On the Screen

"Warriors! Come Out to Play-ay-ay!"

A midnight movie’s villain lets out his clarion call

By Steve Wiecking April 10, 2009

Ah, such sweet, sniveling music! (courtesy Paramount Pictures)

You can have your intellectual, elegant monsters. Sniveling villains are the best.

I’m talking about the movie bad guys who cause chaos even though they have no real power to speak of—their powerlessness, in fact, is usually the reason they’re out to wreak havoc. The second they get caught at whatever heinous crime they’ve committed, they start to whine about it.

The great snivelers trace their roots back at least as far as Peter Lorre’s masterful work as the pathetic murderer in Fritz Lang’s 1931 M. But you feel bad for Lorre and his uncontrollable child killing. Modern snivelers elicit no sympathy. They’re just around to make your skin crawl.

I have two personal favorites: Andy Robinson as the skeevy nutjob in Dirty Harry, who hijacks a school bus at the film’s finale and tells the tots that he’s going to kill their mothers if they don’t sing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” without crying. He sniffs at Clint Eastwood because he thinks Clint won’t gun him down without due process of law. Riiiiight.

And then there’s David Patrick Kelly, whose performance as Luther in The Warriors, the Egyptian’s midnight movie this weekend, ranks him among the all-time great psychos. Master sniveler, this guy.

The Warriors freaked a lot of people out at the time of its 1979 release because it imagined a New York City ruled by gangs. Somehow the film might encourage gangs to consolidate their power, these people claimed. None of the reactionaries busy criticizing the film mentioned that its gangs consisted of, among other terrifying groups, face-painted baseball players and seductive lesbians. Formidable populations both, but hardly cause for nation-wide alarm.

Anyway, Kelly’s Luther shoots the would-be king of gangs at a gang summit in the park then blames the Warriors, who, in a riff on The Odyssey, spend the movie trying to get back home without being offed by everybody else (and those lesbians are wily, I’m telling you). In the film’s most famous scene, Kelly enacts the cinematic equivalent of nails on a chalkboard: Taunting the Warriors at a deserted Coney Island, he puts coke bottles on his fingers and clangs them together while screeching “War-riors! Come out to play-ay-ay!” over and over and over again. But he’s a cowering mess once the jig’s up.

Great, sniveling stuff. Anybody have any other favorites?

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