Patrick Swayze, C. Thomas Howell and Charlie Sheen in Red Dawn
When I first saw Red Dawn, I thought it was the most exciting action film ever made. Being close to the age of the main characters, I got caught up in it all. This cold war fantasy film was a real hit when it came out and I found myself thoroughly taken in. Watching it now, I find it to be a melodramatic cold war artifact!
Red Dawn focuses on a small group of high schoolers after World War III starts. One day at school, paratroopers drop from the sky and begin shooting teachers and students at random. Why a small mid western town is an important objective is never fully explained. A group of teenagers collect equipment from a sporting goods store and race up to the mountainous forest to hide.
The filmmakers took the story incredibly serious. Early on, three of the boys, including brothers Jed and Matt, sneak back into town to see what has happened. They find their dad behind a fence in what is called a re-education camp in which propaganda such as, "America is a whorehouse... where the revolutionary ideals of your forefathers... are corrupted and sold in alleys by vendors of capitalism... " can be heard over loud speaker. The boys cry like babies over their situation and when they walk away their dad yells to them with all earnestness, "Avenge me, AVENGE ME!"
The boys are joined by a couple of girls who some Russians tried to have their way with. One day, some Russian soldiers are out sightseeing in the mountains when they encounter the American youths. A gun fight ensues with the Russians being killed. The Russian General does not take kindly to this and slaughters a dozen townsfolk, including the boys father. Matt just happens to witness it. Back at their mountain camp they all again cry like little girls until big brother Jed yells, "Don't cry! let it turn to something else."
The group become guerilla fighters attacking the Russians whenever they can. The lesson being that the Russians should have not attack the Midwest. Those states have guns. They should have attacked the coasts. Those liberal states would have been easy. The only civilians who have guns there are the criminals.
When I first saw this film I did not see all the politics, but they are clear to me now. When the Russian army arrives in town, the general orders that the gun shops be raided and their files gone through to find out who all has bought a gun. I guess it is better to own an unlicensed gun. At one point the group is joined by a downed American fighter pilot who explains what has happened. This includes the news that soldiers first came across the border as illegal aliens from Mexico. Damn illegals!
Made in 1984, with Ronald Reagan in the White House, Red Dawn has a clearly conservative God bless American slant. When the Russians line up the Americans to shoot in retaliation, they all sing the U.S. national anthem until silenced by a bullet. I am as patriotic as they come but this film is way over-the-top. John Milius is a noted conservative and NRA member, and it shows. With a remake about to come out, and a socialist in the White House, I wonder how it will be changed.
The cast is packed with famous familiar faces of the 1980s. All of them overact as badly as they can. Patrick Swayze is the star and seems to be in over his head during the dramatic scenes. This was Charlie Sheen's film debut and it shows. Both actors would work again with co-star Jennifer Grey in better films, Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986) and Dirty Dancing (1987). Lea Thompson was a year shy of Back to the Future fame.
Red Dawn feels like it is from another time and place. The guerrilla fighting seem like that of the resistance fighters in Europe during World War II. In fact, at one point, they are listening to a radio in which the announcer is sending codes, which includes the line, "John has a long mustache." That line was used in The Longest Day (1962), for the same purpose. If only this movie was half as good as that classic war film.
Photos © Copyright United Artists (1984)