Wednesday, March 24, 2021

The Gladiators, The Saracens, The Hi-Hats, The Punks And More! The (Street) Gangs Are All Here In "The Warriors"

 

Street Fightin' Men: The Warriors, Coney Island's fiercest (and buffest) gang.

Hi Keebah and hello, movie lovers.

Would you be surprised if I told you a ballet once caused a riot?

It's true! When "The Rite of Spring" debuted in Paris in 1913, it was considered so horrifying that the opening night generated into a melee.

Would you be shocked if I told you a short story so outraged the readers of a weekly magazine, the periodical received hate mail and tons of cancelled subscriptions?

That's exactly what happened when The New Yorker published Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" in 1948.

Shirley Jackson's short story "The Lottery"  is classic nightmare fuel (which is why we're forced to read it in high school).

Remember when MTV actually aired music videos? Well, back in 1990, there was one music video the channel refused to air: "Justify My Love" by Madonna. The reason? MTV deemed the clip too racy (!) for their audience.

Which brings us to "The Warriors". Released by Paramount Pictures in 1979, the film first attracted controversy because its ad campaign suggested New York's street gangs ("the armies of the night") could easily take over the city because they out-numbered the cops. That was quickly forgotten, however, when screenings of the picture resulted in fights and violence by real gang members. As a result, Paramount was forced to pull the flick from general distribution (although some theaters did eventually run it).

Now, let's consider for a moment if the outrage that greeted these cultural events was truly deserved.

 "The Rite of Spring" is so far removed from what the public thinks of as "ballet", it's not surprising even the super-sophisticated French found it too much. And "The Lottery" continues to shock readers 73 years later.

Yet the Material Girl's "Justify My Love" is just faux arty posturing as the Material Girl tries (and fails) to invoke Catherine Deneuve from "Belle Du Jour." (The actual song is OK, though.)

As for "The Warriors"...well, it's hard to believe movie goers in 1979, including real gang members, allowed themselves to be riled up by a flick featuring street gangs decked out as (honest!) mimes, Junior Samples from "Hee Haw" and baseball players who appeared to have wandered over from the set of  "Children of the Corn".

If Stephen King ever coached a Little League team: The Baseball Furies.

Yes, yes, I know "The Warriors" has its fans, and it's considered a "cult classic" and it's inspired video games and stuff.

 And, yes, yes, I know there are those who will insist because I am a woman of the lady gender I couldn't possibly understand how freakin' awesome this movie is! Therefore, where do I get off saying "The Warriors" is a badly written, poorly acted, cliche'-riddled celluloid gobbler the Butterball people would be proud of?!

Because it is!

And I mean that from the bottom of my heart.

Let's start at the very beginning. In New York City, word has spread that Cyrus (Roger Hill), the messianic leader of the Gramercy Riffs street gang, has invited representatives from other gangs to meet at Van Cortlandt Park (unarmed) to discuss joining forces and taking over the city. The Warriors, who hail from Coney Island and strut around shirtless under leather vests, are delighted to be included in such an auspicious gathering. Sure, they have to travel 30 miles via subway to get to a place they've never been to before, but, hey, what could go wrong?

Would Marcel Morceau approve?: The Hi-Hats, the world's only gang/mime troupe.

Once they arrive, the Warriors mingle with the Boppers, the Hi Hats (who dress up like mimes), the Turnbull ACs (who have their own bus!), the Gladiators, the Rogues and the Saracens, among other street gang nobility. Facing the throng, Cyrus screams, "Can you count suckers?! I say the future is ours!" Sounding like a CEO addressing his best Am-Way distributers, Cyrus raves, "Nine delegates from 100 gangs! And there's over a 100 more. That's 20,000 hardcore members! Forty thousand, counting affiliates, and 20,000 more, not organized, but ready to fight. Sixty thousands soldiers! Now, there ain't 20,000 police in the whole town! Can you dig it?!"

The gangsters can dig it.

