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I only watched "Red Dawn" because Ben Johnson had a small role in it. I can't believe this Graham guy took it seriously....

Chris G.

My wife and I went to "To Wong Foo..." on our first date, so that's the role I always associate with Swayze above all others. And that date came about because we were talking on the phone while watching the game where Cal Ripken broke Lou Gehrig's consecutive games played record and an ad for the movie came on. So someday I'm going to tell my daughter that she owes her existence in large part to Cal Ripken and Patrick Swayze.


Milius also wrote "Conan The Barbarian" (screenplay), which contains my favorite all time Sybil Danning line, enunciated in that sort of shrewish whiny voice she practically created, "What? Do you want to live forevah?"

The world's first Norwegian Jewish mother, ladies and gentlemen!

The Siren

I really enjoyed this post, and get what you are driving at, definitely. But I have to disagree, at least in part. Some time back, when there was a small blogosphere kerfuffle over Red Dawn, I did a post about it, right here, where I went through Milius's WW II-movie borrowings in detail:

Sorry to pimp my own post there, but I firmly believe that Red Dawn remains a conservative touchstone for a certain age group because it was the perfect me-too World War II fantasy, a movie that lets some guys get in on all the action they missed on account of not being born at the right time and being stuck with dirty hippies and the post-Vietnam era instead.

It was in some ways the movie that put Swayze on the map; he's the lead and has most of the big emotional scenes and he's better than the rest of the young actors, although that isn't saying too much. But I think you're right that it was North and South that made him a star. And your analysis of THAT work is dead on. Oy. I'd rather watch Raintree County any day.

The most touching comment I received on the Red Dawn post was from Exiled in NJ, who recalled how his daughter, age 12 and apolitical as most girls that age are, loved the movie, and loved it for Swayze and the other beautiful young actors in it. There were undoubtedly a lot of kids in the movie theatres in 1984 for the same reason; hell, it's why I was there although I pretty much hated Red Dawn on sight. Milius's genius, if you want to call it that, was in fusing the trend for teen movies in the 1980s with the widespread yearning for enemy butt to kick, and kick hard.

Because Swayze appears to have been such a genuinely kind and decent man, I don't want to leave without pointing out his excellent work in Point Break where he stole the movie out from under Keanu Reeves. And I loved Nancy's piece; I think she's right, there was always something very retro about Swayze, which is why the film that will probably live the longest in memory had him playing an old-fashioned hoofer.

The Siren

Want to add too that this is dead on:

The most adolescent of all the adolescent ideas you could hold about Red Dawn is that there is anything “shocking” about its plot or themes. That the bad guys are Commies doesn’t matter. The story of the kids stepping up to finish the job the grown-ups failed to do is as old as humankind. Once upon a time the bad guys were Neanderthals, later they were the barbarians at the gate, later still they were Norsemen. Then they were the Sheriff’s men, then pirates, then Indians (or the White Men, depending), then Nazis, then Martians. There was even a period when they were Commies.


Siren, pimping one's own blog is an approved and highly encouraged practice around here, plus I meant to include the link to your post, I just goofed. It's in there now.

I remember Exiled's comment, and I have to note that his daughter was the age I said was just right for taking Red Dawn seriously, 12.

If Graham had written about late thirtysomething Reaganites I probably wouldn't have been inspired to write this post. When I saw Red Dawn I was a certifiable grown-up but I knew even as I was laughing at it that if I'd seen such a movie when I was 10, 11, or 12 it would have been one of my favorite movies for life.

Ken Houghton

Being older, I always thought of Red Dawn (1984) as a low-rent remake of Taps (1981) or a variation on Firefox (1982) without the wattage.

In short, I thought you had to be Really Stupid to think Red Dawn was unique in any way as a Hollywood product, let alone something to obsess about unless you were too young to have seen the previous two films, which pretty much means you have to be just about exactly born in 1973.

Ben Domenech was two when Red Dawn was released.


I never understood why Patrick Swayze kept getting stuck in those stupid all-male movies. There's a long line of them stretching from "Red Dawn" to "Road House" to "Black Dog." His real genius was as a convincing heterosexual man who loves women, and oddly enough that's a rarer skill in most modern male movie stars than is commonly acknowledged. So yes to "North and South" and "Dirty Dancing" and "Ghost," where he made his female co-stars completely shine.

As for why he wasn't a bigger movie star, I read in one of the obits that he spent a number of years in rehab at the end of the 1990s. That may or may not have had something to do with his weird career. On the basis of his peformance in "Donnie Darko," though, I think he would have made the transition into older character actor without a hitch. The camera loved him.


SFMike, good point about making his female co-stars shine. Not to put Swayze in their league, but this is something Grant, Gable, and Errol Flynn did better than anyone in their days, and almost nobody but Swayze has done well since. It has to do with being able to focus all your attention on your co-star. Redford could do it to some extent. But Newman almost never did. Too self-contained. Costner can manage it when he tries (Bull Durham, Tin Cup, but I think Sarandon and Russo forced him to pay attention.) Imagine the possible pairings that never happened. Swayze and Michelle Pfieffer, Swayze and Jessica Lange, Swayze and Debra Winger. Swayze and Kathleen Turner!


Dude. Srsly.

2800 words. Each more artful than the last. There are Denny Lehane novels that are not as thoughtful or emotionally complex.

What a brilliant tribute to...

Patrick Swayze????

We can debate whether or not Patrick's artistic high water mark was Roadhouse or his cameo in Donnie Darko, sure, but...

Patrick Swayze????

D-List Patrick Swayze????

Dude. Wow. I'm can hardly wait for your ode to Dustin Diamond.


Dutch, lol! You counted? Oh well. It was either 2800 words on Swayze or 3500 on Henry Gibson.

I still might do the Gibson post.

Sherry Chandler

I like The Goonies. But probably not as well as I loved To Wong Foo

Great post. You make me wish I'd paid more attention to Swayze.

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