I’m going to cheat a little here, because this movie was actually released in 1979, but I may not have seen it until 1980 when it was broadcast on HBO. Or maybe it was “late ’79” when I saw it. But let’s not split hairs over such technicalities–it’s going to be a fun entry, I promise!
If you were a teen or pre-teen or even an adult with a love for mayhem back then, seeing the trailer for this movie was a form of torture, because you wanted to see it right that very moment, and not three months or so in the future. It was tantalizing stuff. All those different gangs! Chasing after one gang! Across the five boroughs of New York! All in one epic night!
Thankfully, the movie lived up to those lofty expectations, and then some. Every single gang was cool as shit, some more than others. I’d say the dudes in overalls and roller skates were the least coolest and the Baseball Furies the coolest, although man, those pinstriped greasepaint fanatics were just about the worst brawlers ever. You guys have BATS fer Chrissake! The military-like ruthlessness of the Gramercy Riffs was downright scary while the Turnbull AC’s looked like the entire CBGB’s Sunday afternoon hardcore matinee had just hijacked a school bus with “trouble on their mind.” Each gang had its own personality and mythology–it was like The Lord of The Rings for kids who would never tolerate those kind of effete fairy tales. (For the record, I loved both.)
I used to have dreams about being asked, nay, demanded, to hang out with The Lizzies (who thought that name up–the scriptwriter’s 11 year-old son?) at their clubhouse just like The Warriors did and you can pretty much guess how those dreams invariably ended–with some very untidy tighty whities!
The Warriors themselves, what with the tight jeans and leather vests over bare chests, looked like their home turf should have been Christopher Street instead of Coney Island, but I guess those issues were being addressed that same year by Al Pacino over in Cruising. In any case, they managed to be some pretty likeable guys. You rooted for them, even though they weren’t exactly pillars of society.
And who, exactly, were you rooting against? Well, the actor had three names–just like a serial killer–and his character’s name was Luther. David Patrick Kelley put the “scum” in Scumbag for this one, and his demented, finger bottle-playing, sing-song “baiting call” is still quoted to this day by people as diverse as Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Bubba Watson. And when the Riffs slice him up into chum, you stand up and cheer.
The influence of this movie is very real and lasts to this day. I once ventured out to Sheepshead Bay in hopes of saving $50 on a Marin hybrid bicycle I had my eyes on. I was in enemy territory, although I didn’t know it at first. I found out pretty quickly when a football, zipped in a tightly thrown spiral, smacked me right in the temple. It was off the arm of the leader of a gang called the Football Elis, a modern-day knock-off of the aforementioned Baseball Furies. They wore shoulder pads over their wife beaters, baggy jeans and Breathe-Right strips on their noses. I quickly scurried back to the Q train, dazed and frightened, and bought my damn bike in Manhattan. It cost a bit more, but at least I was back among the safety of my own “home gang”–the Soho Ciprianis. Our clubhouse is on West Broadway near Broome–stop by sometime and have a Bellini!