Welcome to today’s show, Red Dawn (1984), my name is John. As always you can subscribe to the show on Apple Podcast formally known as iTunes or follow the links to social media in the podcast show notes. So please subscribe when you are finished listening. You can also go to classicmovierev.com to read notes, bios, and other random movie thoughts.
Today’s movie is Red Dawn (1984). This movie is a brat pack version of an at the time conceivable event, the invasion of the USA by the USSR. It is also a wonderful David and Goliath tale as average American high schoolers bring the best the Soviets and Cuban can muster to a standstill. Red Dawn (1984) was the first movie to be released with a PG-13 rating. The movie has a 6.4 rating on iMDB.com. I thought it would be higher. The audience score from Rotten Tomatoes is 65%. Red Dawn (1984) was directed by John Milius. Milius is a writer and director known for Dillenger (1973), The Wind and the Lion (1975), Big Wednesday (1978), Conan the Barbarian (1982), Red Dawn (1984), Farewell to the King (1989), and Flight of the Intruder (1991). Not too shabby. I did a bit of checking on the name Red Dawn. My first thought was that it came from the weather predicting poem – Red sky at night, sailors delight, red sky at morning, sailors take warning. There is a lot of support for this idea on the interwebs and a few others as well. Of course, during the Russian Revolution, the two sides were labeled reds and whites, with the reds eventually winning and communists forever being known as reds. Stay tuned to the end for dad joke. Red Dawn can also mean a bloody attack especially from an airborne unit, something that was a great fear during the Cold War. There are other definitions, but hey, this is a family show. Sorta! This movie has a warm place in my heart. I remember my nephew shouting “Wolverine” before running down the hall and attacking me. He survived and is in California now producing films. You can see his site at Buccaneer Pictures. Also, I spent 3-years freezing my ass off in German because of those Commie and Hell no, I won’t forget. Sadly, Red Dawn (2012) exists. I will confess that I have not seen it but this review from Drew Hunt at the “Chicago Reader” will do fine for me.
John Milius’s 1984 cult classic about American teens battling a Soviet invasion has been reinvented as a Tea Party wet dream that offers a scathing (if completely illogical) indictment of the federal government. When the western seaboard is invaded by the North Korean army, the president fails to act, so a pack of high schoolers in Washington State launch a rebel resistance to defend our liberty. As these young freedom fighters forge ahead, courageously exercising their Second Amendment rights, screenwriters Carl Ellsworth and Jeremy Passmore merge action movie heroics with ass-backwards politics, blunting the genre pleasures that made the original so delightfully kitsch. Dan Bradley directed; with Chris Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan. By Drew Hunt
We have a few returning actors and a bunch of new people, so I will jump right in.
Frank McRae played the history teacher, Mr. Teasdale. McRae was first covered in Episode 17 – Hard Times (1975). Ben Johnson played farmer and supporter Mr. Mason. He did have a thick accent but it wasn’t quite frontier gibberish. Johnson was first covered way back in Episode 2 – Chisum (1970). Lea Thompson was Erica, a psychologically damaged freedom fighter. Thompson was covered in Episode 88 – Back to the Future (1985).
Patrick Swayze played the rebel leader Jed. Swayze was born in 1952 in Texas. His mother was a choreographer and he spent his early years learning to dance. Swayze finished high school and attended college before going to New York to train in ballet. He got professional dancing roles from Disney and was on Broadway in “Grease.” He started working in television and movies such as The Outsiders (1983) with co-stars C. Thomas Howell and Darren Dalton. His first big roles were in Red Dawn (1984) and in the mini-series “North and South” 1985. He then became a bonafided hunk-a-rama with Dirty Dancing (1987) with fellow Red Dawn (1984) co-star Jennifer Gray, who was not, by the way, put in the corner. Swayze cubed his hunk-a-rama status playing in the clay with Demi Moore in Ghost (1990). Following these great movies, he makes some shall we say, questionable movie choices like City of Joy (1992), Tall Tale (1995), Black Dog (1998), and Waking Up in Reno (2002). However, during this time, he threw in the manliest movie ever – Road House (1989), along with Point Break (1991), and To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar (1995). Sadly, Swayze was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2008 and died in 2009.
