BOOK VERSUS FILM: The Warriors – Fight to The Death

BOOK VERSUS FILM: The Warriors – Fight to The Death

All About The Warriors

In my youth I was completely oblivious to the fact that creative types would adapt movies from books, so when I discovered that The Warriors was originally a novel, I had to read it right away. The movie adaptation was instrumental to me creating my own novel, The Big Smoke. The exploration of an exaggerated New York and the issues of class and race were hugely relatable themes to my work and the world I grew up in.

So let’s delve into the world of The Warriors because it’s time to play-ay!!!!

About The Book

The Warriors was originally written by American author Sol Yurick and released in 1965. This was a time in America when war was happening externally in Vietnam and internally with the Civil Rights movement. Born and raised in New York and working in the welfare department, early in his life Sol was exposed first hand to hundreds of families and children on welfare (or ‘juvenile delinquents’, as they were referred to at the time). Sol quickly learnt how many different fighting gangs had been created and operated in New York, numbering in the hundreds. Some of them so big they could be classified as small armies and entirely made up of black and Hispanic members.

The story follows one of the many gangs that inhabit New York City, The Dominators. This was a group of African American and Hispanic men and boys who venture out of their territory, along with the other gangs in New York, towards a meeting being held in The Bronx by the leader of the largest gang in the city, Ismael. Despite Ismael’s intentions of uniting the gangs in the city in a bid to take up arms against “the man” things between the gangs quickly escalate. Fights break out and Ismael is caught in the cross fires and the arrival of the police forces the gangs, including The Dominators, to scatter.

The Dominators are forced to trek back home to their territory while trying to avoid the police and rival gangs. Throughout the long journey back home the members of the gang have their ranks, and most importantly their perceived manhood, put to the test.

Told through the different points of view of some of the members of the gang, Sol Yurick is able to explore issues around economic class and opportunity. This includes the racial inequality that was and unfortunately still is apparent in modern day America. Also included is the subject of toxic masculinity and what it means to be a “real man”.

Hinton, as the 2nd’ youngest member of the gang is the focal character of the story. He is tasked with getting his gang back home safely due to his vast knowledge of the city. Throughout the journey home the hierarchy and placement of the gang is frequently questioned which results in acts of “manhood” to settle disputes.

Being one of the newer members of the gang, Hinton often offers up ideas which would help the group on their journey. This includes suggesting the gang remove their insignia to avoid any unwanted attention; however he is often dismissed and told to stay in his place. He’s in a constant battle between right and wrong and trying to find his spot, not only within the gang, whom he considers his family, but also his spot in life. He’s exposed to extreme violence which he feels he must take part in, partly due to peer pressure from his fellow gang members and partly due to an insatiable animalistic desire that supposedly makes him a man.

About The Film

The film rights to Sol Yurick’s novel were purchased in 1969. However no film or development was made on the script until the spring of 1978, with the film being released just under a year later in February 1979, almost 15 years after the book was written.

The basic premise of the movie is the same as the book, The Warriors (known as The Dominators in the book) are invited to a mass gathering by Cyrus, the leader of the most powerful gang in New York who wants to unite all of the gangs in the city. Cyrus is then shot and killed and unlike in the book, the shooter is identified as Luther, leader of the Rogues. Luther subsequently blames the Warriors for murdering Cyrus.

The unarmed Warriors are forced to travel through New York City and back to their territory after a hit is put out on them. Every other gang in the city is on the hunt to find The Warriors as doing so would not only allow them to get revenge for Cyrus’s death but it would also elevate their status amongst the other gangs in New York.

Although the films focus is on The Warriors, the main protagonist is Swan, the ‘War Chief’ of the gang who takes charge of the group. It doesn’t take long before The Warriors are separated after being chased off by the police at a subway station in Manhattan. From there the gang are forced to try and reunite while avoiding rival gangs, police and their own egos.

Not all of The Warriors make it back to their turf. When the group finally think they’re home free they’re confronted by Luther, who has been tracking The Warriors since he shot Cyrus. This ultimately leads to the finale, the Warriors redemption and one of the most memorable and iconic lines in cinema history.

Book Versus Film 

Whilst both of these stories follow a similar narrative structure in terms of the gang needing to get from point A to point B without facing the wrath of any rival gangs, the stories differ in terms of the deeper contextual meanings and representation of issues on race, class and masculinity.

