Summer of Swayze: Red Dawn

The 1984 film Red Dawn paired Patrick Swayze opposite his co-star from The Outsiders, C. Thomas Howell, and future Dirty Dancing co-star, Jennifer Grey. Joined by Lea Thompson and Charlie Sheen, the cast plays a group of teens in a Cold War era adventure-film envisioning a Soviet land invasion of the midwest.

Prepping for this post was my very first time watching Red Dawn. Before that my only exposure came from the wonderful VH1 Anthology Series I Love The 80’s 3-D. (They’re all good but I might actually be partial to I Love the 80’s Strikes Back).

Looking back at Red Dawn - Den of Geek

Unfortunately, I Love The 80’s 3-D made this movie look a lot more fun that it really is. Suffice it to say, I regret having to watch this one and not Skatetown, U.S.A. However, Red Dawn is pretty important in the development of Patrick Swayze’s career and, even though I think it’s fair to say I absolutely hated it, I still feel like it wouldn’t be right to skip this.

Just like in The Outsiders, Patrick is still carrying that Big Dad Energy in Red Dawn. He’s playing the slightly older brother of a high-school senior-aged Charlie Sheen, even though in real life Patrick Swayze was born a whole thirteen years before Charlie Sheen. When Soviet and Cuban forces invade their small Colorado town (instead of say, a more pivotal strong-hold for reasons that make absolutely no sense when scrutinized) by parachuting into their schoolyard (please, don’t pay attention to any logic here), the two brothers and a bunch of teens (including C. Thomas Howell and a few other boys I didn’t recognize) head for the hills (or rather, mountains) to wait out the attack.

When their parents are either killed or placed in re-education camps, the teens and Swayze quickly transition from “wait it out” mode into “paramilitary” mode, employing their high school mascot (Wolverines!) as their rallying cry. So here’s where I’ll pause and say that, aside from the clunky plot, the biggest problem with this movie is that it feels like watching two straight hours of propaganda. The next biggest problem is that when they finally introduce a couple of female characters (played by Jennifer Grey and Lea Thompson), it kind of feels like the two women are acting out some Rambo version of Nell while the guys exist in the Rambo version of The Goonies — I’m borrowing this phrase from “Fast-Rewind” — which is to say that the guys have a lot more character development and fairly good scenes while the women are usually left with very little dialogue and a murky backstory.

It’s almost like the movie wanted to be a little “girl power” wit them because Lea Thompson’s character goes off on Charlie Sheen’s character when he tells her to “make herself useful” with the dishes and both women are very capable paramilitary members…but…who are these women? Aside from knowing their grandpa asked Patrick Swayze to take them up into the mountains because they were being harassed by the invading troops, I literally know nothing about them. Even with the guys I can’t remember (because I don’t recognize them from any other movies), I know approximately how old they are, where they went to school, and how they feel about their families. Heck, I even know one of them is the student body president.

Red Dawn' Celebrated Rugged Individualism, and Blowing Up Stuff

So let’s talk about what the movie did well (because it’s not all bad). Spoilers abound in this next part:

-Jennifer Grey’s physical acting was put to good use in this movie in a way that I maybe should have expected having seen Dirty Dancing but didn’t.

-Both Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen have fully developed characters and a ton of highly emotional scenes that they handled incredibly well. Even when the plot was disjointed, I found them both to be very believable.

Harry Dean Stanton was around for a little while as the father to our protagonist brothers. It’s always good to see him. He always does a good job. He did play a lot of dad’s didn’t he? Unfortunately, in this movie he has some of the corniest dialogue ever written.

-Powers Boothe played an American pilot and, like all Powers Boothe appearances, it’s impossible to take your eyes off him.

-We got a cameo from Coach Reilly from The Mighty Ducks and Judd Omen from Dune and, at some point or another, practically every 70’s or 80’s TV Mystery show you’ve ever seen.

-I wasn’t really sure what C. Thomas Howell was going for at first or if he would have much of a character. I know he’s a good actor, but like I said this script isn’t really doing anyone any favors. That said, I found his performance to be one of the most affecting in the film. He starts off as an innocent and tender-hearted teen, who gradually becomes hardened and hollowed out as he spends more time as a paramilitary member until he is left with almost no sense of morality by the end of the film. He’s usually doing this with very little dialogue, which I cannot imagine is easy to do. I’m guessing he’s about sixteen or so in the film, so about two years younger than an eighteen year old soldier. But I couldn’t help but feel like I was watching the slow development of P.T.S.D. in the making, which was possibly the hardest part to watch at times.