According to Cyrus, the plan goes like this: "One gang would run this city! One gang. Nothing would move without us letting it happen. We could tax the crime syndicates, the police, because WE got the streets! Can you dig it?!"

The gangsters can dig it.

Sorry, but I can't dig it. See, Cyrus' plan strikes me as, umm, a little simplistic. How is he going to make sure all these gangs, who are used to acting independently, will suddenly take orders from one guy?  What kind of infrastructure will Cyrus have in place, for example, to carve up territories, delegate authority and stream line operations? What about communication routes? And if Cyrus does indeed plan to tax "the crime syndicates", how will he do it? What makes him think the mob would go along with it? Also, how will people get paid? 

"Can you dig it?!": The messianic Cyrus (Roger Hill) presents his pitch to take over NYC to his gangland followers.

And another thing: I'm assuming Cyrus is referring to drugs, gambling and prostitution when he says "nothing would move without us letting it happen." He's not talking about garbage, utilities, schools, housing and health care is he? Because if he is, things could get even more complicated, especially in New York City, where local government is notoriously bureaucratic, slow and bogged down in red tape.

Furthermore, if Cyrus really believes one gang can manage New York City, what's he going to do when the wealthier citizens start leaving? How will he make up the loss of their tax revenue? And if word gets out NYC is being run by street gangs, wouldn't all its major businesses relocate? Does Cyrus have a plan for that?

I hate to be nit-picky, but these issues have to be dealt with.

Anywhooo, while Cyrus is preaching to the choir, a gun is being passed around by members of a gang called the Rogues. The Rogues' leader Luther (David Patrick Kelly) is a deeply unhinged psychotic with wild curly hair; he's also a big fibber. See, it's nutty Luther who shoots Cyrus mid-rant and then blames it on the Warriors. Suddenly the police arrive and the gang meeting devolves into a free-for-all, with gang members running away from the cops and vowing to kill the Warriors for killing Cyrus.

Cleon (Darcy Wright), the leader of the Warriors, investigates Cyrus' shooting and is killed for his troubles. That means the stone-faced Swan (Michael Beck, later seen in "Xanadu") is promoted to leader. It's his job to get the gang safely back to their Coney Island stomping grounds. The remaining Warriors are Ajax (James Remar), Snow (Brian Tyler), Cowboy (Tom McKitterick), Rembrandt (Marcelino Sanchez), Vermin (Terry Michos), Fox (who is uncredited) and Cochise (David Harris). Swan's promotion doesn't sit well with Ajax, an unpleasant hot-head always on the look-out for nooky opportunities. He also snarls stuff like, "What's the matter? You turnin' faggot?!" Considering what a loose cannon he is, it's understandable why the late Cleon was always reminding Ajax, "You just soldier and try and keep your mouth shut" like a fed-up dad lecturing his perpetually snarky 12 year old.

"Keep your tickets because we don't want to be Fair Fare Evaders": Swan (Michael Beck) reminds his fellow Warriors to be good citizens on the subway.

After the mad dash out of Van Cortlandt Park, "The Warriors" is suppose to be a struggle for life and death among "the armies of the night". However, despite the aspirations/pretentions of the filmmakers (the author of The Warriors based his tale loosely on Xenophon's Anabasis, which was about an army of Greek mercenaries trapped behind enemy Persian lines around 401 BC), their flick is more like a travelogue depicting the bumbling attempts of a bunch of out-of-towners trying to navigate NYC's subway system.

The first bump in the road occurs when the Warriors are chased by the Turnball Acs, who have shaved heads and their own bus. The gang outwits them and dashes on board a commuter train for Coney Island. If that seems too easy, that's because it was. Not too long after, the train is halted because a fire has been set on the tracks. Totally bummed, the Warriors realize they'll have to hoof it to their next stop.

