Saturday, November 14, 2015

Hail, Hail, The Gang's All Here

Walter Hill is, without a doubt, the king of "guy movies".  His list of credits reads like a 'must see" list of  guy movies, action flicks with great dialogue to boot.  The Long Riders, 48 Hours & Another 48 Hours, Red Heat, Last Man Standing and of course, the two titles the subject of this review to name a few.  He also wrote the screenplays for two of the three sequels to Alien, as well as the screenplay to the remake of The Getaway.  Not only that, he was instrumentally involved as one of the producers of the Tales of the Crypt TV series, and directed three episodes of the same.  See what I mean?  Every guy movie fan should take his hat off to Walter Hill.

Hill, along with contemporary John Carpenter (the subject of a future review), rank among the list of directors of which I am a "groupie".  I wouldn't stop Tom Hanks on the street or ask to shake John Travolta's hand, but I might ask a director for an autograph while he is eating in a diner...:-)  It takes a real sensibility to direct action movies and not have them come out looking like every other action movie that came down the pike.  And that is saying a lot, because, as much as I love James Bond movies, most of them are interchangeable in plots and pacing.

The Warriors (1979)

 This classic movie begins with a confab being called on all the gangs of NYC to meet to hear out Cyrus (Roger Hill) the leader of the biggest gang in the city.  The Warriors (Michael Beck, et. al.) are traveling all the way from Coney Island, their home, to Van Cortlandt Park in the heart of the city.  There they hear Cyrus with the immortal beginning words

Can you count, suckahs?!!!

Cyrus tells of a plan to unite all the gangs and control the city though that unity.  But Luther (David Patrick Kelly) a member of a rival gang, shoots him.  Then, in the ensuing havoc,  Luther manages to convince everyone that it was the Warriors who were responsible.

Now begins one of the greatest chase movies ever made.  The Warriors have to get back to the security of their own territory, but have to cross numerous other gangs turf in the process.  Some of these gangs would get ripped if the appeared in the real world with their own individual markings.  One of the coolest (also one of the most unrealistic) is the Baseball Furies.  These guys wear makeup and NY Yankees-like pinstripe baseball uniforms.  And wield baseball for weapons.  (Question.  Why is the only gun used  in the whole movie the one used by Luther to kill Cyrus???)

I'll shove that bat up your ass and turn you into a popsicle!

The Warriors run into several obstructions, including a breakdown of the subway which makes them have to go off on foot through several gangs territories, and causes the band to have to split up, thus ensuring some intense moments, including one scene witn an all-girl gang called the Lizzies (insert your own prurient comment here)

Eventually most, but not all, the Warriors  end up back at Coney Island in time for a confrontation with Luther and his gang, The Rogues.  Luther comes on the scene in a car, and here again is another classic scene as Luther taunts the Warriors by clacking a couple of beer bottles together and  chanting:

Warriors!  Come out to play!  Warriors!  Come out to pla-ay!

 An interesting side note, here.  Hill sent David Patrick Kelly off to think about this scene, saying the scene  needed something.  The entire clacking bottles and chant scene was ad-libbed.

This is the first movie I ever saw at a drive-in on my own (not as a family group outing, in other words).  I still remember it well, sitting there in my car with a six pack and a pizza, entranced by the action on the screen.  Some of those guys went on to bigger stardom.  James Remar (as Ajax) has been in numerous movies over the years,  Michael Beck (as Swan) has not been near as prolific, probably due to being in a couple of duds after this one (Xanadu & Megaforce) which left him to TV roles more or less after that.  David Patrick Kelly played heavies in a number of movies throughout the 80's.

Recently, several members of the cast who portrayed the Warriors showed up for a one-day fan fest in NYC.  Wish I could have gone.  Nothing would have stopped me if I lived in New York City...(except maybe a blockade by the Baseball Furies...)

Streets of Fire (1984)

Hill returned to the gang theme again in 1984 with another great action flick, Streets of Fire.

The movie is subtitled "A Rock & Roll Fable" and that is a perfect description of  it.  Diane Lane, looking as hot as ever, is Ellen Aim, a local girl turned rock & roll goddess, doing a free show for her hometown, despite the misgivings of her manager, played with the perfect mix of sarcasm and greed by Rick Moranis.

Enter Willem Dafoe in one of his early roles as Raven, the leader of a biker gang on the bad side of town.  He kidnaps Ellen and takes her back to his nightclub and ties her up to his bed.  Deborah Van Valkenberg, as Reva writes to her brother Tom (Michael Paré) who used to be lovers with ellen to come home and rescue her.

Paré plays a perfect reluctant hero, with just the right blend of bravado and wit.  With a bit of action that enthralls even after numerous viewings, Tom rescues Ellen, and with a few sidetracks, including having to hijack the tour bus of an all-black vocal group which consists of among others Robert Townsend, they mke it back to the relative safety of the nicer part of town.  But not for long.

Raven roars into town for revenge.  Raven says he'll leave peaceably, but he wants Tom's head on a stick before he does.  Needless to say, it comes down to a knockdown drag out duking between Paré and Dafoe.

The movie ends with a final musical interlude (I forgot to mention there are several in this movie) with The Sorels getting a shot at opening the concert for Ellen.  They perform "I Can Dream About You" (which was actually sung by a guy named Dan Hartman and went to #1 on the Billboard charts in 1984.)

Several things to note:  One. This movie has some of the coolest wipes I have ever seen in a movie.  If you don't know what a "wipe", it's a transition from one scene to another with the screen changing in motion (as opposed to just an abrupt scene change.

Two.  If you are a big Meat Loaf fan, you may think a couple of the songs sound like Loaf songs.  In fact, Jim Steinman who wrote a lot of Meat Loaf's hits, wrote two of the songs that Ellen aim sings (Tonight is What It Means to Be Young & Nowhere Fast).  If the music doesn't have you humming for a couple of days after watching it, you haven't got the soul for rock & roll.

Three.  And this is just an opinion, but I would bet that not even ½ of the people who made I Can Dream About You a number one song even heard about this movie much less saw it.  It failed to make a profit.  But it is still a fantastic movie.

Well that's it from the backseat of the Plymouth Fury this time.  Drive home safely.


1 comment:

  1. Adore Streets of Fire and I often sing Nowhere Fast (to myself) as no one else seems to know it, but it is has such such a catchy chorus. Some of the coolest scenes. Michael Pare was perfect in this and in Eddie and the Cruisers. I fear he didn't have much range but happy to see him here.


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