-While the casting of Superfly‘s Ron O’Neal (who as far as my research can tell was not Latino) as Cuban Commander Bella is problematic for a number of reasons, the script at least afford itself a little bit of nuance FINALLY when we see Bella struggle (as a former paramilitary member himself) with his new role in a totalitarian takeover without populist support. He also gives Swayze and a mortally wounded Sheen safe passage (even though they’re doomed anyway). However, this collective 90 or so seconds is a welcome reprieve in an otherwise jingoistic (with the absolute broadest of brushstrokes)film.

-This movie is beautiful. Yes, it’s incredibly painful and depressing to watch for two very long hours, but the cinematography is genuinely gorgeous. (FYI the locations are Nevada not Colorado).

But you’re here to hear about Swayze so let me focus on the man of the hour (er, I mean, summer):

Look, I’m obviously a fan girl or I wouldn’t be doing any of this, but all that aside — there were so many moments in this movie where I felt like Patrick Swayze belonged in another, better version of this film. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of good acting from the younger actors, but they’re all trudging their way through a mediocre film, trying to make the best of it. Meanwhile, Patrick Swayze gives a consistently sincere and nuanced performance in a script that contains almost no nuance. He’s the kind of actor who gives you hope for what Red Dawn could be — the kind of film where nuance and subtlety do exist because a ragtag bunch of resistance fighters is an interesting and effective story when in the right hands (a.k.a not in the most paranoid, and frankly racist, plot I have ever seen in anything that isn’t technically called “propaganda”). You can’t help but think, damn this man needs a better script! (Luckily, he was about to get it.)

I’m going on a very special vacation, so join me in mid-July for Dirty Dancing.

Sources & Further Reading

‘Red Dawn’ Wasn’t About the Cold War; It Was About Shooting People By Alan Zilberman published in The Atlantic on November 18, 2012

‘Red Dawn’: Viewers Take Warning By Rita Kempley published in The Washington Post on August 10, 1984

Lea Thompson shares ‘Red Dawn’ memories of Patrick Swayze By Alynda Wheat published in Entertainment Weekly on September 15, 2009

When Patrick Swayze Rigged a Director’s Toilet With Explosives By Simon Brew published on Den of Geek on February 8, 2017

Red Dawn is featured from 2:12 to 4:11. (TW: One of the comedians in this featurette uses “gay” as an insult for the dancing in Dirty Dancing because oh my gosh were people still airing that kind of “joke” on TV in 2005???? UGH wow. We have a lot of work to do still.)

Summer of Swayze: The Outsiders

Patrick Swayze’s second feature film role in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1983 film The Outsiders, based on the novel by S.E. Hinton. According to The New York Times, it was a librarian and a petition from middle school students that convinced Coppola to make the film.

The cast of this movie is truly a who’s who of the Brat Pack. Patrick Swayze was the eldest (and only one I wouldn’t consider a Brat Packer or at least Brat Pack adjacent) playing the father-figure of the group at 29. You wouldn’t know it from his perennial baby face, but Ralph Macchio was the only other lead cast member over the age of twenty at the time filming began. Tom Cruise hadn’t even had his teeth fixed yet, though he did remove a cap to make himself appear more street-tough for the film.

This is the first film Patrick Swayze would appear in with C. Thomas Howell. They would appear together again in the following year’s Red Dawn, alongside Jennifer Grey, and in Grandview, U.S.A. — released one week prior to Red Dawn. Swayze would also appear on screen again with Rob Lowe, playing Lowe’s mentor in the hockey film Youngblood.

Has The Cast Of 'The Outsiders' Managed To "Stay Gold" Since 1983
from L to R: Emilio Estevez as “Two-Bit,” Rob Lowe as “SodaPop,” C. Thomas Howell as “Ponyboy,” Matt Dillon as “Dallas,” Ralph Macchio as “Johnny,” Patrick Swayze as “Darry,” and Tom Cruise as “Steve.”