The book has a heavy focus on predominantly black and Hispanic characters. This includes issues revolving around how they’re seen as lesser beings compared to “the man” which is not just a reflection of the police, but also the white man. The majority of the characters are looked down upon and seen as criminals due to the colour of their skin. This is why many of them have had to join gangs in the first place, something Sol Yurick had seen time and time again when working with children in the welfare system.

Although the film also touches on what it means to be a man, albeit in a much gentler way than in the book (no literal pissing contests to see who can urinate the furthest thus proving themselves to be the manliest!). The film does however explore the idea of class.

The most notable difference in the film (which also dilutes the idea of class and race being connected), is the main character and many of the focal characters being portrayed by white actors and not black and Hispanic. Sol Yurick himself wasn’t happy with the amount of white actors cast in the film adaptation. Sol, who was barely kept in the loop about the production of the film was told that they could not have an all-black cast due to “commercial reasons”.

One of the more noticeable differences between the two versions is the representations of how the gangs are portrayed. The book has an almost realistic reflection of real life gangs and gang warfare in 1960’s New York. The gangs are often of the same race; they also take pride and ownership of their turf and will have some sort of colour or symbol that represents their group.

In contrast, the film takes a much more eccentric and over the top view in expressing the different gangs. Almost all of the gangs are defined by their unique outfit choice which range from a simple waistcoat with no shirt underneath it, to a gang who wear black and white face paint and don a full baseball uniform. The gangs in the movie adaptation are presented in a far more visual and almost camp fashion than they are in the book, which takes a far more simplistic approach. It takes away the realism Sol was trying to portray of New York gangs but as a Hollywood portrayal it is far more visually appealing.

Verdict

Both versions of The Warriors had a great impact on my own work as a writer, so much so that the portrayal of the extravagant gangs in the movie played a huge part in creating the world of my debut novel The Big Smoke.

The subject matter of the book explores profound issues that remain prevalent topics today. The idea of non-white people being seen as ‘less than’ in current society is something that hasn’t changed in the modern world and is very apparent in current day America, such as the Black Lives Matter movement being still necessary.

However, in terms of a compelling story with an engaging narrative and fleshed out characters, the book falls flat. Besides the central character of Hinton I didn’t really care about any of the other players. His progression from young boy to “man” is explored well throughout the book as he explores his own status and views of what it is to be the man he needs to be in the world he lives in. Many of the other characters are fairly one dimensional and similar in presentation.

The story itself, although exploring the depths of class and race, often relies on remarkably violent moments to drive the story, including savage murder and a couple of incidents of gang rape which add nothing to the story except to provide instances of shock value. (Perhaps one could argue Sol was trying to portray a realistic, if not extreme view, of gangs in New York during the mid to late 1960’s).

Where the film misses the mark on focal racial issues it creates a more elaborate and enticing storyworld. There’s a multitude of bizarre and well-rounded characters, all of whom serve a purpose and create a variety of emotional responses from the audience. The film also adds more substance to the story as a whole as it includes the extra layers of The Warriors being blamed for killing the leader of the most powerful gang in the city. This  immediately turns the story into a saga about The Warriors proving their innocence while they avoid being hunted by rival gangs. As soon as the idea of a manhunt is put in to place the stakes are instantaneously raised and the tension of the movie is heightened.

Overall I much prefer the film adaptation because it tells the more compelling, structured and enjoyable story. I’ve always preferred substance over style and the film version of The Warriors is able to capture both. If a story can grab my attention and keep me wanting more I consider that story a success and The Warriors does just that in terms of creating a dynamic world filled with diverse characters with beautiful visuals throughout while producing a simple yet engaging storyline.

So The Film Wins It!

What do you think? Let us know in the comments …

BIO: Nathan Srith is a husband and a father of three. He was born and raised in London. Coming from a mixed race – Sri Lankan/British background, Nathan grew up in a very diverse world. He was exposed to a variety of cultures and a wide array of cinema and TV, quite often viewing content he shouldn’t have been. However, he attributes his early introduction to media to his vivid imagination and creative storytelling. Nathan’s writing brings together his love of storytelling and the atrocious behaviour and treatment he has seen impact hard working people every day. Nathan Srith’s debut novel The Big Smoke is available on Amazon here.

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