What a bummer to hear that Sol Yurick, has died. He wrote the novel that was eventually adapted into one of my favorite movies, The Warriors, one of the first b-movies I ever reviewed. I said then, and repeat now, that it is one of my favorite movies despite its b-movie status. It manages to be totally ridiculous and totally awesome at various times – sometimes at the same time. The dialogue is often silly, some of the opposing gangs are goofy bordering on laughable, and then there’s “Warriors… come out to play-ee-ay…” On the other hand, Cyrus’s opening speech is fantastic, the Gramercy Riffs are timelessly badass. And let’s be honest, if you’re not laughing along at the end, hearing “come out to play” by the fake Sean Penn guy is creepy as hell.
Yurick didn’t write the movie, of course, which is markedly different than the book in some key ways (no Baseball Furies – damn) but the creepiness that really defines the movie starts with his novel. Sure, the on-screen Warriors aren’t nearly as vicious as their fiction counterparts, the Coney Island Dominators, but each group comes together for the same reason: their lives absolutely suck. From the New York Times obituary:
Before “The Warriors” was published, Mr. Yurick had worked for many years as an investigator for the New York City Department of Welfare. He had grown up poor in the Bronx, the son of Communist activists who struggled to survive the Depression but believed their politics would ultimately rule the world. The people he served at the welfare department struck him as very different. They, too, were impoverished, but they seemed not to believe that they could change things through politics.
Which, in a way, is the whole premise of “The Warriors” – they can’t change things through politics or through anything else. You’re born under a bad sign, the Man is gonna make it worse, so why not put up clown makeup and a baseball jersey and whack the crap out of people at night? Who cares? Cyrus sees a way to change, but, well, you know what happens to him.
Cyrus is the only character in “The Warriors” who sees the gangs’ situation for what it is, and offers a way out – but his solution can’t work, because the gang members don’t see any way out. In the book, the Cyrus character, Ismael Rivera, gets shot because the cops show up and some of the gangs think Rivera tipped them off to the rally. In the movie, Cyrus gets shot because the fake Sean Penn guy has a gun and “just likes doing things like that.” The root is the same in each case: nothing’s gonna change, so it doesn’t matter what happens.
This comes up time and time again in the movie – there’s a great scene where Swan, the protagonist played by Michael Beck, and his lady friend Mercy are riding on the subway car, beaten to hell from trying to bop their way back to Coney, and there’s a giggly couple on their way home from prom. They’re happy until they see the bruises up and down Mercy’s legs, Swan’s scars, the rest of the gang’s icky 70’s malaise. There’s no dialogue, cause the contrast says everything.
And when they get home… well, that sucks too: Swan and company don’t exactly have a great thing going on either, and now a bunch of their fellow Warriors are dead or in jail. The book is worse: just as much depravity and they don’t even get to hear a Joe Walsh song play over the credits.
So, to recap: urban existential dread. In the end, I’m probably glad that clip from Cyrus’s speech about youth boards and the like wasn’t in the final version of the film; the story is actually more timeless if you leave out some of the details and just setting it as desperate people doing desperate things in a desperate city. But it does make you wonder if you were in their shoes that you might put on the Baseball Fury makeup yourself.
Maybe that’s why KISS wore makeup. They did come from New York, after all…