Soon after, the guys come face to face with a gang called the Orphans. These numb-nuts are so low on gang totem pole, they weren't even invited to Cyrus' little party in the park--which really steamed their beans. When confronted by their nerdy leader (Paul Greco), the Warriors try to sweet talk their way out of trouble, claiming they know the Orphans are tougher than they're given credit for. Duly flattered, the Orphans allow the Warriors to proceed unharmed. This doesn't sit well with a local girl named Mercy (Deborah Van Valkenburg, who played one of Ted Knight's daughters in the sitcom "Too Close For Comfort"). After taunting them with her impressive chicken imitation, Mercy tries her best to get the Orphans and the Warriors to fight. When the gangs refuse and go their separate ways, she decides to follow the Warriors. Seconds later she's jumped (no pun intended) by Ajax, who has every intention of raping her. He's stopped by Swan, less out of concern for her well being than for the fact that the Orphans are preparing to strike. 

How will the Warriors get out of this jam? (After all, they have train to catch.) Simple: they lob a make-shift Molotov Cocktail at their foes, which sends the Orphans running and screaming for cover (the Orphans are such babies.) The gang then coolly proceeds to their next stop (with Mercy in tow)...only to get into a fatal wangle with the police (gang member Fox is thrown onto the subway tracks and is flattened like a pancake--eww) which sends them, once again, fleeing for their lives.

Now, while all this is happening, the other gangs are kept updated on the Warriors' movements by an unnamed, taunting female DJ (Lynne Thigpen). Where she gets her information, we're never told. Luther, coincidentally, keeps making a series of mysterious phone calls checking in with street gang central or something. Could the two be related?

"And our next request goes out to...": The unknown DJ regularly updates her listeners on the Warriors' whereabouts and plays the latest hits.

The Warriors eventually arrive at Riverside Park where they meet up with their most colorful adversaries yet: the Baseball Furies, the godchildren (or perhaps the inspiration for?) the Insane Clown Posse. Before the rumble begins, Ajax declares (to no one in particular), "I'll shove that bat up your ass and turn you into a popsicle!" With that boast ringing in the air, the battle begins. The Baseball Furies give chase, the Warriors run. The gangs swing at each other, hit each other, kick each other and throw in some Jackie Chan moves for fun. In the end, the Warriors emerge victorious and even snatch some of the Furies' precious baseball bats. With the satisfaction of a job well done, the guys move on.

While strolling through the park, the Warriors pass a lone female sitting on a bench (future Oscar winner Mercedes Ruehl). Ajax, who hasn't had any in quite a while, breaks off from the group (over the protests of Swan) to proposition her. Surprisingly, she's perfectly OK with his clammy advances, at one point cooing, "Ooooh, those muscles!" However, once the duo begins gettin' busy, she whips out some handcuffs, chains Ajax to the bench and blows a whistle for back-up. She's a cop, get it? Furious, Ajax screams like a Howler Monkey and tries to get free, but can't. He's carted away and we never see him again.

Still with me? Good. The Warriors get separated (don't ask) and the trio of Vermin, Cochise and Rembrandt arrive at Union Station. There they meet an all-female street gang known as the Lizzies. The gals (easily) convince the guys to party at their place, explaining "their men" were busy elsewhere. The guys agree, except for Rembrandt, who has a funny feeling about their new friends. His suspicions harden when a deep-voiced broad with short hair asks him, "Wanna dance little man?" However, once the gals start dancing together, Rembrandt is positive their hostesses are not the sort of girls you could bring home to mother--and that's before they whip out their weapons.

 "The chicks are packed! The chicks are packed!" Rembrandt screams, which rouses Vermin and Cochise from their separate make out sessions. Our Warriors thus fight it out with the Lizzies, barely escaping with their lives (and a certain body part) in tact. Later on, the guys admit they should have taken Rembrandt's warnings more seriously. Chalk one up for Team Rembrandt.

As it turns out, Swan is having female problems, too. Remember Mercy, the street gang groupie? Well, she and the Warriors get separated and then she and Swan magically meet up again.  As they plod through the night to catch up with the rest of the gang, Mercy nags Swan to have sex with her. "Why don't you just tie a mattress to your back?" he barks. "You don't care where it is, do you?"