C. Thomas Howell played the role of Robert, one of my favorite characters in Red Dawn (1984). Howell was born in 1966 in California. Howell’s father was a bull rider and a stuntman. Besides beginning his son in movie work at an early age, he also helped him become a youth rodeo champion. Howell began work in movies at the age of seven when he appeared in E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (1982). In 1983 and 1984 Howell was in three movies with Patrick Swayze, The Outsiders (1983), Grandview, U.S.A. (1984), and Red Dawn (1984). Other early films include Tank (1984) with James Garner, The Hitcher (1986), and Soul Man (1986) where he acted in blackface, sorta. He was very good in Side Out (1990), a beach volleyball movie. In total, Howell has over 200 film and television credits and shows no sign of letting up. Some of his more memorable work from the recent past includes Gettysburg (1993), Baby Face Nelson (1996), Fatal Affair (1998), Asylum Days (2001) and Hoboken Hollow (2006).
Charlie Sheen played Matt, the brother of Patrick Swayze’s character. Of course, this is way before he went batshit crazy. Sheen was born in 1965 in New York City. His father is the great actor Martin Sheen. His brother is actor Emilio Estevez. As a result of his father’s acting work, Sheen attended high school at Santa Monica High School. He was mainly interested in acting and baseball. He traveled with his father and was an extra in some movies as a child which include Badlands (1973) and Apocalypse Now (1979). Sheen’s first major role was Red Dawn (1984) and he was off on a major run. Other movies include a small part in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) with Red Dawn (1984) co-star Jennifer Gray, Lucas (1986) where he was later accused of sexually harassing one of those Cory’s, he was directed by Oliver Stone and was great in Platoon (1986), and Wall Street (1987). Sheen was in the baseball story Eight Men Out (1988), western Young Guns (1988), sports comedies Major League (1989) and Major League II (1994), and the semi-serious Navy Seals (1990). He was in Cadence (1990), kind of an Army art project with his father. Comedies include Hot Shots! (1991), Hot Shots! Part Deux (1993), Loaded Weapon 1 (1993), and The Three Musketeers (1993). Other not so good movies include Terminal Velocity (1994), Shadow Conspiracy (1997), and Being John Malkovich (1999). He appeared in Scary Movie 3 (2003), Scary Movie 4 (2006), and Scary Movie 5 (2013). This was followed by the likes of Due Date (2010), Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010), and Machete Kills (2013). Sheen has three very successful television series which are “Spin City” 2000-2002, “Two and a Half Men” 2003-2011, and “Anger Management” 2012-2014. Sheen’s life has been plagued by alcohol and drug abuse as well as prostitution, domestic abuse, and other reckless behavior. In 2015, he publicly admitted that he was HIV positive. He is still finding some work.
Jennifer Grey played Toni. Gray was born in 1960 in New York City. She is the daughter of actor Joel Gray. Grey studied at the Neighborhood Playhouse under renowned acting coach, Sanford Meisner. Gray began with small parts in The Cotton Club (1984) and American Flyers (1985), a better than expected Kevin Costner bicycling movie. Grey got better roles such as a resistance fighter in Red Dawn (1984) and the pain in the ass sister in the generational classic Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986). However, she became famous for playing Baby in Dirty Dancing (1987) and dancing with Patrick Swayze. For some reason, in the early 1990s, she had her nose done. This really hurt her career because she no longer looked like the actress from her earlier films. She did get back on track and made some lesser movies such as Wind (1992) and Bounce (2000). Gray is still working.
Harry Dean Stanton played Mr. Eckert, the father of Jed and Matt. This was a small but important role. Stanton was born in 1926 in Kentucky. Stranton graduated from high school and was drafted into the Navy during World War II and was in combat at the Battle of Okinawa. Following the war, he attended the University of Kentucky before heading to California to study at the Pasadena Playhouse. He kicked around a bit before returning to California for his first movie role in Tomahawk Trail (1957). He continued with bit parts through the early 1960s eventually getting larger roles such as Cool Hand Luke (1967), Kelly’s Heroes (1970), Dillinger (1973), The Godfather: Part II (1974), and Alien (1979). He began making cult films in the early 1980s such as Escape from New York (1981), Paris, Texas (1984), Repo Man (1984), Pretty in Pink (1986), and Wild at Heart (1990). As he aged, he continued to work in movies like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998), The Green Mile (1999) and The Man Who Cried (2000). Stanton died in 2017 of natural causes. The great film critic Roger Ebert created the “Stanton-Walsh Rule,” that states “no movie featuring either Harry Dean Stanton or M. Emmet Walsh in a supporting role can be altogether bad.” Not bad.
