“…it’s like a jungle sometimes it makes me wonder how I keep from going under.”-Grandmaster Flash
In the midst of the Baltimore curfew and its ravaged streets, The Bloods and Crips called a truce announcing they are forming a new faction, intent on protecting their community, curbing the violence that was carried out by destructive thugs. Originally, the union of the legendary and feared street gangs was thought to be a threat against local community and a target placed on the head of police officers. Fortunately, this was not true. The unification of the street gangs with alleged genuine concern for the community, distancing themselves from the violent protestors who were destroying their own neighborhoods, showed great maturity and intelligence. Unfortunately, gang alliances aren’t always used for the good of a community. The gangs in today’s feature, The Warriors (1979), experienced what happened when “one gang’s” grandiose vision runs off the tracks like an L train crashing down into the mean streets of urban life.
New York City, 1979: We see images of iconic Coney Island (reminds me of Morey’s Pier in Wildwood, NJ) transition into The New York City subway being flooded by colorful, unique, organized street gangs. Think of the Sharks and Jets of West Side Story (1961), going to a party with early WWF gimmicky tag team wrestlers and the dancing thugs from Michael Jackson’s Beat It (1983) video. Yes, the gangs’ ensembles are that deliciously cheesy.
On the journey, we are introduced to our gang, the Warriors. Headed by Cleon, Dorsey Wright of Hair (1979), the Warriors are giving their marching orders for the night as they trek towards the crime infested inner city. Swan, Michael Beck of Megaforce (1982) is a silent, stoic war chief who is second in command and ensures the bravado of the gang stays strong. He tries to wrangle Ajax, James Remar of State of Affairs (2015), Cochise, David Harris of Maniac (2013), Snow, Dorsey Wright of Vamp Bikers DOS (2015), Cowboy, Tom McKitterick (his only feature), Rembrandt, Marcelino Sanchez of 3-2-1 Contact (1980), and Vermin, Terry Michos of Simon & Simon (1982) from being led astray by adrenaline and arse.
Cyrus, Roger Hill of The Education of Sonny Carson (1974), the charismatic leader of the, the most powerful gang, Gramercy Riffs, summons the street soldiers of every gang from the NY City’s boroughs to a midnight peace summit. Cyrus’s prophecies to the gangs that a city-wide truce and an end to turf wars to unite all gangs into one in hopes of controlling the city since they outnumber the police. The gangs seem to smoke what Cyrus is rollin,’ until the crazy leader of hearse riding Rogues, Luther, David Patrick Kelly of Commando (1985), cuts Cyrus down in cold blood. In the meantime, the cops storm the summit, gangs scatter like cockroaches when the stadium lights are flicked on, and Luther frames the Warriors’ leader Cleon for Cyrus’s murder by proclaiming, “the Warriors did it.” Before the patsy can escape and give the 411 to his vest wearin’ comrades, Cleon is rolled on by the heated Riffs and another one bites the dust. How can you blame The Riffs? It was their party anyway.
The other Warriors escape in a frenzy of police batons and fisticuffs, unaware their leader is now MIA/KIA, they have been framed for the murder, and the Riffs have put out a hit via radio D.J., Lynne Thigpen of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? (1991). It is a heartwarming fact that all of these gangs of different shapes, sizes, colors, and ethnic backgrounds listen to the same FM station. I guess music truly does bring us altogether.
It doesn’t take long for the Warriors to skedaddle when the rally is crashed and come close to imploding after Swan takes lead, as they high tail it towards home in hopes of not being hassled by Joh Q Law. The ability to persevere, survive, and ride the line until daybreak is the mission statement for this extremely long, treacherous night. Before you know it, the Warriors are chased by a school bus full of angry Turnbull ACs, who before escaping unscathed, seek sanctuary in a departing subway train. Their safe haven was only temporary when the Warriors are forced out on foot once again, when their train comes to a stop due to a fire on the tracks. Now on the walkabout through rival’s gangs’ turfs, the Warriors are called out by the amateurish outfit, The Orphans. The Orphans, are a laughable bunch that reminds me if the “Sweathogs” from Welcome Back, Kotter (1975), who tried (poorly) to be intimidating. Before you know it, a woman loosely (in more ways than one), Mercy, Deborah Van Valkenburgh of Too Close for Comfort (1980), affiliated with the Orphans, initiates a confrontation between the two gangs. A Molotov cocktail is flung and excitement ensues as the Warriors are on the run again…with the hood rat in tow.