"I'm not hard to get. All you have to do is ask me.": Gang groupie Mercy (Deborah Van Valkenburg).

Mercy is puzzled by his dismissive attitude. "Why are you always picking on me?" she asks.

"You want the truth?" Swan says. "I don't like the way you live."

"The way I live?" Mercy replies, shocked that a gang member is lecturing her on good morals. She then proceeds to lecture Swan about her crummy her life options ( "A belly down to here, five kids, cockroaches in the cup boards!") and declares, "I want somethin' now! This is the life I got left!"

This cuts no ice with Swan. Since she can't tempt Swan with her body, Mercy tries showing him she can be useful in other ways. As the duo stumble around yet another subway stop, they're being secretly followed by a guy in overalls. On roller skates, mind you. Mercy tells Swan, "See that dude? He's after you and he's got some guys with him." 

Once again, Swan is unimpressed: "I know they're on my ass, but now they know I know it."

"You better give your hearts to Jesus, 'cause your hinders are ours": The Junior Samples-ish Punks await the Warriors (check out their leader's roller skates). 

Luckily, Rembrandt, Vermin and Cochise arrive from their brush with the Lizzies. Everybody (including Mercy) ducks into the men's room to prepare for the next battle royal. This time, while the Punks and the Warriors toss each other around in the john, Rembrandt blinds some of their foes by spraying paint in their faces and Mercy proves she can handle herself in a brawl. Soon the Punks are scattered on the floor, totally defeated. The Warriors, exhausted but relieved, gingerly step over their bodies and head for home. Again.

Back on the subway, the bruised and battered Warriors sit in silence. Then two couples dressed up in their best prom finery come aboard. The symbolism is about a subtle as a sledge hammer: everybody is about the same age, the Warriors are bruised and bloody, the prom couples are decked out in long gowns and suits. Embarrassed, Mercy tries to tidy herself up--but Swan stops her. As the tension between the gangsters and the prom couples becomes increasingly apparent, the fancy dressed duos hastily disembark. When it's the Warriors stop at last, Swan notices a corsage one of the prom girls left behind. He picks it up and gives it to Mercy. When she tries to thank him, he blows her off yet again. "I don't like to see stuff wasted," he shrugs.

Finally safe on their Coney Island stomping grounds, the Warriors--and the audience--just want some peace and quiet, maybe a nap. But no. Those zany Rogues have followed them home and are determined to rumble to the death. While the Warriors take shelter, the unhinged Luther clangs beer bottles together and tauntingly sing songs, "Warriors! Come out and play-ay!"

The final, epic battle of "The Warriors" takes place on the beach, with the Warriors and the Rouges circling each other. Swan and looney Luther decide to go at it one-on-one. Swan asks Luther why chose to "waste Cyrus" and Luther replies, "No reason. I just like doing things like that." (Hey, at least he's honest.) Then Luther pulls a gun, but Swan flings a switchblade, disarming him. Out of nowhere the Gramercy Riffs arrive, now headed by a gent named Masai.

"You still looking for us?" Swan asks.


"Pistol Packin' Mama": One of the Lizzies prepares to fire off a round.

"We've found what we're looking for," Masai replies, staring at the bleeding and cowering Luther. Then he pauses. "You Warriors are good. Real good."

"The best," Swan rejoins.

And with that, the Warriors silently walk away, allowing the Riffs to pulverize the Rogues into bite sizes chunks of biological waste.

Over the radio, the DJ announces, "Good news, Boppers: the big alert has been called off." Admitting that "early reports were wrong, all wrong", the DJ apologizes to the Warriors for the mix-up and says "The only thing we can do is play you a song." Then Joe Walsh's "In the City" begins to blare. I think Brenda Lee's "I'm Sorry" would've been more appropriate under the circumstances, but that's just me.

Anywhooo...

"Was it good for you, too?": Mercy and Swan in the sunshine of their love.