Ron O’Neal played Cuban Colonel Ernesto Bella. O’Neal was born in upstate New York in 1937. The son of a jazz musician/factory worker, O’Neal grew up in the Cleveland ghetto. He graduated from high school and spent one semester at Ohio State University. He dropped out to study acting at Karamu House, an interracial acting troupe. He stayed with the troupe from 1957-1966. He moved to New York where he taught and worked off-Broadway. His success on stage got him small roles in movies. An old friend contacted him and asked him to play a drug dealer in his new film. This movie was, of course, Superfly (1972) the story of a drug dealer trying to make one big score so he could leave the business. Although this role damaged his career, O’Neal returned in Super Fly T.N.T. (1972). He was now typecast as a drug dealer/pimp with no regard for his classical training. O’Neal returned to Broadway and worked in Shakespeare festivals. He did have a few roles of note including The Master Gunfighter (1975) – a Kung Fu western written and directed by Billy Jack creator Tom Laughlin, Brothers (1977), When a Stranger Calls (1979), the time-traveling war film The Final Countdown (1980), Red Dawn (1984), and Original Gangstas (1996). He also has directing and writing credits. O’Neal died at the early age of 66 from pancreatic cancer in 2004.
Powers Boothe played American fighter pilot Lt. Col. Andrew ‘Andy’ Tanner. Boothe was born in 1948 in Texas. The son of a sharecropper, Boothe was the first in his family to attend college. He received an MS degree in fine arts from Southern Methodist University. He began working at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. In 1974, he traveled to New York but it took another five years before he made it to Broadway. His first big role was a tv-movie, “Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones” 1980 where he played Rev. Jim Jones and man he was creepy. Boothe was awesome in the Cajun swamp drama Southern Comfort (1981). Other movies include Red Dawn (1984), The Emerald Forest (1985) where an engineer spends 10 years in the Amazon jungle looking for his kidnapped son, border film Extreme Prejudice (1987) or just regular Brownsville, Texas stuff, another pilot in the absolutely great tv-movie “By Dawn’s Early Light” 1990, he was spectacular in the over the top western Tombstone (1993) as Curly Bill Brocius, he was in the Oliver Stones directed Nixon (1995), Men of Honor (2000), Sin City (2005), and MacGruber (2010). Boothe died of complications for pancreatic cancer in 2017 at the age of 68.
William Smith played Russian insurgent hunter Strelnikov. The only things I will say about him is that he was in The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942) as a village child, was the bad guy in The Frisco Kid (1979), was Conan’s father in Conan the Barbarian (1982), and played bad guy Falconetti in the “Rich Man, Poor Man” 1976 mini-series. For 40 years, I thought he played the character, Falcon Eddie. It’s a southern thing!
Vladek Sheybal played Bratchenko and I just wanted to say Bratchenko. This actor actually fought Nazis as part of the Polish Underground. On to the story.
The movie begins with a set of dire warnings; Soviet wheat crops are poor, Mexico is in a revolution, Cuba and El Salvador reach troop strength of ½ a million men, etc. The 1980s were a weird time. The credits roll, as clouds are shown, possibly representing the threat that is flying into the USA. The movie shows an idealist autumn day in an American town with wooden houses and paperboys that are actually boys. The statue in the town square reads – Far better it is to dare mighty things, than to take rank with those poor, timid spirits who know neither victory nor defeat – Theodore Roosevelt. They edited it a bit. At the local high school, older brother Jed (Patrick Swayze) is dropping off his younger brother Matt (Charlie Sheen) and their friend Aardvark (Doug Toby). The biggest problem in their lives is having lost the Friday night football game. Mr. Teasdale (Frank McRae) “they treated me like a dog” was giving a history lecture that I would have been glad to listen to in high school. The kids at the school are bored stiff. Mr. Teasdale is talking about the great hunt of Mongol emperor Genghis Khan. There is a picture of Genghis Khan and apparently, it is drawn in the likeness of film director John Milius. In the first of many tributes to 2nd World War in the World War 3 movie, is that the flag in the classroom only has 48-stars, just as it did during World War II. Anyway, paratroopers start landing in the field outside of the school. They have red smoke going and the scene is really cool. Mr. Teasdale goes outside to talk but the paratroopers are clearly speaking Russian. The commie bastards gun Mr. Teasdale and then open up on the school. Two issues here. Why are they attacking the school and shooting rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) at school buses and down the school hallway? Also, why are they such bad shots? How can miss the stars of the movie and hit a bus? Jed comes tearing through the parking lot in by god American made 4×4 pick-um-up truck. In the chaos, Jed gets away with Matt, Aardvark, Robert (C. Thomas Howell), Daryl (Darren Dalton), and young Danny (Brad Savage). They head away from the school and into downtown. Already, there is concertina wire blocking roads and near the Theodore Roosevelt statue is a broken truck with the bumper sticker “You can have my gun when you pry it from my cold dead hand.” Then a commie is shown prying the gun from the cold dead hand of the dead American. Jed makes it out of town, thanks mostly to the bad shooting of the commie, and goes to a gas station/general store owned by Robert’s dad (Roy Jenson). He is a get her done guy and he instructs the 6 boys to take guns, ammo, food, sleeping bags, clothing, bows and arrows, and other survival gear such as toilet paper. He tells them to head into the hills and not come back until they are told to do so. The boys make it away from the town but the road ahead is blocked by a Russian armored vehicle. They head cross-country under fire until a Huey gunship starts firing rockets at the Russians. Rangers lead the way but Air Cav saves the day. After a little trouble, the boys head on towards the mountains. That night in the town, the US helicopters are raising hell with the invaders who have now become more Cuban. Through a cloud of smoke walks Cuban Colonel Ernesto Bella (Ron O’Neal). His cool under fire and take-charge attitude is exactly the same as Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore (Robert Duvall) on the beach in Apocalypse Now (1979). He calmly tells his subordinate how to stop the American tanks that are approaching and demands they get some anti-aircraft guns brought up.
