The Warriors (1979) Film Review

Back in the day, Walter Hill’s genius gang film THE WARRIORS was something of an instant classic, and it build in a way that it is no longer possible for films to grow. In the olden days, on the grindhouse circuit, a movie could ride word of mouth, start out in a few theaters, and eventually go on to become a box office success traveling around a country with a binder full of press clippings. Nowadays, no one who isn’t up the ass of a major studio can even get sniffed by a theater; even independent theaters have surrendered to the appeal of the almighty dollar and whored themselves to “major independent” fronts.

How does this seemingly unrelated rant tie back to THE WARRIORS other than explaining in a backhanded manner how THE WARRIORS started small and became a cult phenomenon? Well, you see, it’s also a parable of the plot of THE WARRIORS itself. Man, that’s genius.

THE WARRIORS is a movie about a gang (the titular gang, no less), who are framed for the murder of Cyrus (Roger Hill, who disappears in 1985 or so), who’d brought all the gangs together under the banner of peace to combine their might and run the city from the street level on up. Needless to say, they’re miles from their home turf and every gang in the city wants their heads, and this is where I step back from the plot to discuss just how this movie related to the independent theatrical distribution scene.

The Warriors are like the independent movie producers, distributors, and theaters of the world. The rest of the gangs are like the major theater chains, trying to crush, kill, and destroy anyone trying to do things their own way without succumbing to the studio-controlled distribution channels. Because, uh… the entertainment industry thinks independent movie producers killed MPAA President Jack Valenti using the internet, I guess, because he wanted to bend them to his will and take over the streets of New York.

This whole thing made more sense in my head, I swear.

All that talk makes me sound like a Godless Communist, but it’s on paper now, and I don’t have an eraser. I really don’t hate the movie studios or their theater whores (though I do dislike most theaters, as they’re never as clean, well-staffed, or comfortable as I expect for $10 a pop), nor do I begrudge the movie studios their place at the top of the food chain (except for $10, I want an entertaining, inventive product, or at least a lot of naked chicks with machine guns). This distaste is simply a reflection of the old “Too many cooks” philosophy being more true than false.

“The Warriors,” in the tradition of Grecian theater, uses larger than life archetypes with a free hand. You know The Warriors by their uniforms, and thusly, you know the other gangs by their uniforms as well, from the dirty Orphans and skinhead Turnbull A.C.s to the snappy Grammercy Riffs, lead by Masai (Dennis Gregory), and malevolent Rogues, headed by Luther (David Patrick Kelly, who has the best line in a movie full of good lines). There’s even a dues ex machina narrator in the form of a sultry radio DJ (the sorely underrated Lynne Thigpen) who not only moves the story along and keep the gangs informed of the Warriors’ progress, but who also serves as a great way to incorporate the soundtrack into the movie itself without being lame about the whole business.

This isn’t the type of movie that you can take seriously, but it isn’t exactly a comedy either. The Warriors aren’t great guys, they’re gang members. They’re simply our protagonists, doing what they have to do so survive the cutthroat streets of New York City, with no real sugar coating other than the fact that they didn’t kill the guy everyone says they killed and are routinely the coolest guys in the room.

The movie is violent, misogynistic, homophobic (despite Rembrandt [Marcelino Sanchez] being flamingly gay), and completely and totally entertaining. I wouldn’t have it any other way. The cinematography is inventive and crisp, and the new DVD is spectacular, so quit messing around and order it ASAP. See the original now, the way Walter Hill intended, before the remake puts a bad taste in your mouth.




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