangland Moses (or Satan). That's also why he's so compelling on the one hand and yet so scary on the other. The kids in the crowd are enthralled by him and it makes you happy that they found such a "positive" role model who talks about peace and bringing everyone together, except he's doing it all for an evil cause.

I agree completely that the next step would be violence to unite the gangs. That would make the sequel a blood film for sure.

Anonymous said...

I've rediscovered the Movie at the age of 30 and IT id nie one of my top five, mainly because I am in love with the style, it's like Taxi driver meets the Clockwork Orange meets Rambo. The campiest Movie ever. But when we sxratch the campy syrface, there id the depth you mentioned. Being a woman I see the women in the Movie not only as a threat to men, but also a king of salvation. I used to hate Mercy's character when I was younger but now I think her stubborness, cheesy bravado and clingy attitude id the way she fights for her happiness. She wanted the man and she got him. But the Movie id not only about his acceptance of her, but also about her role in making Swan's character grow up and eventually małe decision of abandoning the gang. It's a coming of age story, therr's even an essay about IT, though I csm't find the link right nie.

AndrewPrice said...

Anon, I agree. Mercy is a different kind of strong character. She sees what she wants -- a ticket out of there, and she goes after it. And in the process, she helps Swan learn to be a man.

Anonymous said...

I think the Movie Aldo nas a feministic message that one van only win by abandoning the battle of sexes. Though wojen pulls the strings in the Movie (theDj, the Lizzies, the female Cop), the only way to really gry out from thecircle of violence is to adopt the win/win id.Take Ajax and the whole park bench scene. I know it carries the Message that the Warrior cannot engage himself in sexual situations during the Battle, but seeing the scenę from woman's perspective Ican assure it's more like every girls wet dream. It's kina of ambiguous, we are not sure for the policewomen True intentions and whether she likes having sex with Ajax, it seems more like Ajax gets punished not becausr he is sexually agressive but because he is plain stupid and cannot step out from his Barrow thinking. On the other hand Mercy sees Swan as the man with the brains but she id not able to win his true attention until she abandons the aggressive approach.While the beginning of the relationship she tries to use the well-established tools lukę manipulation and sexual charm, IT dorsn't wiek fot Swan. Drspite her hurt ambiton, she wins Swan by trying to provide an actual help to him rather than trying to force herself on him. Treating someone with respect and providing the deep Card is the only wat out from the Wonder Wheel in the movie's universe.

Anonymous said...

The character of Mercy works not because she starts as a cliche but because she ends up as a different girl, she abandons her aggresive approach and wins the man by helping nim to grow up. The cliche characters, like Ajax dies in the Battle becquse they are unable to transform themselves and adjust to the environment. Ajax dies because he doesn't understand the power of women lime he id unable to sense sołtys danger that Gomes during their jpurney. Swan's ability to sense the danger is one of the reason he wins and avoids Mercy during the Movie. On the other hand Mercy is able to win Swan when she abandons her aggresive attitude and becomes a real partner to him. The women puls the strings in the Movie when they engage themsrlves in the circle of violence but only the ability to Chance is the way that enables Swan and Mercy step out of the Wonder Wheel.

AndrewPrice said...

Anon, That's an interesting take. All the characters who fall into sexual stereotypes do end up failing. Ajax gets taken down by the female cop. The three warriors get into trouble pursuing the Lizzies, who themselves fail because they are using sex as a lure. Mercy fails until she gives up trying to seduce Swan... but not before she sparks the war with the Orphans, who all get wasted trying to show off for her.

Anonymous said...

Well managing to play Sully against the Warriors is Mercy's buggest achievment with the tacticts. one can win the battle while using the standard tools, but one cannot win the war. In the Warrior's universe, seducing men and playing them against each other is the only tool that works for women. But to win the war one should bring not only the brain, but also the heart, which Mercy does when she opens her heart during the scenes in metro. Another interesting thing is the fact that the winner isn't the smartest guy in the gang by standard approach. While not scripted, I think it played well that Fox got killed. Except for Cyrus and maybe Cleon, Fox is the only one who posses some communication skills, he can really talk to people like a normal, liver middle class person, it is even shown by the fact he is the only guy who's vest is buttoned. The rest of the guys have pure communication skills (in my opiniom this is the reason why the dialogues seem to be woodden, they are not used to having a normal conversation), can't even read the map, don't hoe far their Connie is from the Bronx ect. Do the kry to success is not only Betting out from the sexual stereotype, but aby kind of stereotype. That's why it is not only a classical western, though it gets some strenght from the romantic myth (it was Reagan's one of the favorite movies after all, which gives me chills) but it may be Player differently. That's why I think Tony Scott wouldn'tbe able to bring anything New to the story but I would lukę to watch Kathy Bigalow's version.

Anonymous said...

