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Screen » Film

The Dawn of Swayze's Career

Red Dawn is a rambunctiously fun time capsule



It shouldn't be a complete surprise that the director and screenwriter of 1985's Red Dawn first climbed into fame for Dirty Harry, in which he put the words, "Go ahead, make my day" into Clint Eastwood's mouth. John Milius is not a household name, but he has left his manly marks all over American pop culture. He wrote the screenplay for Apocalypse Now (1979; directed by Francis Ford Coppola, who went on to direct Swayze in The Outsiders) and Conan the Barbarian (1982; the movie he wrote before Red Dawn, and starring Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger). Milius also has invented a number of memorable big-mouthed bombastic characters, like the cowboy drag racer in American Graffiti (1973; directed by his buddy George Lucas) and Walter in The Big Lebowski (1998; who looks remarkably like the huggable bear-like John Goodman).

With that sort of pedigree, of course Milius was the perfect puppet master to bring Swayze out of the shadows and into full view as a powerful lead actor. Red Dawn marked Swayze's first true breakout role. Two years earlier, he had played in the background to C. Thomas Howell as a memorable, strong father figure in The Outsiders, but that movie featured him for only four scenes, for less total screen time than an Olympic mile.

Red Dawn is a time capsule, bringing together two of the most important cinematic themes of the '80s—the alienated sense of teenagers (um, see The Outsiders, Pump Up The Volume and every John Hughes film) and Americans' Cold War paranoia about Russians (see, Rocky IV, Hunt For Red October, which started as a small publication out of Berkeley and quickly became a best-selling book and basis for a Sean Connery and Alec Baldwin blockbuster, but ignore Sting's cloying single, "Even The Russians Love Their Children").

Red Dawn is a raucous and ridiculously fun story about a band of teenagers who, in the aftermath of World War III, bring back American's resilience and honor. Swayze was the ideal beefcake vehicle for this message; a perfect balance of dude (as exhibited in his subsequent role in Point Break) and doe-eyed and kind-hearted love interest (as shown in Dirty Dancing and Ghost).

(The movie also introduces Charlie Sheen as a forceful actor; from here, Sheen quickly leapfrogged over his brother Emilio Estavez's career with strong-jaw lead roles in Platoon and Wall Street in the two years after Red Dawn.)

With Red Dawn, the Source wraps up its Swayze Summer.

8 pm. Wed., Aug 21

Old Stone Church, 157 NW Franklin Ave.


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