Based on Sol Yurick’s book, which drew from Anabasis by Zenophon, a pupil of Socrates (in the film, Coney Island is the Black Sea and gang members replace Greek mercenary soldiers) Walter Hill’s cult classic is one long chase from the top to the bottom of the New York City subway system.
A Bronx gang leader, Cyrus (CAN YOU DIG IT?) tries to organize* all the disparate gangs in The Big Apple, orchestrating a meeting up in the Bronx (no weapons) and urging gangsters to act as one and to rule the city. He’s met with boisterous cheers but suddenly, Cyrus is murdered and the killing is falsely pinned on the title gang.
And instead of splitting money for a cab, the Warriors flee for their lives back to Coney Island riding the rails, as a bounty is placed on their heads and they thwart attacks from a variety of different gangs. These range from the scary — the Furies, demonic baseball players that spawned Eminem’s “Fight Music” video — to the extremely less than menacing, a Union Square roller-skating outfit that look like gay rugby players.
A great movie, based on a great book and like The Shining, a great movie loathed by the author.
Sol Yurick says this about Cyrus (the gangster based on the character Ismael Rivera, inspired by Moby-Dick): “The actor was awful, the dialogue lame; [Walter] Hill had no idea how street kids really talked.”
Still, the dark sinister, yet incredibly campy Warriors aesthetic and yes dialogue, inspired a slew of rappers: Old Dirty Bastard, Slim Shady, Red Man, to name a few.
Yurick said this after the premiere:
“I looked for my novel on the screen. I found the skeleton of it intact. Its revolutionary content was missing; no Fourth of July…In the movie the Warriors were racially mixed; almost an impossibility. My Warriors had all been black. The hero of the movie was white…I thought on the whole, the movie was trashy, although beautifully filmed.”
“What is astonishing to me is the durability of the movie…It has become, in the parlance of media when they can’t understand the why of the development of a social phenomenon, a “cult” movie…I have to admit I didn’t and still don’t understand the phenomenon.
In Hill’s defence, the action is cracker jack and tense and the dialogue politically incorrect. The music is absolutely amazing too (Barry De Vorzon, Martha and the Vandellas and Joe Walsh) This is a film whose influence is undeniable, whether it’s the catchphrases or “‘dress as your favorite gang” bar theme nights in places like Toronto and New York (one of the few nights when gang colors aren’t frowned upon in bars). The Warriors are good. Real good. The Best.
*My friends, these people whom you see are the last obstacle which stops us from being where we have so long struggled to be. We ought, if we could, to eat them up alive.”
Anabasis, by Xenophon
**** (out of 5)
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