The Hollywood Reporter, reviewed Swayze’s role in The Outsiders favorably overall, though not without criticism of Darry as a character: “Patrick Swayze makes a strong impression as Howell’s older brother, although the script has him a brute one minute, a compassionate pal the next and dilutes his possibilities.” This is fairly true to my memory of the character from the book as well. S.E. Hinton wrote the book between the ages of fifteen and sixteen and quite possibly grasped the younger characters better than she would have understood their pseudo-father Darry. Or perhaps, this hot and cold demeanor is a fairly accurate portrayal of a young man in his circumstances. Patrick Swayze may have been twenty-nine, but I believe Darry was written a bit younger, perhaps in his early twenties.

The film is solidly good. It’s hard to go wrong with a Coppola flick. Stevie Wonder wrote an original song based on Johnny’s last words to Ponyboy and Van Morrison re-recorded “Gloria,” which he originally performed with Them in 1965. But the most interesting thing about The Outsiders is the film’s legacy. C. Thomas Howell and Ralph Macchio regularly visit schools for screenings and talkbacks. They describe kids that are still enthralled with the movie and use it as medium for discussing bullying, social, and class issues. And even more interesting, is the queer reading of the movie — though S.E. Hinton staunchly denies it.

It may not have been S.E. Hinton’s intention, but The Outsiders certainly reads like a tale of first love in many ways. I can remember finishing this book in the public library when I was eleven years old. I locked myself in the bathroom so I could cry privately after I read the part where Johnny died. I felt a little silly, but I had developed a crush on Johnny, largely because of how he is portrayed through Ponyboy’s eyes and through the tenderness he shares with Dallas. Are either of those relationship necessarily romantic, no? But they could be or one day could have become so.

Personally, I’m really disappointed that S.E. Hinton didn’t embrace the queer messaging even if that’s not what she intended as a teenage writer. The text certainly does lend itself to a wide range of interpretations. That’s the best part of books and movies, you can take from them what you personally relate to and what feels most cathartic to your individual experience in life. Books and movies should be more inclusive so that more people can have that experience.

The house used in the film is now a museum that is open to the general public, offers student tours, and private screenings of the film.

Join me next week for Red Dawn.

Sources & Further Reading

STAY GAY, PONYBOY: ON LGBT INTERPRETATIONS AND AUTHOR TWITTER BATTLES

21 Crazy Details Behind The Making Of The Outsiders

12 Facts About The Outsiders That Will Stay Gold

‘The Outsiders’ Stays Gold at 35: Inside Coppola’s Crafty Methods and Stars’ Crazy Pranks

MAKING ‘THE OUTSIDERS,’ A LIBRARIAN’S DREAM

The Outsiders House Museum

M*A*S*H: Blood Brothers

Movie Review: Skatetown USA | Diary of a Derby Wannabe

According to Biography, Patrick Swayze was first a dancer and gymnast before joining Disney on Parade as Snow White’s Prince Charming. From there, he moved to NYC but was unable to fully pursue a career in professional dance due to a knee injury. It was during his 1978 replacement role as Danny in Grease’s original Broadway run that the television and film industry began to take notice.

His first film credit was Skatetown, USA with Flip Wilson, Maureen McCormick, and Scott Baio. The movie looks like the love child of The Warriors and Xanadu. I won’t subject you to a review of that movie (mostly because I don’t want to subject myself) but here’s a video of Swayze’s performance.

Swayze didn’t perform in another major motion picture until 1983’s The Outsiders. Between Skatetown, USA and The Outsiders, he made a handful of TV Movies, performed as a dancer in Toto’s “Rosanna” music video, and landed a guest starring role on a 1981 episode of M*A*S*H, “Blood Brothers.”

M*A*S*H" Blood Brothers (TV Episode 1981) - IMDb

In this truly heartbreaking episode, Swayze plays an injured soldier with an even more injured buddy. Swayze spends most of the episode agonizing over whether or not his friend will pull through. Swayze and his pal are the same blood type (hence the episode’s title), so he volunteers to supply blood for his friend’s transfusion.

