Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen, and C. Thomas Howell in Red Dawn

The Iconography of John Milius’ Red Dawn, Volume I

Mechanized warfare in the American midwest
Mechanized warfare in the American midwest

You’re forty miles behind enemy lines, smack dab in the middle of World War III.

Yes, that’s actually a line from the movie.

The iconography of John Milius’ 1984 alternate reality classic Red Dawn – a.k.a. the first movie ever given the  MPAA’s PG-13 rating – is some of the most powerful visual imagery of any film made in the eighties. Sure, the dialog, lighting, and editing leave a lot to be desired. But the storyboarding, plot, and set design do a lot to make up for it. Milius goes on my list of evil geniuses for his ability to convey a concept with a camera.

A Background on John Milius

His writing credits include the screenplay for Apocalypse Now. He coined Dirty Harry’s catchphrase, “Go ahead, make my day.” He also wrote the USS Indianapolis scene in Jaws.

Oh, and he’s the basis for John Goodman’s Walter Sobchak character in theBig Lebowski. No biggie.

The full gallery is at the end of this post.

This movie has Leah Thompson (the mom from Back to the Future) and Jennifer Gray (who would later star across Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing). And Patrick Swayze.

It’s Charlie Sheen’s feature film debut. And it’s got C. Thomas Howell of Soul Man fame.

So, basically, this is more of a brat pack movie than most of the more famous ones.

Red Dawn stunned me when I first saw it. I was nine years old. Don’t worry; by that age I was already seeing a shrink. As a child, I was obsessed with the likelihood of nuclear war. I do believe that I deliberately sought out information on such subjects. Hence my fascination with this movie. Nothing got my attention like a cinematic depiction of World War III.

Take this quote, for example.

You think you’re tough for eating beans every day? There’s half a million scarecrows in Denver who’d give anything for one mouthful of what you got. They’ve been under siege for about three months. They live on rats and sawdust bread and sometimes… on each other. At night, the pyres for the dead light up the sky. It’s medieval.

Then there’s the drive-in that’s been converted to a makeshift gulag. Harry Dean Stanton’s scene at there has him shouting “Boys! Avenge me!” as his sons quiet back into the hills.

In Soviet Russia, movie watches YOU!
In Soviet Russia, movie watches YOU!

The town’s drive-in theater is converted into a re-education center.

Drive-In as Concentration Camp
Drive-In as Concentration Camp

The town’s drive-in theater is converted into a re-education camp.

Q: What sucks worse than being in a firing squad?

A: Being in a firing squad that’s also target practice for tank gunners.

Target practice for tank gunners
Target practice for tank gunners

While lined up, the prisoners begin singing the Star Spangled Banner. A nice touch on that first firing squad scene (yes, there’s more than one) is how the gunners open fire when the prisoners reach the “America” chorus. Classy.

Book burning in downtown Calumet, Colorado
Book burning in downtown Calumet, Colorado

One of the reasons this movie received the PG-13 rating is that it exceeded the standard “1 firing squad per hour” rule.

T-72 at a gas station
During filming, a fake T-72 at a gas station actually drew the attention of two CIA agents
The Soviet menace is not interested in our women.
"In the spirit of the Bolshevik Revolution, we must commandeer her picnic basket - for the Motherland!"
I think this is actually a sub-genre in the adult film industry.
Sucks being typecast as "horny Russian."
And you thought herpes sucked.
And you thought whoopie cushions suck.
This would make an awesome animated GIF.
"We must break you!"
Pretty much the most awesome scene of the whole movie
Whoop - there it is.
(patriotic music plays in background)
Possible the most awesome scene of the whole movie

And that’s all in Act I. Check back soon for Act II.

Published by

Tom Cornyn

I'm just a regular guy. I eat tires.

One thought on “The Iconography of John Milius’ Red Dawn, Volume I”

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