As for mire thinking outside the Box stuff, I always thought that the wat Riffs' leader, Swan and the test of the gang member behavie is just putting this "I don't give a f#ck" pose. But thinking about the cool, collected leader that takes over the charismatic leader, one can imagine IT might be all set up with the Rouges. I don't think IT was the oryginal intention but I was always wandering WHO was the person Luther called in the modele of the Movie? Was he being used by thenew leader of the Riffs in order to gry rid of Cyrus? Was the finał execution of the Rougesplanned from the start and the Warriors got caught up in the modele of something bigger? Even of Curus' charisma wasn't more than just a sociotechique, he represents the 60's human rights approach that was suppose to end with the end of the Vietnam war and the 1973 economical crisis and Carters presidency. The new Riffs' leader represents more Reagan's era, pragmatical approach. THAT'S KIND of depressing that theobly wat of Betting out of the system leads through conservative approach, like Swan retires from his cowboy ways and gets a mortgage. That's why I am opting more for thinking outside the Box interpretations. So much fun with 90 minutes of Movie, even the B movies wers smarter in the 70's.

AndrewPrice said...

Anon, Isn't that the truth -- even the B movies were smarter in the 70s! There is so much going on in this film and so many ways to look at it.

And you're right that the ultimate message here is that to prevail, you need to grow up and became mature. Each character who sticks with their more childish ways of ends up a loser just a follower.

I doubt the Riffs worked with Luthor. I think Luthor is just meant to be that crazy, random actor in the world who creates problems for everyone else.

I can't see that a remake of this would be good. I don't know what could be improved?

Anonymous said...

Agreed, nothing could have been improved so there's no news for a remake, I doubt they would even Bern able to find actors suitable for the parts. Heath Leger as Luther would be the only choice that comes to my mind, of he lived.

AndrewPrice said...

True. And odds are that they would either try to cast "pretty-boys" just because audiences like them or tough-guys. Neither fits. The actors in this film worked because they were very normal... everyone could relate to them.

PikeBishop said...

Andrew: Finally got to see it again this past weekend.

1. OK, watching it again, I get it. The Mercy introduction scene worked for me. I don't know why I hated it so much (I may have not had a girlfriend at that point in my life...........who knows? :-) ))

2. And it's great to watch her character grow as well, and in the end she picks up her weapon and joins them on the beach for the last stand, ready to support her new tribe, to the (probable) death.

3. Listening to Lyn Thigpen's voice and only seeing her full lips...........you don't want to know what thoughts were going through my mind. (Wink) ("Bahppers")

4. This movie once saved my butt for a last minute-costume required Halloween party. I love Halloween and don't do crappy costumes. With fifteen minutes to spare, I notice some stage make up in my kit. Grabbed my black baseball pants, a bat, my striped road gray PIRATES jersey and a cap. People loved it. This was around 1998 and all I got was "Wow, I get it." Dude I totally forgot about that movie." "That's great!"

3.

AndrewPrice said...

PikeBishop, I'm glad you re-watched it! :)

I like how Mercy evolves. She starts out as just trouble and by the end, she's become truly loyal to Swan because she found the right guy.

Thigpen has a hell of a voice!

It's funny how many people will recognize this seemingly unknown film.

Anonymous said...

Haven't been on Earth in 1979but I always thought Walter Hill casted exactly the pretty boys to do the movie. Even on Ebert.com someone wrote that the cast looked like overdressed models. They all are insanely handsome even for today's beauty standards, I'd even say they are more close to today's canon than the 80's and 90's movie stars because of their lean silhuettes. It doesn't strike the modern audience only because of the postmodernistic, campy feel of the movie. But it must have been viewed as pretty lame back on 1979. On the other hand the female cast looks so average, I wonder if it was done on purpose, especially with Mercy, "the unobvious choice". I don't think the producers made that choice just to please the female audience as women weren't the target of that kind of movies back then. I sense a homoerotic subtext, a way of showing hoe unimportant women are I the movie world.

AndrewPrice said...

Anon, I don't agree with that. These guys look no different than any other set of actors from the 70s. And other than Beck, none of them can be called pretty boys, nor do I think they could make it as actors today.

PikeBishop said...

Anonymous and Andrew, speaking of the females, an unexpected bonus of seeing the film again was that, thanks to all that bra burning in the early 70s, Mercy seemed to be..............uh......very......uh.......excited...............to be in the film.

AndrewPrice said...

PikeBishop, LOL! It is a good costume choice. :)

Anonymous said...

Well, maybe just people were more attractive back then becouse they were naturally leaner. Today there is enormous difference between the average men and actors, we can see enormous hard work they put sculp themselves so any actor would look artificial.

AndrewPrice said...

Anon, That's possible. People were leaner back then.

And I agree, modern actors don't look like normal people.

tryanmax said...

Simpsons is doing a Warriors parody.

AndrewPrice said...

Well, as I say, it is a culturally relevant film. :)

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