Cast and Crew: Patrick Swayze, C. Thomas Howell, Lea Thompson, Charlie Sheen, Jennifer Grey, Ben Johnson, Ron O’Neal, Harry Dean Stanton, Powers Boothe, Roy Jenson, Lane Smith
What It’s About: When Soviet paratroopers drop in Colorado to cut off the supply routes from the west coast to the east coast, a group of local high school students take to the hills and become feared guerrillas, adopting their high school’s football mascot, the Wolverines, as their own identity. Can even very determined football players last long against the crack Spetsnaz commanded by Strelnikov (William Smith)?
Why Watch it Today?: Ronald Reagan infamously improved a fake opening to his weekly radio address today in 1984 that was leaked to the public. in which he said “My fellow Americans, I’m pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.”*
In the superheated paranoia of the late Cold War, America was given two competing images about how a military conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union would turn out. On the left, films like The Day After focused on the horror of the aftermath of a nuclear war; on the right, famously wing-nutty director John Milius (on whom the Coen Brothers based John Goodman’s character in The Big Lebowski) gave us football heroes fighting a guerrilla war for vital mountain passes against Russian paratroopers and Cubans and Sandinistas that infiltrated (with their full equipment and uniforms, apparently) the U.S. Sure, some nuclear conflict is mentioned (in China, not the United States or the Soviet Union) but Milius focuses on a largely conventional war that American know-how (and our vital Brat Pack resources) can defeat. Naturally, since this is Milius, there will be much martyrdom in victory. While the scenario, and execution, seems gloriously over-the-top and quite silly today, back in 1985 this was nightmare stuff for those of us in single digits, who really expected to see Russian paratroops land outside our school and shoot our principal (my elementary school principal bore a strong resemblance to Frank McRae, who does the principal dying honors here). Red Dawn is so-bad-its-good entertainment at its finest, with some well mounted action married to a jaw-dropping script and a cast stuffed with 80s teen sensations and character actors.
Let’s not forget the remarkably convincing ZSU-23-4 mockup.
Truly, it is the most important part of any discussion of Red Dawn. How could I be so foolish?
I forgive you, Tim.
By a staggering coincidence, the Neo-Futurist theater company in Chicago is staging a reading of the Red Dawn screenplay this very night, as part of their summer “film fest” of dramatic stagings of B movies. We’ve already had such classics as Night of the Lepus and The Apple this season, and the fest wraps up next week with Purple Rain.
There are times I wish I lived in your fair city. This is one of them.
Also, I encourage you to work Ronnie Ray-Gun’s famous flub into your work somehow.