PLAYING AT THE YONKERS ALAMO DRAFTHOUSE SUNDAY, MARCH 20TH; MORE INFORMATION HERE
I was introduced to Walter Hill’s “The Warriors” thanks to my dad who rented the film on VHS back in the early nineties. For him it was a long time favorite, and our entrance in to the gangster action picture gave us a look in to a surefire classic that has gone unparalleled since its release in 1979. Hill adapted the movie from the original novel, which itself was taken from a period tale by author Sol Yurick, and took us in to a world steeped in crime and violence where an inconspicuous group from Coney Island has to prove themselves and survive long enough to make it back to their home turf.
With admittedly exaggerated depictions of gang war fare, along with a slick depiction of action and combat, it’s hard to believe “The Warriors” garnered such controversy during its time. Hill’s film live on an as iconic action survival picture set in the urban jungle where a big for peace, inspires all out war thanks to a psychopath and a revolver. With one gun shot, The Warriors are marked and targeted by every gang in New York, forcing them to rely on their wits and each other to get home by dawn and re-unite with their legion of members. With “The Warriors” playing at the Alamo is Yonkers; I thought I’d list five reasons why Walter Hill’s film is still the best Gang Picture of all time.
5. The DJ
Lynne Thigpen gives one hell of a performance as the beacon of the picture who delivers messages to various gang members and leaders across New York City. Hosting a radio show in what is obviously a station that reaches all over the city, she not only takes bulletins for the local gangs, but delivers them to the Gramercy Riffs. Thigpen as the enigmatic radio DJ is a wonderful device used for exposition, narration, good old fashioned antagonizing, and of course, someone who can relay certain events in case anyone finds it difficult to follow the timeline. The DJ in “The Warriors” certainly is not a friend, and also has it out for the Warriors, but uses information to try to defeat them. Even then the warriors prevail.
4. Its Bold Vision of New York
Before John Carpenter gave us Snake Plissken entering in to a post apocalyptic war zone that was New York, director Walter Hill came first and gave us the New York of 1979. Back in the late seventies, New York was crime ridden, and Hill enhances that aesthetic by transforming New York in to a veritable desolate warzone where multiple gangs rule over various parts of New York like tribes and ancient soldiers, all of whom outnumber police officers ten to one. Even with familiar landmarks from the Bronx and Brooklyn showing up, New York feels like terrain out of a post-apocalyptic film, one where crime is the law of the land and the only way to survive is to join one of the many gangs. It’s so stark and decrepit, you could literally introduce Plissken and not miss a beat. Hill’s vision of New York is both gritty and grim, with a hint of magnificence that induces the fantastic world the Warriors live in. It’s been their home since childhood but seems so foreign to them now that they’re being hunted.
3. The Trek Across New York City
As Joe Bob on “Monstervision” once explained, director Walter Hill actually cared about geography with “The Warriors,” so their trek across New York City is accurate and rarely inconsistent. You could, as Joe Bob did, track their movements with a map. They begin at Coney Island, they take the D Train. They get off at the 205th Street station in the Bronx, walk through Woodlawn Cemetery, and end up at the meeting in Van Cortlandt Park, despite critics saying the gang summit was in Pelham Bay Park. After the big murder, they flee on a Downtown train, and jump on the 4 Train, taking it to the East Side. The intentional fire on the tracks stalls the train forcing them to leave it and enter in to Bedford Park Boulevard, and on to the streets of the Bronx.
They head toward the 14th Street/Union Square station, they end up in the South Bronx, they jump on the 2 Train at 149th Street and Grand Concourse, and they head for the 96th Street station on the West side. One member gets arrested, one member is killed, Cleon the leader is killed back in the Bronx, two members are still in Central Park, and three of the other members are in Union Square, where they meet the Lizzies, are almost assassinated, and make it out by the skin of their teeth. After all meeting up, they end up at the Union Square station where the surviving Warriors have their epic fight with the Punks in the station bathroom. From Union Square, they take the N Train, through Brooklyn. Finally, they end up in Coney Island where they prove their innocence and live to fight another day.
2. Gang Land
“The Warriors” is kind of an extension of “A Clockwork Orange” where we view a world where various gangs of different shades and gimmicks rule the night and fighting for dominance. It’s hard to believe some people considered “The Warriors” so threatening and controversial when the film itself embraces its fantasy and science fiction roots with gimmicky but deadly gangs. Twenty one are featured, but only a few get to track down and or battle The Warriors. There’s “The Baseball Furies” dressed as psychotic baseball players with painted faces and pin striped uniforms, there’s “The Lizzies” a gang of knife wielding lesbians prone to luring men and murdering them like the classic Siryn.
There’s “The Orphans,” the more lower class ruffians struggling for respect within the city, we see the Bowery denizens “The Punks” who zoom through the subways on their roller skates. Finally, there are “The Gramercy Riffs” at the top of the food chain. They are a legion of members, all of whom have their fingers on the pulse of the underworld with informants and even a line in to the local radio station. They want the Warriors the most, since they’re convinced they murdered their leader Cyrus.
1. The Simple Yet Genius Plot
Walter Hill’s film garners such a simple plot, but damn is it one of the best, if not the best plot for an action film. The original novel was based on the true tale involving a Greek army who lost their leader while fighting in Persia. Stuck in the middle of Persia they battle their way back to sea, and have to fight through other Persian tribes and armies to make it back home. This version is set in 1979 where New York is dominated by legions of gangs, all of whom run sections of New York and even rule over certain boroughs. Said gangs reflect the general tone of the boroughs, and the Warriors trek outside of their turf in Coney Island in to enemy territory. They’re unlucky enough to be set up by a weasly thug from “The Rogues” gang who murders warlord Cyrus, and points the finger at them.
Now with everyone in a mad panic, the Warriors are enemy number one and everyone is starving for revenge against the group of innocent gang members. Now they have to travel from the Bronx to Coney Island, by any means necessary, with their lives in tact, and hope to prove their innocence. That is if they ever get to go back to their home turf and regroup to begin trying to prove they aren’t murderers. Most of “The Warriors” involves a lot of running, chasing and the Warriors, an underdog gang, proving they’re actual warriors when they have nothing left to do but fight for their lives. They can’t very well go to someone and argue their point, so it’s kill or be killed. It’s a set up for one of the most adrenaline fueled gang pictures ever made.