Earlier in the post I compared and contrasted certain cultural events and wondered if the controversy they created was deserved or, at the very least, stood the test of time. In the case of "The Warriors", I can say the fear that this flick would inspire violence from the audience was over-stated...especially if you watched the actual film. In fact, the fights at screenings gave "The Warriors" a mystique that conveniently obscured how cliche'-riddled and daffy this movie really is. In fact, those fights were the best thing that happened to "The Warriors"-- because if the fear of violence hadn't scared patrons away, the cheesy quality of the film, the heapin' helpin' of cliches on screen and the subsequent bad reviews surely would have!

Don't believe me? Then please consider the following:

*The fights at "The Warriors" screenings involved real gang members...who came to the movie to support their buddies (hired as extras) making their big screen debuts. The plot of the movie and the action on screen had nothing to do with it.

*There is no cliche' director/screenwriter Walter Hill and screenwriters Sol Yurick (who wrote the original novel) and David Shaber left untouched: the strong, silent, reluctant leader (Swan); the goofball (Vermin); the young tag along everybody looks out for (Rembrandt); the hot head (Ajax); the tough but pretty gal who can teach guys a thing or two about fighting (Mercy); the off-his-rocker bad guy (Luther); the charismatic leader who holds hundreds of followers in his thrall (Cyrus); the race to outwit skulking enemies (all the other gangs); individuals stuck in unfamiliar territory; a rumor, lie or misunderstanding that tarnishes innocent people (although gang members are hardly innocent); the inevitable showdown; the slowly dawning realization that gang life has its limits. If you're looking for cliches, this movie has 'em--all the more ironic, considering author Yurick wrote The Warriors as a response to what he saw as the cliched romanticizing of gangs in "West Side Story" (Yurick was a youth counselor in the 1960's).

*Because the flick relies heavily on cliches, "The Warriors" doesn't feel the need to flesh out its characters beyond surface distinctions; the characters even speak in a cliched shorthand that offers little depth or perspective:

"Shall we dance?": The Warriors and the Rouges face off one final time.

Cowboy: "What do you know about Cyrus?"

Cochise: "Magic. A whole lot of magic."

(So he can pull a rabbit out of  a hat?)

Cowboy: "What do you know about Cyrus?"

Rembrandt: "He's the one and only."

Swan's Way: "Our existence is only temporary...and I feel like warm beer."

(Hey, I thought Elvis was the one and only...or was that Richard Petty?)

Cochise: "When you're the president of the biggest gang in the city, you don't have to take any shit."

(Or dictation.)

Meanwhile, Michael Beck, as Swan, has a poker face so taut, you wonder if he was an early Botox user. James Remar, as the hot-headed Ajax, can out-sneer Lee Van Clef, but he's basically just a rapist. The only person having fun is David Patrick Kelly as the unhinged Luther--but you know the moment you see his wild hair, eyeballs spinning in opposite directions and hear his whiney voice he's the flick's bad guy. In the end, the Warriors aren't a "band of brothers", but a bunch of really violent paper dolls.

*And speaking of dolls, the treatment of women in this movie is also one big cliche'! Mercy is the typical bad girl with a heart of gold. She's also the type of gal who thinks the more a guy dismisses her, the more he secretly likes her. The Lizzies and the female undercover cop, on the other hand, represent the old saw about women leading men on, pretending to be something they're not, and then revealing their nasty intentions once they've got them all hot and bothered. The message: women can't be trusted, so just kick 'em to the curb.

In final analysis: a book written to dispel Hollywood cliches about gangs...became a Hollywood movie full of cliches about gangs!

So movie lovers, please always remember, and never forget, take time to plan your out-of-town trips carefully, keep plenty of change on hand and, of course, help me SAVE THE MOVIES.


Razzzie Nominations Alert!!!

The 41rst. Annual Golden Raspberry Awards announced their coveted RAZZIE nominations on March 11th and the rancid romance "365 Days"--reviewed in this very blog !!--has earned 6 nominations, including for Worst Picture, Worst Actor (Michele Morrone) and Worst Actress (Anna-Maria Sieklucka)! Congratulations and may the worst performers win!









 



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