War Movie Mondays: ‘Red Dawn’

Red Dawn is the ultimate “what if” Cold War movie. Set some time in the mid alternate 1980’s, Red Dawn depicts a world which has fast been assimilated into the sphere of Soviet influence. After NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) which was established by western powers after World War II to halt the advance of the Soviet Union rapidly dissolves, the United States is alone and left vulnerable to the threat of communist invasion.

Acclaimed director John Milius (The Wind & the Lion, Farewell to the King, Flight of the Intruder, Rough Riders), and future director/screenwriter Kevin Reynolds helm this 1984 cult classic.

Patrick Swayze (Jed Eckert), Charlie Sheen (Matt Eckert), C. Thomas Howell (Robert Morris), Lea Thompson (Erica Mason), Jennifer Grey (Toni Mason), Powers Boothe (Lt. Col. Andrew Tanner USAF), Harry Dean Stanton (Tom Eckert), Ron O’ Neal (Col. Ernesto Bella), and screen great Ben Johnson (George Mason) round out the cast.

The fictional town of Calumet, Colorado serves as the backdrop for the World War III invasion of the U.S. On a typical September morning as students are listening to their teacher’s lecture on the Mongol conquests of Asia, his attention is drawn to the sight of Soviet paratroops landing on the high school varsity football field. As violence erupts as the enemy quickly gains control of the town for more troops to be dropped in, six teenagers (Swayze, Sheen, Howell, Brad Savage (Danny), Darren Dalton (Daryl), and Doug Toby (Aardvark) flee to the mountains in order to avoid capture.

After several weeks in the wilderness living off provisions which were acquired at Robert ‘s (Howell) father’s store, the boys wonder what has happen since they fled the first elements of the Soviet invasion. In October, the boys clandestinely sneak back into town to discover that not only have the Soviets invaded, but Cuba, Mexico, and the rest of Central America have joined the invasion of the Midwest U.S. Jed and Matt discover that their father Tom (Harry Dean Stanton) as well as many other town folk have been rounded up into a “Re-educational camp” where they are subjected to Soviet propaganda and are tortured routinely by their captors. As the film progresses the teens begin to wage a campaign of guerrilla warfare on the invaders and become known to their enemies as the “Wolverines”, the name of their high school football team.

My favorite part of the film is the introduction of Lt. Col. Tanner (Boothe) who is a shot down USAF pilot who is discovered by Erica (Thompson) who has joined the Wolverines in their fight. When he is introduced to Jed, he asks the colonel how he got himself shot down. Tanner responds “It was 5 to 1, I got 4.” Col. Tanner “Andy” then begins to fill in the Wolverines on the current situation of the war. Andy tells them that the first wave of the attack came in disguised as commercial flights the same way the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1980. These crack airborne units also worked with Cuban infiltrators who managed to sabotage U.S. military installations throughout the Midwest. Certain cities including Washington D.C., Kansas City, and Omaha, Nebraska had been taken out with nukes along with U.S. missile silo installations. Once these areas had been neutralized, invasions via Mexico and Alaska would begin. Tanner says that battle lines have stabilized, future invasion forces had been stopped, and the war has become very conventional and that there has been very little nuclear exchanges for fear of radioactive fallout. Robert asks the colonel about Europe. Tanner says:

“I guess they figured twice in one century was enough, they’re sitting this one out; all except England they won’t last for very long. The Russians need to take us in one piece and that’s why they’re here now. They won’t use nukes anymore and we won’t either not on our own soil. The whole damn thing is conventional. Who knows next week it might even be swords”.

The scene is certainly one of my favorite scenes in the movie and it informs the audience about the war and how it has effected the world. Tanner joins the guerrillas as a father figure and begins to teach them counter insurgency techniques as well as effective military strikes against the Soviets and their Latin American allies.

Red Dawn became an instant smash hit and generated a substantial amount of revenue for MGM, over forty million dollars in the U.S. alone. Red Dawn is also the first film ever to be given the PG-13 rating by the MPAA. The film was also reportedly to be a favorite of then president Ronald Reagan. In an article published by Soldier of Fortune magazine, the production spared no expense and had teams of builders working around the clock to construct a large amount of Soviet military vehicles. As realistic props were being transported around Los Angeles, two C.I.A. field agents followed them to the set and wanted to know how they acquired these vehicles. The prop makers told the agents they were being used for a war movie and that they were constructed from diagrams of actual Soviet vehicles. The C.I.A. agents were so impressed that they wanted them to be used for identification purposes because they were made to such an accurate scale by the production designers.

After a twenty five year run as a cult classic, Red Dawn is getting a re-vamp this Fall which depicts a Chinese invasion of America. The film has already received harsh criticism from Chinese newspapers who are very upset about the film’s representation of Chinese militarists. Relations between both countries has been rocky for many decades and there is still fear and resentment between both super powers. In the 2010 version, the Chinese have come to the U.S. to smash corporate greed and help rebuild our economy, all while assimilating us into their culture. Due to many financial problems with MGM this year, Red Dawn (2010) may be shelved for a while until there is money to actually release it. It may not be ready for its November date. Hopefully the remake will do very well with American audiences who are looking for escapist entertainment this upcoming holiday season. WOLVERINES!

Red Dawn is available on two-disc collectors edition DVD from MGM/UA Home Video and can be rented through Netflix.

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