When he takes a blood sample, Hawkeye discovers that Swayze’s character has leukemia. Hawkeye and Honeycutt agonize over whether or not to tell him of their discovery, which is shocking to me. I didn’t grow up in the 1950s and have certainly never been in a MASH unit, but did doctors seriously not tell their patients things like that??????

The soldier becomes suspicious after a nurse takes several blood samples and Hawkeye tells him they’re moving him to Tokyo General. So Hawkeye finally comes clean.

It’s surprising that this is such an early film credit for Swayze because he seems so comfortable being vulnerable and raw in this episode. (Contrast this with Ted Danson’s fairly wooden performance on Laverne & Shirley around the same time.) And yes, Swayze certainly had a lot of performance experience from an early age in dance and, eventually, theater, but those mediums allow for a certain distance between the performer and the audience and require a different range of facial expression. That Swayze was able to transition between mediums so seamlessly, and seems utterly at rase with emoting to a camera lense in a tight shot, is truly remarkable.

Swayze’s soldier spends the entire night talking with the MASH unit’s priest and decides to stay by his friend’s bedside rather than go to Tokyo General for most-likely futile treatment. Swayze’s performance is made all the more poignant by his eventual real-life diagnosis with pancreatic cancer to which he would succumb in 2009.

Join me next week for Francis Ford Coppola’s The Outsiders.

For further reading on Patrick Swayze’s musical theater performances, see “Patrick Swayze, Song-and-Dance Man” from NPR’s Day to Day.

Chicago the Musical | Official Site

The Summer of Swayze

For many, many years I was TOO sad to watch a Swayze movie because I miss him SO much. But this year, I’m swinging in the other direction. This is also my 500th post (!!) and we’re coming up on the blog’s 7th anniversary (!!!) so I want to do something big to celebrate. Very Special Readers, Welcome to the Summer of Swayze.

It’s a little like this but with more mullets and more Jennifer Grey. But it will include a lot of sitting around and watching TV, so I think George Costanza would approve.

I’m really excited to share this line-up with you.

M*A*S*H – “Blood Brothers“
The Outsiders
Red Dawn
Dirty Dancing

Road House
Ghost
Point Break
To Wong Foo Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar
Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights

In the meantime, feast your eyes on a young Patrick Swayze dancing in Toto’s “Rosanna” music video. Swayze’s the one in the red jacket (until he takes it off at 04:15).

The Pandemic Made Me Love My Kitchen

I spent so much of my time in the kitchen during 2020 that I enjoy shopping for kitchenware now! I’m obsessed! Here are some things I found on the internet that feel inexplicably important to have in my kitchen:

Blue’s Clues Mr. Salt, Mrs. Pepper, & Paprika Shaker Set – $19.90 from BoxLunch

Blue's Clues Mr. Salt, Mrs. Pepper, & Paprika Shaker Set - BoxLunch Exclusive
I’m a bit too old for Blue’s Clues but I really like that a paprika shaker exists in this set because honestly I think we could all use a little more paprika. I really like the idea of having it available on my table in an adorable shaker right next to the salt.

Geeki Tikis Scooby-Doo Mystery Machine Punch Bowl | Shaggy & Scooby Mini Muglets – $119.99 from Toynk

Geeki Tikis Scooby-Doo Mystery Machine Punch Bowl | Shaggy & Scooby Mini Muglets
I have no idea when or why I would need this but it feels like a summer must-have for me. Also I’ll point out that the “muglets” appear to be quite small so it seems like they would be best utilized as shot glasses. Proceed with caution.

Golden Dirty/Clean Dishwasher Magnet – $5.00 from Lunasea gifts

Is this slut-shaming? Yes. Would Blanche be delighted by it? I think also yes, so I’ve decided it’s perfectly fine to display in the home.

Cheers Bar – Cheers, Cheers TV Show Art Print, TV sitcom – $15.98 from Beautiful Peace Shop

Cheers Bar  Cheers Cheers TV Show Art Print TV sitcom image 0
You know, honestly, this one is just a little wall decor to spruce up the place. I’ve been told my walls are too sterile and I’m trying to be more accepting of feedback now that I’m in my thirties.