The Warriors game plan changes several times as they must work together in their long journey home (their whereabouts broadcasted by the D.J.) skirting the police, the face painted ala Paul Stanley, Louisville Slugger swinging Baseball Furies, (which are the creepiest gang in my honest opinion), the tough female gang, The Lizzies (loosely based on the Sirens), roller skating Punks, in the hopes the Warriors’ name will eventually be cleared by the Riffs and Rogues.
The Warriors is an action thriller directed/written by Walter Hill of Red Heat (1988), co-written with David Shaber of Nighthawks (1981). The Warriors was inspired from the 1965 crime novel of the same title by Sol Yurick and heavily influenced by Greek odyssey epic, Anabasis by Xenophon. The production was originally envisioned as a western, but was ill fated and labelled as unmarketable by Paramount, so it was updated to reflect the epidemic of growing number of disenfranchised youth joining street gangs in America’s inner cities since the 1950s. The one catch from the white suits at Paramount forbade having an all-black cast because the execs deemed it an unfavorable choice in casting for commercial reasons. Also, Tony Danza of Taxi (1978), was originally slated as Vermin, but was busy. Danza was busy memorizing all of the intelligent, thought provoking dialogue he would share with Samantha, formerly Jenny, after he kidnapped her from her father, Matrix, and hid her in an expensive New England household in Who’s the Boss? (1984). I agree, my version of mid 80’s film/TV mythology is a tad more interesting…Ha!
The Warriors, hailed by conservatives as vile, violent, and low-budget garbage needed to be banned due to the promotional artwork. The Warriors was released and resulted in becoming a huge box office success reaching #1 in its first week and a favorite of future president, Ronald Reagan. The success at the cinema was short-lived as the movie attracted real gangs due to its subject matter, inciting violence between rival patrons’ when at the same theater. Just an observation, but with gangs being so territorial about their turf, wouldn’t been smarter for the gangs to frequent their local neighborhood cinema rather than spending all of those greenbacks on popcorn, Goobers, and soda to be spoiled by bloodshed, knife fights, and bullets at a rival’s Cineplex? Just a thought.
The Warriors in my opinion is one of the most entertaining films from the end of 70s before the decade transitioned into the big budgeted 80s Spielberg monopoly that has never slowed down. Yes, The Warriors is severely dated, laughable, and totally corny in parts, but that’s what makes it endearing as it takes you for a fun ride into a world you will never see again. The Warriors over the years has made many film lists for different categories, has memorable lines you can share amongst geek friends, spawned a video game, slated to be remade numerous times over the years (fingers crossed it never happens again), and has been one of the most successful cult flicks ever released. Honored, spoofed and often imitated, The Warriors lives on and hopefully you will take the chance to view it. If you already have, then you understand what I am talking about.
So, if the Bloods and Crips can live up to their promise that they are indeed changing their socially detrimental ways to become a proactive force within the community, then good. Make that your new mission statement and live by it rather than your current modus operandi of enticing youth to join the gangs, peddling drugs & death, scaring innocent citizens, and being a daily threat to society. Let this truce stand, take the high road, and cause real change in your neighborhoods for the good. That’s what real men do, “Can you dig it?”
- Rick Baldwin is a writer, filmmaker, film/music historian, and can be found on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/rick.baldwin.568
- Twitter Rick Baldwin@rickbaldwin79 and firstname.lastname@example.org