Peter’s Retro Reviews: Red Dawn (1984)

August 18, 2011

Red Dawn Movie Posterby Peter Nielsen

I think I was 17 when I first saw Red Dawn back in 1985. I never caught it in the theater so that’s why I didn’t see it ‘til then, but I probably watched it a couple more times in the following years. But up until yesterday I hadn’t seen it for more than 20 years!!

So… did it hold up then? Yes! Yes, it did! It held up very well, to be honest. Maybe the acting wasn’t top-notch all the time, but that’s not all that important here, since the movie as a whole works anyway. It’s not so much character-driven, as it is about the story. There’s a good mix of old and young actors and actresses, and by that I mean already established stars and those who weren’t, as of yet, as big as they would later become.

We have the likes of Harry Dean Stanton (Wild at Heart, Escape from New York), Powers Boothe (U-Turn, The Emerald Forest) and William Smith. The man has more than 200 titles in his repertoire. Any Which Way You Can and Maniac Cop for instance. Here in Sweden he was fondly referred to as William “Falconetti” Smith after his role in the popular TV-series Rich Man, Poor Man. There’s also Ron O’Neal who was more or less typecast in many movies after his role in Super Fly. He plays the Cuban colonel Ernesto Bella in Red Dawn.

These “old-timers” play alongside the “young’uns”… Well, they were young at the time!

You don't mess with Toni and Erica!

You don’t mess with Toni and Erica!

The, sadly, late Patrick Swayze (Point Break, Ghost) and Charlie Sheen (Not that he needs an introduction at this point in time, but he was in Hot Shots 1 & 2 to name just a couple) play the two brothers Jed and Matt Eckert. Jennifer Grey who plays Toni was in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off where Mr. Sheen has a brief, but funny scene with her and she would later co-star with Mr. Swayze in another highly successful movie, namely Dirty Dancing. We also have C. Thomas Howell (The Hitcher, Soul Man) and the beautiful Lea Thompson (Some Kind of Wonderful, Jaws 3) as Robert and Erica.

But enough with the introduction of the cast, already… What’s the movie about? (For those of you who don’t know by now.)

It starts one morning in the small town of Calumet, Colorado in a school class-room with history being the subject. All of a sudden paratroopers start dropping from the sky. The history teacher walks outside to find out what’s going on and is brutally gunned down.

Wouldn't it be easier to see 'em if you actually used the binoculars?

Wouldn’t it be easier to see ’em if you actually used the binoculars?

The foreign soldiers then proceeds to open fire on the school, the kids and every other civilian in sight. Some of the kids barely manage to get away and after stocking up with food and hunting gear, they flee up into the mountains. Bewildered and scared they set up camp and basically try to survive.

A month or so later, the Eckert brothers and Robert, ventures into town to try to find out what’s happening. They find the town in the hands of Cuban and Russian troops and that they themselves are wanted men. Many of the town-people have been taken to camps outside of town, to be re-educated.



Among them is Jed and Matt’s father (Harry Dean Stanton). On their way back to camp they stop by Mr. Mason who tells them what has happened and asks them if they could please look after his nieces, Toni and Erica, for him.

In the following months the group starts fighting back under the name of “Wolverines” and gets more and more organized and experienced. They later find the downed fighter-pilot Andy Tanner (Powers Boothe) who joins them and lets them know about what’s going on in the rest of the world.

And in case you haven’t figured it out yet, it’s World War 3 that has happened. Although, as Tanner puts it… Europe has decided to sit this one out.

As the months roll by, the Wolverines’ attacks grow larger and more daring and yes, some of them do get killed. It is, after all, a war! These attacks are of course annoying and devastating for the occupying forces and reinforcements are sent, led by Colonel Strelnikov who is played convincingly and ruthlessly by William Smith. He starts a manhunt on the Wolverines that is far more efficient than it has been before. Large Russian helicopters are sent after them with deadly results, but the kids never give up and the fight continues…

The director John Milius (Conan the Barbarian, Flight of the Intruder) has put together a great little action-movie that still works very well. At the time of its release some people read a lot of political issues into it, but I think you should just enjoy it for what it is. If you’re looking for a good “What if…?” story, then Red Dawn is definitely the right movie for you.

“Boys! Avenge me! Avenge meeee!”  Tom Eckert

And with that exclamation, I think I’ll leave you for now, so until next time my friends…

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