Disney Toy Story Kettle Style Popcorn Popper – $80.90 from BoxLunch

Disney Toy Story Kettle Style Popcorn Popper
I don’t know if it’s the cute little crank or the Toy Story Theme, but this is another item that I find myself undeniably drawn to even though it is rather expensive and I only eat popcorn twice a year because inevitably one kernel will get stuck somewhere in my teeth and it will take me an entire six months to work up the courage to try popcorn again.

Disney Lilo & Stitch Ice Pop Mold – $12.90 from Hot Topic

Disney Lilo & Stitch Ice Pop Mold
My take on this would be to freeze some lemonade and use it to cool off when things get sweltering in July. However — I have read the reviews and there does seem to be some indication that these also work for cake pops.

Joey doesn’t share food // Friends Tea Towel – $7.00 from BlanketsAndThingShop

Joey doesnt share food // Friends Tea Towel // Flour sack Tea image 0
I don’t know why this was played for laughs because I firmly believe that this is an entirely reasonable philosophy.

Dwight Schrute First Aid Training Fail Mug – $14.42 from Teezion

Dwight Schrute First Aid Training Fail Mug  Coffee Mug Gift image 0
This is so incredibly disturbing to look at, so I need it. Absolutely one of the funniest moments on the show. And who doesn’t love a little horror with their breakfast?

The Rugrats Reboot Is Terrifying (These Shoes Are Cute Tho)…

In yet another reboot we never asked for, Paramount+ gives us scary CGI Tommy, Chuckie, Phil, Lil, and ANGELICA. She’s even scarier now if that were even possible! I won’t post photos here because I’m not looking to traumatize anyone.

In better news, Puma is releasing a Rugrats collab next week and it actually looks pretty cute. You can preview the collection here (and in the shot below).

PHOTO: PUMA and Nickelodeon team up to celebrate "Rugrats" 30th anniversary with new collection.

A Very Special Long Lost Show with Jason Priestly!!

Do you ever have a moment where you think you’re experience the Mandela Effect but it turns out to be REAL…so yeah I guess that’s actually the opposite of a Mandela Effect.

Pin on Brandon Walsh

Anyway, I had a vague memory of being a wee child watching this show on the little TV set in my parents bedroom which like lol idk why my parents were letting a toddler watch a teen show (btw shout out to my mom who is reading this post)! But for years all I could remember is that there was a teen angel who wore a leather jacket and would travel down from heaven to help kids on earth. That is…only if it was real and I didn’t totally fabricate the memory…which it turns out I did not so that’s a win for my cognitive functioning!

I’m also convinced that the other reason I remembered this for oh – I don’t know – a few decades is that Jason Priestly is literally so beautiful my brain encoded his face like a work of art. Just like I cannot remember the first time I saw a picture of the Mona Lisa, I also cannot remember the first time I saw Jason Priestly’s face. And for those of you who are like WOW come on that’s a little heavy handed, please bear in mind that it is my journalistic duty to paint an accurate portrait of the millennial generation’s zeitgeist and I am just reporting the facts!

As it turns out, this show was so incredibly hard to find because it wasn’t a real show. Similarly to how the original Mickey Mouse Club aired short serial shows like “The Hardy Boys,” The All-New Mickey Mouse Club (the one with Britney, Christina, Ryan, Keri, Justin, JC et al) aired “Teen Angel.”

Here is an adorable behind the scenes clip featuring a pre-90210 priestly. (Evidently, Jennie Garth joined him in the sequel serial “Teen Angel Returns” so that’s cute too.)

Also, sorry I’ve been a little MIA. I’ve been busy socializing indoors in-person for the first time in a century and you can too if you get your vaccine!! (Please, please do. I got mine and it made me sleepy, sleepy for a couple of days but nothing too bad and I’m soooooo excited to be inoculated. Woohoo!!)

Oh and also, while you’re living your best roaring 20’s life and you’re maybe not in front of the computer so much, here’s a friendly reminder that we’re fully mobile friendly over here at The VSB and I will miss you all if you don’t continue to read this shit and leave me comments. THANK YOU!! — The MGMT.

Cheers: Uncle Sam Malone

Do you love the saving for retirement? Do you love Cheers? You do?! You love both!! Great. I have a very special “lost episode” for you.

At the top of this episode, or should I say mini-episode (because it clocks in at less than twelve minutes long), Cliff announces that he will be taking a trip to Tahiti by using his savings bonds.

