Ben Johnson

Patrick Swayze's Forgotten Role

Posted on September 15 2009 8:16 am
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1984s politically incorrect Red Dawn
1984’s politically incorrect Red Dawn

The nation is mourning Patrick Swayze, who passed away yesterday at age 57 after a long fight with pancreatic cancer. Everyone remembers his performances in Dirty Dancing and Ghost, but few if any obituaries will commemorate his role in one of the most politically incorrect films of the last 25 years: Red Dawn.

Leftists have always despised, and still revile, the film. For a quarter-century, the far-Left has claimed Ronald Reagan brainwashed the nation’s youth with this movie. Less than a year ago, David Plotz was so troubled by it that he assailed it in a full article in Slate. “Red Dawn embodies conservative nutterdom in a way few films not made by Mel Gibson have ever managed,” he wrote. “If Ann Coulter made a movie, it would look like Red Dawn. ” (Jonah Goldberg responded on “The Corner.”)

It is fun to remember the libertine Left fretting about its violence. The Guinness Book of World Records, through some reckoning system invented by Enron, named it the most violent film in history. (It was the first film rated “PG-13.”) Its real crimes were two-fold: it showed the Soviets as aggressors promoting an insidious agenda, and it depicted the potentially Orwellian implications of gun control.

When Powers Booth gives the geopolitical back-story to WWIII, what was then jarring today sounds too familiar. Socialism and the anti-nuclear movement render Europe powerless, while a then- (and now-) ascendant Central American Communism brings thousands of soldiers to our southern border. (Read a thorough synopsis here.) Red Dawn defied the conventional wisdom, expressed by Walter Mondale’s campaign, that the Soviet leaders “are just people, too”; re-education camps, attempted rape, and mass execution of civilians are part of occupied American life.

This situation developed courtesy of U.S. government form 4473, the record listing all gun owners. The Communists’ first move is to implement a ruthless gun control, leaving the population helpless.

Except for the Wolverines! The rest, as they say, is Hollywood film history. (And apparently, prologue; a remake is currently being shot in Michigan, reportedly starring Tom Cruise’s adopted son, Connor. China will take the lead in the invasion.) The scenario — guerrilla warriors, fighting in the style of the Minutemen, successfully repel the invader — inspired Reagan administration officials to assess the viability of the scenario.

Patrick Swayze convincingly played the leader, a politicized version of his role in The Outsiders (which included some of the same stars). The film may give some idea of what a great actor he was; according to Red Dawn co-star Lea Thompson, Swayze and future Dirty Dancing love interest Jennifer Gray first met in this film and intensely disliked one another.

They worked romantic magic in 1987, in a film that I believe is mandated by law to be on one of Ted Turner’s networks at all times. (Ditto The Breakfast Club.) But they gave America renewed hope during the twilight of the Cold War.

For another forgotten treat, see an earlier Swayze film, the 1983 film Uncommon Valor, about an independent group of soldiers led by Gene Hackman and Randall “Tex” Cobb, who rescue POWs and MIAs who have languished in Laotian prisons since the Vietnam War. Before Rambo and Missing in Action, this film raised the issue of the thousands of Americans never accounted for. (We didn’t just abandon Vietnamese when we withdrew.)

We are grateful he let us share his artistry and masculine grace. (He excelled at ballet.) The country is better off that he displayed it in Red Dawn instead of Reds or Redacted.

May he rest in peace.

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