Throwback Thursday examines films from the past—“classic” films that might not be in the current cultural zeitgeist but can still be important in some aspect.
For the month of November, I’m sharing some of my comfort films. Films that I enjoy no matter what kind of mood I’m in. If I’m happy, they increase that. If I’m in a bad mood, they can immediately improve that mood. This week we’re going to be looking at Walter Hill’s cult film from 1979, The Warriors.
There’s no one reason why this film brings a smile to my face. The acting is definitely B-movie caliber, and the plot is pretty simplistic. What it has going for it, though, is heart. It’s one of the first films to feature gangs that weren’t necessarily good or bad but just were. Sure, there are good and bad guys in the Warriors that we follow throughout the film, but surprisingly we root for them all to get back home to Coney Island. That’s the simple plot. A small gang is deep inside enemy territory and forced to battle their way back to their home turf.
At the beginning of the film we find out that all the major gangs of New York City have been invited to a summit to discuss their futures. Each gang is required to send nine unarmed delegates. During the summit the Warriors end up getting blamed for something, and all the other gangs are now out to get them. It’s a David and Goliath story: nine unarmed guys versus the entire city. We root for them and hope our favorite character doesn’t go down, though you know not everyone is going to make it.
The main character we follow from the Warriors is Swan, played by a stoic Michael Beck. You don’t get to see him smile in this film a lot since he’s trying to protect his family. If you want to see that, check out another cult film, Xanadu—or if you want to see him really stoic, check him out in another one of my favorites, John Boorman’s Excalibur, in which he plays the honor-torn Lancelot. But in this film, it’s all about determination. Swan is the war chief for the Warriors, and he will do anything to get as many of them home safe as possible.
One thing about me: I’m not a costume guy. Costuming is usually one of the last things I notice when watching a film, and I’m not a cosplayer. But I will say one of the great things about this film is that every gang has its own unique visual style, some a little more over the top than others—check out the images below of the Baseball Furies and the Hi-Hats. Of course, I had to pick the two gangs with make-up, but there are so many more. (There’s usually at least one person dressed as a Fury at most conventions, so keep an eye peeled at your next one.)
I do want to single out one more gang, and that’s the Punks. Sure they’re all wearing overalls, and yes you noticed that correctly, one of them is wearing rollerskates, but they have one of the most fun choreographed fights with The Warriors. Who knew you could fight in skates? For more on the styles and gang names from this film, check out this fun read on Mental Floss.
Lynne Thigpen is the voice (and lips) of the DJ who is coordinating the hunt for the Warriors, and she does an amazing job with limited screen time and just her voice (and, again, lips). She brings a hint of menace, suaveness, sexuality, and knowledge to the proceedings. You might want to watch the film just for her moments. I’d also like to point out David Patrick Kelly, whom those of you familiar with Twin Peaks will probably recognize. In The Warriors he plays Luther, the leader of a rival gang called the Rogues, and gives us the film’s most famous ad-libbed line:
Partial spoiler on this 36-year-old film, but want to throw it out there so certain viewers aren’t caught unaware: The Warriors is rated R for a reason. There is an attempted rape in the film, but the character gets what is coming to him. On a side note, keep an eye out for Mercedes Ruehl in that scene.
What else can I tell you to get you to check out this movie? Due to a really tight production schedule, director Walter Hill wasn’t quite able to realize his full initial vision, so there are multiple versions of the film out there. The director’s cut adds an opening narration and comic-book cuts between the scenes, which are a nice touch and integrate pretty seamlessly. The narration makes the story feel more epic and mythological, focusing on Greek warriors. A nice addition, but not fully needed to enjoy the film.
Since this column is already so image and video heavy, I want to leave you on this note. Or notes. Joe Walsh (of the Eagles and other fame) recorded the final song of the film, and if you listen to classic rock at all, I’m sure you will be familiar with it. In the City. Enjoy!
This film can be found on both Blu-ray and DVD. It is currently available via Netflix rental and streaming right now, but streaming offerings change frequently, so keep an eye out. Feel free to discuss further in the comments below; just keep it respectful.