Watch a long lost 'Cheers' episode made for the U.S. government

Sam says he’s thinking of buying some savings bonds as well, but Diana poo-poos this and says they offer poor returns. But fun fact, this episode was commissioned by the U.S. Treasury, so for once Cliff gets to be right. Even better, you get to hear Norm actually talk about accounting and sound like he’s good at his job instead of just someone who sits at a bar when he’s supposed to be working.

When Carla and Coach admit that they don’t have many savings, Sam decides to start a payroll savings plan for the bar BECAUSE IT IS NOT THAT HARD TO BE A FAIR AND EQUITABLE EMPLOYER. This short film should be required management training!!!!

Cheers" Uncle Sam Malone (TV Episode 1983) - IMDb

The rest of the episode is pretty dry. I’m so sorry to say that because if Cheers cannot make retirement planning interesting to me, then I’m probably doomed to work until I literally drop dead because I won’t have grasped the key fundamentals necessary to create my nest egg. Anyway, maybe you’ll get something more out of it than I did.

See for yourself below:

The Mary Tyler Moore Show: Mary’s Insomnia

After Mary struggles with insomnia three times in one week, so goes to a doctor who gives her a magic little pill that makes everything better. Lou is immediately concerned that she’s in some kind of Valley of the Dolls situation. She tells him it’s really none of his business, so he tells her that it is work related because he’s putting together a documentary “on the dangers of sleeping pills.”

Mary reassures Lou that she isn’t addicted and that she’s taken them for fourteen consecutive days without issues. Lou challenges her to try to go one night without taking them (because he’s damn sure she is addicted). I mean wow what a strange way to handle a health concern with your subordinate.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show Season 7 Episode 11

That night Mary tosses and turns. She finally breaks down and takes a pill. But she feels pretty crappy about this because it proves that Lou is right that she is, at the very least, reliant on the pills. The next morning, Mary lies to Lou and says she didn’t take the pill. So he heaps praise on her…until she finally admits she took the pill as he suspected all along.

According to Lou, getting over insomnia is easy. He says, “All that you have to do is make yourself go to sleep at night.” Oh boy, if only someone had told me this in my mid-twenties. Could have saved me a lot of sleepless nights!

Lou urges Mary to skip the pill that night and promises to come over if she needs support. When he doesn’t hear from her, he goes over to her apartment, and the super just straight up lets him into her place. When Lou enters Mary’s apartment, he notices the phone is off the hook. Fearing the worst, he frantically searches for her presumably lifeless corpse. But she’s really just in the bath, reading a book and drinking some milk. Yikes.

Mary's Insomnia (1976)

Mary is understandably upset that Lou is in her bathroom. But he gets offended because he was only worried about her and he isn’t a pervert, he just insists that she is a dope fiend. So my GOD there is NO reason to be OFFENDED. WJM should be counting their lucky stars it’s the 70’s and they don’t have an HR department because this justifiable lawsuit would surely put them under.

Murray barges, quickly followed by Ted (who is as oblivious as Lou). Murray at least has the decency to turn around and face the wall. Murray and Ted leave but Lou stays behind to make sure that Mary doesn’t take a sleeping pill. She’s understandably a bit agitated and tries to sneak pill behind his back. So he puts them down the garbage disposal.

Lou wraps Mary in an afgan, sits her down on the couch, and puts his harm around her. He tells her to breathe deeply and pretend she is asleep. He then says he will sing to her just as he used to sing all of his children to sleep. I’m having a full on panic attack at the thought of being in this situation, so I’m not sure how Mary is feeling. For the record, Ed Asner has a pretty decent voice though.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show - Mary's Insomnia (Lou Grant Singing to Mary) -  YouTube

Against all odds, this actually works. Incidentally, this is the first time that Mary Richards, a woman in her late-thirties, has had anyone tell her that she snores. It’s never too late for some good old fashioned self-discovery.

Very Special Episode: Evidently, the cure for insomnia is an Ed Asner a capella album of Irish lullabies and a warm afgan blanket. For best results, exhaust yourself beforehand by moving into a building whose super will gladly let all of your coworkers into your bathroom without your permission.