The next day in the mountains, Danny and Daryl want to go home. Jed suppresses their desire and takes sole control of the group with the support of Matt and Robert. After leadership is established, Jed and Matt explain that they are experienced hunters and they can live off the mountains. Matt and Jed teach Robert to hunt and he takes to the killing pretty well. Jed talks about the early trappers and how they avoided the Black-Feet Indians. After some time, Jed, Matt, and Robert head into town. When they go by the theater, Alexander Nevsky (1938), a Russian propaganda film about a Russian leader defeating German invaders is showing. Damn, the Commies are burning books. I thought only evangelicals did that, not a godless commie. The three boys talk to Alicia (Elan Oberon who happens to be married to the director) and she tells them that the KGB is looking for them and many political prisoners have been taken to the drive-in for political re-education. That night they go to the drive-in where propaganda films are played to the prisoner that shamble around behind barbed wire. They find their dad Mr. Eckert (Harry Dean Stanton). He tells the boys that the hard lessons he taught them are paying off. He lets them know that their mother is dead. No one knows what has become of Robert’s dad. Mr. Eckert also screams avenge me as they leave. The trio head to the house of Mr. Mason (Ben Johnson). No frontier gibberish. Mr. Mason gives them a radio and he tells them that they are suspected of several murders. Robert is told that Russians killed his father. Mr. Mason turns his teenage granddaughters Toni (Jennifer Grey) and Erica (Lea Thompson) over to Jed for protection and gives the group horses to ride. Back in the mountains, the group of eight listen to Radio Free America and hear the covert messages – the chair is against the wall and John has a long mustache. During World War II, John has a long mustache was transmitted in French to let the Maquis resistance fighter know that D-Day would be occurring within hours and they should conduct their assigned sabotage or ambushes. These message were played out in the World War II film The Longest Day (1962) showing the Maquis getting the message and immediately leaving to their work. Of course, in this movie, it serves as a call to action for the mountain group. The group tries to avoid conflict but when they are discovered by three Russian soldiers out sightseeing, they are forced to kill them, changing everything. Toni and Danny kill one because they have to, Robert kills for revenge, and Jed kills for the group. Bello goes to see Daryl’s dad who is the mayor and a collaborator. Bello says that Daryl is a part of an elite military organization – the Eagle Scouts. The mayor turns in some families’ names for reprisals. Matt scouts from the edge of the woods and sees Ardvark’s and his father executed as part of a group of citizens. The mountain group goes on offensive operations. The first attack is Toni blowing up a tank with a picnic basket. When the survivors give chase Jed and the other pop out of spider holes and kill them. When more citizens are selected for reprisals, the group attacks the Russians and saves them. They then announce their name, “Wolverines” after their high school mascot. They then go into the commie killing business and cousin business is good. They start tagging Wolverine. Bella laments that they are doing to him what he used to do as Cuban freedom fighter. The Russian commander Bratchenko (Vladek Sheybal) comes for a briefing. Bella says he wants to win their hearts and minds like the Americans said in Vietnam. Bratchenko reminds him that the Americans lost in Vietnam. But the heart and mind are two best places to shoot your enemy.
