And now for a highly accurate depiction of urban gang life.
Walter Hill’s perennial cult favorite The Warriors lives in a surreal world all its own. Part outsized comic book adventure, part defiant social commentary, and part hard-edged 70s action cinema, there’s really nothing else like it.
The film (based loosely on the ancient Greek tale of the Anabasis) takes place in a 1979 New York City that’s insane even by pre-Giuliani standards, living as it does in fear of hundreds of thousands of warriing youth gangs decked out in colorful costumes. One such group, the titular Warriors, sends nine delegates to attend a peaceful conclave thrown by the largest gang, the Gramercy Riffs, in Van Cortland Park. Representatives from all over the city arrive and end cheer for the Riffs’ leader, Cyrus, when he preaches a gospel of unification that would give the collective gangs control over the entire city.
But when Cyrus is shot down by a deranged member of the Rogues, the Warriors are blamed and have to hike all the way back to their native Coney Island (about 30 miles according to Google Maps), with every gang in the city hunting for them… and their leader Cleon a casualty before they can even leave the park.
The movie’s odd, funny, mean and unpredictable, but strangely compelling and exciting at the same time. As the subtitle of this post indicates there’s not much in the way of actual fighting– the Warriors have to employ a lot of evasion and intelligence to survive, picking only the battles that are absolutely necessary– it’s still an action classic that can’t be overlooked. Besides, we needed a break from strictly martial arts movies.
1) The Warriors vs the Baseball Furies
- Four Warriors:
- Swan, the group’s new “War Chief” (leader), after the loss of Cleon at the rally. Strong, lean and level-headed. Played by Michael Beck.
- Snow, another solid fighter and the group’s designated “music man.” Played by Brian Tyler, who looks like a 70s version of Donald Glover.
- Cowboy, not as impressive physically as the others, and so-called because of his trademark cowboy hat. Played by Tom McKitterick.
- Ajax, one of the gang’s best fighters. Though unfortunately he’s stupid at everything else; Ajax is short-sighted, confrontational, and sexually aggressive. Played by the great James Remar.
- The Baseball Furies, another gang who’s answered the call to collect the Warriors. In a movie full of outlandish characters, the Baseball Furies are perhaps the most outlandish of all, sporting pinstripe baseball jerseys and full face paint. They’re simultaneously completely ridiculous yet also undeniably creepy. They’re also all armed with wooden baseball bats, which puts our heroes at a distinct disadvantage, at first. All played by stunt men, including their apparent leader, veteran stunt coordinator Jery Hewitt.
The Setup: The machinations of their chase have split off these four Warriors from their companions, and they exited a train station to discover seven or eight of the Furies waiting for them. The Warriors run into a nearby park with the Furies in hot pursuit, and Swan wisely breaks to the right with Snow, letting the rest of the Furies chase Ajax and Cowboy along the main path. Swan & Snow soon double back and pick off the slowest, lagging Fury from behind, putting him down for the count and taking his bat for their own.
Meanwhile, their friends run until Cowboy declares he can run no more, which Ajax thankfully takes as an opportunity to turn & fight.
The Fight: Ajax lays out his first foe almost as soon as he stops, catching him in mid-stride with a two-hit combo. Cowboy gets put down by their leader. Things slow for a moment after that, as the rest of the Furies settles into position while Ajax and their leader face off. It’s here that Remar growls out his famous line, “I’ll shove that bat up your ass and turn you into a Popsicle.”
The man’s bluster is not misplaced, for once (though thankfully he did not mean his threat literally), as he ducks under the first bat swing and quickly dominates the head Fury, doubling him over with a shot to the gut and finishing him off with a knee that sends him flying in a cool behind-the-back shot.
Swan and Snow then show up, whereupon it becomes a free-for-all, the three active Warriors against the remaining four or five Furies. Some of it’s cheap shots and team-ups, but there’s some good old fashioned fisticuffs, and Swan even engages in couple “bat duels” with his weapon chocking repeatedly against his opponents’. Though well-done it’s too quick and intense to describe at length. Still, the staging does convey not just the Warriors’ skill but how well they work as a team, cooperating almost as if by instinct.
Most of it is not terribly complicated, either, but there is an odd, awkward and simple grace to the proceedings. It’s the kind of unpolished violence you don’t see so much in movies anymore, exploitative but not indulgent. Cheap, mean and quick, like a lot of the 70s classics.
The fight finishes as mighty Ajax swings a charging Fury overhead, and Swan finishes off his final dueling session. Cowboy rises, bruised but okay, and all four leave with some handy new weapons.
Not much else to say. There’s lots of action and suspense in The Warriors, but as far as fight scenes go this one is basically all you get until near the end. It’s not about fighting so much as it is survival, and the Warriors surviving this fight– with some new weapons to show for it!– is a much-needed boost for the story.
Recommended Links: A summary of the true Greek legend The Warriors is based on.
A pretty good Salon article (from 2005) on the movie’s enduring cult status. The differences between book and movie are of particular interest.
Coming Attractions: Rumble in the Bathroom.