Last night I watched The Warriors, a movie that I had fond memories of watching on cable TV as a teenager after it came out in 1979. Boy, have times changed!
I’m pretty sure I didn’t think the movie was camp when I first saw it, even assuming I knew what camp was at that tender age. Watching it almost 35 years later, it’s an unintentional laugh fest on a par with Mommie Dearest. Is this the same movie that struck fear into the heart of suburbanites all over the country?
The first sign that you’re not in 2013 is the subway system: trains covered in graffiti, people using tokens, wooden turnstiles and an illegible subway map. Apparently, there was even an amusement park in Union Square station. Who knew?
But what really makes this a candidate for the Most Quotable Lines Since Scarface Screenwriting Award is the ridiculously clunky dialogue. My personal favorite is when the movie opens. All the gangs of New York are gathered at a park in the Bronx and the Grand Poobah of All Things Gang-Related exhorts the crowd with the following line: “Can you dig it? Can you dig it? CAN YOU DIG IT?!!!” I immediately wanted to break into that line from the old soul classic “Can You Dig It”: “I can digga digga digga, she can digga digga digga, we can digga digga digga digga, Can you dig it, Can you dig it, baby?”
While the gang members in this film exist in some kind of multi-ethnic paradise where all races apparently get along, the characters aren’t always so PC. The word “faggot” was used at least three times by my count, most often as a verb, as in “go faggot” or “gone faggot.” They make it sound like sexual orientation is a choice similar to deciding which restaurant to go to.
There’s another homophobic moment when the gang encounters a group of young women who are apparently lesbian. The call themselves the “Lizzies” and one of them has crimped hair! But they still make out with men (before they try to kill them)! I’m confused.
It’s fun to play “where are they now” with a movie like this. Mercedes Ruehl, who would go on to star on Broadway in Neil Simon’s “Brighton Beach Memoirs” trilogy, plays a tough chick (an undercover cop?) who nabs one of the gang members by coming on to him in a park and then handcuffing him to the park bench.
And, of course, Michael Beck, the handsome lead, would go on to star in “Xanadu” the next year with Olivia Newton-John. Just out of curiosity, I decided to look him up on imdb.com. Let’s just say cute doesn’t age well.
There’s more fun to be had with the gang costumes. It’s hard to imagine anyone being scared of a gang of mimes, much less a gang of baseball players with face paint, a gang of pimps, and what looks like a gang of Asian monks. I hope the costume designer was at least nominated for an Oscar.
Another curious feature of the film is that, in a city of eight million people, almost no one seems to be on the street or the subway at the same time as any of the main characters. Normally, this is a sure giveaway that a movie was filmed on a sound stage. But I’m pretty sure this movie was filmed on location in New York City. I even saw my block show up in one scene. (Look for a sign that says “All State Glass.”)
All in all, good times for everyone. Unless you’re a woman. Deborah Van Valkenburgh plays the kind of female lead that actresses are still trying to overcome. The nicest thing that can be said about her character is that she’s “not a slut.”
But at least she’s not a “faggot.”