Toni comes out of the Soviet-American Friendship Center in town. Shortly a bomb she has left in the building explodes. In what is reminiscent of American wars from Vietnam on, a tank pulls in front of the building long after the attacker is gone. As the month’s pass, Erica finds a downed Air Force Lt. Colonel Andy Tanner (Powers Boothe). To determine if he is an American, she asks him the capital of Texas to which he answers Austin. Erica says wrong Commie, it’s Houston. This is a little inside joke as Boothe and Swayze are both from Texas. Tanner explains that enemy took the Rocky Mountain passes and Cuban’s infiltrated from Mexico. The lines have held at the Rockies and the Mississippi River. The only ally the US has is England. The Chinese have also attacked the Russian homeland. The Wolverines take Tanner on an attack of an armored Russian column. Erica starts getting crushed on Tanner. Tanner tells Robert that all of his hate is going to burn him up inside. The Wolverines have started carving the names of their dead on a rock outcropping. Tanner helps the Wolverine break out the political prisoners at the drive-in. The attack goes well but a large number of the prisoners are killed as well. More are executed later. Later, at the Mason’s, Jed is told that Green Berets may be coming to help in the spring. The Wolverines go to see the real battle lines. Tanner is planning to cross and he wants Jed to come with him. About that time a couple of Russian tanks arrives near where they are hiding. The American start shooting at the Commies. Tanner and Aardvark attack one tank. They are both killed and Matt destroys the other tank. Before he dies, Tanner sets off red smoke so the American can target. Erica is freaking out. The mood of the group changes now that they have lost close members. The Russian’s bring in a Spetsnaz commando Strelnikov (William Smith). He stops the reprisals and before long his group heads into the mountains with a radio homing device. The commandos are driven back by the Wolverines, but they capture one and the device. The entire group is shocked when they find that the device is pointing to Daryl. He confesses that he previously snuck into town and was turned in by his father, the mayor. They made him swallow the tracking device. Jed feels that he must execute Daryl but doesn’t have the heart. No one else wants to shot him. Robert jumps in and does the job before anyone can react. The group is shattered. They are still together but their fight is almost done. One day, a box of fruit falls off the back of a Russian truck. After a bit, they take the supplies. It is not long before they are set up by Russian Hind attack helicopters. Toni gets shot right away. They manage to get everyone on the horses and head out. Eventually, Toni falls to the ground. Robert wounds one of the helos with an RPG, but when it comes back, he stands and waits to die. Jed cannot kill Toni to keep her from being captured. Toni gets a grenade from Jed and places it with the pin pulled under her body. When a Russian soldier moves her body, the grenade explodes. Jed adds the new names to the rock. Matt tells Erica and Danny that they are to get away while he and Matt go into town to give them a diversion so they can escape. Bella writes a sexy love letter home and intends to resign from the military. Jed and Matt attack and cause a lot of trouble. Bratchenko is killed by Matt. Strelnikov sees Matt and Jed get on a flatcar. On the car is one German and one American anti-tank gun from World War II. Strelnikov shot Matt, and Jed kills Strelnikov but not before he is shot. The wounded Jed carries his dead brother Matt and comes under the sights of Bella. With a wave, Bella lets them pass, saying “Vaya con Dios.” This is the same thing that Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) said to Bodhi (Patrick Swayze) at the end of Point Break (1991). Jed makes it to the playground before he dies.
Erica and Danny make it out alive and head to FA, Free America. The voice of Erica tells that the war ended. All that remains is Partisan Rock, now a forgotten monument.
And I watch my old comrades, how proudly they march Reliving old dreams of past glory And the old men march slowly, all bent, stiff and sore The forgotten heroes from a forgotten war The Band Played Waltzing Matilda – The Pogues
The director’s attempt at making an anti-war film failed with Red Dawn (1984) being considered a pro-war film. World-Famous Short Summary – Spirit is good but bringing a bigger gun is better I hope you enjoyed today’s show. I really appreciate you spending the time listening. You can find connections to social media and email on my site at classicmovierev.com. There are links in the podcast show notes as well. Remember this show is completely free and independent. All I ask is that you jump over to Apple Podcast and give me a review. It really helps the show get found. Beware the moors Thank you for staying until the bitter end for the dad joke. You are a true dreamer and conquer of worlds. Dad joke – Why are firetrucks red? Fire trucks have 12 wheels. Twelve inches make a foot. One foot is a ruler. Queen Elizabeth is a ruler. It is also the name of a ship. Ships sail on the sea. In the sea are fish. Fish have fins. The fins fought the Russians. The Russians are reds. Firetrucks are always rushing, so firetrucks are red