When the leader (Roger Hill) of New York’s largest gang is murdered by a fellow gang leader (David Patrick Kelly) at an all-city gathering, the innocent leader of the Warriors (Dorsey Wright) is killed in wrongful retaliation and the remainder of the gang — now led by Swan (David Beck) — is pursued across the city. During their harrowing attempt to make it back home to Coney Island, the Warriors meet a beautiful young woman (Deborah Van Valkenburgh) who falls for Swan, and must battle numerous other outrageously dressed gangs — including the skinhead Turnball A.C.s, the Baseball Furies, the Punks, and the all-female Lizzies.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary describes “Walter Hill’s nifty, stylized, heart-pounding action movie” as “set in a surreal, fantasy New York, a playground for numerous tribes (called gangs) which stake out territories and parade around in garish identifying costumes, brandishing weapons and spray paint with which to decorate everything in their paths.” He notes that this is a “dream world, an enormous arena of parks and empty subway tunnels, the perfect obstacle course”, with “the subway trains — neutral territory in Sol Yurick’s much different… source novel — Hill’s bases, one for each baseline.” He points out that “the police are another tribe, the Men in Blue who serve as umpires and remove all rule breakers from the game”, and that “there is even a play-by-play announcer, a female deejay who reports the Warriors’ progress” and refers to their gang as “a minor-league team”. Peary reminds us that “the film is bloodless” and the “violence is cartoonlike, with every brutally beaten character feeling fine immediately after” — a notable fact, given that “this film was the object of a huge anti-violence-in-film campaign due to some incidents in theaters in which it played”.
Peary elaborates on this film in his first Cult Movies book, where he describes in detail the many differences between it and the original novel. He writes that while “The Warriors, artistically, is an uneven film to say the least”, it “is so full of unbridled energy and drive, with frenetic pacing from beginning to end, that it’s hard not to root… for it to succeed.” While “it’s a film that’ll make you cringe at times”, you’ll “forgive the shortcomings and praise the exciting camerawork, the excellent use of music, and the oddly conceived performance of David Patrick Kelly, the best wacko villain since Andy Robinson in Dirty Harry (1971).”
Indeed, there’s much to admire and enjoy about this fast-paced flick, including the “first rate” choreography of the fight scenes, the stylized costumes (especially those of the Furies), and highly effective use of New York shooting locales. This unique cult favorite remains well worth a look.
Note: Peary understandably fails to point out the nifty comic-strip transitions added in the 2005 director’s cut, which heighten the cartoonish and playful nature of the story.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Andrew Laszlo’s cinematography
- Effective use of New York locales
- Plenty of memorable moments
- The creative comic strip transitions (added in 2005)
- Barry De Vorzon’s synthesized score
Yes, as a genuine cult classic.