Big thanks to The Action Elite for including me in their feature “The Best Action Heroes of All Time”. They asked many different people about their favourite genre protagonists and, of course, I have so many. I could easily list John McClane, The Terminator, Dutch from Predator and countless others. However, wanting to be a bit more niche and unusual than that, I opted for main man Swan from my all-time favourite film, The Warriors. You can see the original piece and full list here on The Action Elite’s site, or read my contribution below…
The Warriors is my favourite film of all time so it’s hardly surprising that I’d pick this title for any film topic! However, while it may not be an original choice, it grants me the opportunity to discuss a lesser known (and largely underrated) hero of the action genre, the film’s key protagonist, Swan.
In the text which follows, there are spoilers from The Warriors. I very much hope you’ve seen it already but, if you haven’t got around to it for some strange reason, pick it up on DVD and then revisit this piece!
Swan is a reluctant hero. Never shown with any ego or arrogance, he backs up “War Chief” Cleon and helps maintain order when the group venture into The Bronx for a huge truce summit headed by Cyrus, leader of the Gramercy Riffs. When the shit hits the fan and Cyrus is assassinated, The Warriors are framed for murder and find themselves in the crosshairs of the cops and every gang in the city. They must fight their way home to Coney Island.
There can be no doubt that Swan isn’t enthusiastic about the job, nor the circumstances of the promotion, but knows he must lead his brothers home. Despite the grumblings of Ajax who is arrogant, hot headed and wants the position for himself, the guys back Swan, knowing he was Cleon’s first choice and the best candidate. From the outset, Swan says with confidence: “We’re going back”, and so the journey begins.
Along their chaotic travels, The Warriors fight, flee, stick together, get separated and not everyone makes it home. Nonetheless, Swan is a genuine leader making smart, rational decisions and ultimately gets the majority of the group home safe. He also proves himself very handy during fights with rival gangs. Watch him take on the Baseball Furies in the park and the Punks in the subway – he lays a real beat down on those goons! Finally, he wounds the nasty, vicious Luther from The Rogues by throwing a switchblade into his arm, evading a gunshot (like a boss) and proving his gang’s innocence, allowing The Riffs to take vengeance against Cyrus’ real killers, The Rogues. The Warriors couldn’t have made it without Swan.
Michael Beck played the character with a sense of focus and calm which erupted into explosive action when needed. Swan is quiet and reserved for much of the film, avoiding confrontation where possible (such as The Orphans encounter) but demolishing rival gangs when backed into a corner. He is not violent by choice, and often diplomatic and respectful, but will do whatever it takes to save his friends and prove their innocence. All the trademarks of a real action hero! Swan remains yet another character gem in director Walter Hill’s roster of classic action cinema.
And here’s the original trailer… great memories!