The death of fellow Texan Patrick Swayze this past Monday after a brave 20-month battle with pancreatic cancer marked a sad day for movie loving Gen Xrs and Yrs like myself.
Some of the most iconic cinematic moments of the 1980’s and early 1990’s came courtesy of Swayze’s films. As a young male coming of age in those days, some of Swayze’s films (the ones with more testosterone) made you want to go out and take on the world after you saw them.
While you won’t hear his name mentioned alongside Brando, Pacino or Olivier as greatest actors ever and you won’t see his films on any film critic’s lists of greatest movies of all time, you will almost always find them on men and women’s lists of guiltiest, most enjoyable cinematic pleasures of all time.
By all accounts, he was a humble superstar and good man who never forgot the fans that made his films so successful and never took himself seriously. For those that don’t remember, go on You Tube and watch the infamous and still hilarious Saturday Night Live that Swayze hosted in 1990, fresh off the monumental success of Ghost, where he mocked himself and his mullet in the Chippendales audition sketch alongside Chris Farley with Loverboy’s “Working for the Weekend” playing in the background.
Swayze had grown up studying dance (his mother was a choreographer who had worked with John Travolta on Urban Cowboy) and martial arts. Both dancing and martial arts would have lasting effects on his superstardom later on in his life. He started with the martial arts because, as a young male dancer in Houston, Texas, he was picked on and bullied mercilessly.
Like all of us, there was a fight in him that wouldn’t quit. Like all of us, he had his demons which he fought including alcoholism and the suicide of his sister Vicky in 1994. He never stopped fighting, however, no matter the battle and always stayed true to who he was.
In honor of the Swayze, I have compiled a list of his five most iconic films that made women want him and guys want to be him.
Red Dawn – 1984
Although Swayze had appeared in The Outsiders in 1983 alongside future 80s heartthrobs like C. Thomas Howell, Ralph Macchio, Matt Dillon, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez and Tom Cruise, he didn’t separate himself from the Brat Pack, so to speak, until Red Dawn.
Swayze would act again with Howell along with Charlie Sheen, Lea Thompson and Jennifer Grey - who would later act with Swayze in that little film called Dirty Dancing later in the decade.
The film would tell the story of a group of American high school students who become guerilla fighters after the Soviet Union and its Central American allies invade the United States and start World War III.
Swayze’s Jed Eckert would be the undisputed leader of “The Wolverines” as they would later call themselves after their high school mascot. Having been given a lifetime of military and survival training by their father (hauntingly played by the great Harry Dean Stanton), Jed and his brother Matt (Sheen) taught the others in their group how to survive and fight.
Swayze firmly established himself here as bad-ass that was a natural leader and protector. His standout moments include when he and his brother see their father for the last time in a concentration camp, a frightening scene where he arranges the assassination of one of his friends and fellow Wolverine members after being betrayed by him and his final scene where Jed, mortally wounded, carries his dead brother’s body to the playground where their father took them to play when they were “kids.”
Red Dawn was one of the ultimate love-it or hate-it films from the 80s particularly since it was and still is considered the most blatant cinematic example of stereotypical U.S. radical feelings and fears in the 80's.
Soviet soldiers (the go-to villains in the 80's) invade the U.S. caught off-guard (the ultimate fear in the 80's) and the film was directed and co-written by the notoriously gung-ho/pro-American/gun loving John Milius - who, incidentally, was the inspiration for John Goodman’s Walter Sobchak in The Coen Brothers’ The Big Lebowski.
Needless to say, Red Dawn was an early childhood favorite of mine as well as all of my guy friends and, despite its shortcomings and 80s cheese still remains immensely watchable.
The acting isn’t always spot-on but it’s an adrenaline booster, a term that many of Swayze’s films would also define. Basil Poledouris' score still gives me chills. At the time, the fears and angst that the film exploited worked. With Reagan in The White House at the time it’s wasn’t too difficult to see why.
Red Dawn touched something in young people of the mid-80s. I remember genuinely being afraid that if World War III came, it would be because of a Russian communist attack. That was how great a job Reagan did in scaring all of us. Red Dawn said, like so many films of that era did, that if it did happen that we would not lie down but rather we would fight back and win.
However, many of the film’s detractors seemed to miss one of the morals that the movie tries to show with BOTH the American teenage guerillas AND the Soviet and Cuban/Nicaraguan soldiers which is just how gruesome and de-humanizing a war is. Both sides in the film reiterate what Nietzsche meant when he said “Be careful when you fight the monsters, lest you become one.”
All of my friends and I thought that it was actually possible that the Soviets would invade the country so during playground time we would re-enact Red Dawn scenes to prepare ourselves for the attack. Looking back on it now after so many years it does seem like a lot of paranoid American propaganda but then again I wasn’t the only kid that got sucked in by it.
The film was so violent that it became the first movie in film history to receive the newly created PG-13 rating after Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom and Gremlins frightened and upset McDonald’s moms and dads that thought their sweet babies shouldn’t be seeing hearts ripped out of chests and furry little animals killing people. The Guinness Book of Records has the Red Dawn’s violence rate at 134 acts of violence per hour, or 2.23 per minute.
Always at a loss these days for original ideas, Hollywood has already started production on a remake of the film that will be released next September.
Dirty Dancing (1987)
Though Swayze was superb in the ABC miniseries North and South in 1985, Dirty Dancing would prove to be his breakthrough role that took him to international stardom. Keep in mind this was an INDEPENDENT film that no one wanted to release and, at one point was headed straight to video.
It ended up not just being a theatrical success but one of the biggest home video successes ever. And back in 1988 when it came out on VHS, there were many girls that I knew that had their parents buy them the $100 VHS tape (that’s how much they were back then people) as birthday and Christmas presents only to have them warped within 6 months.
It was the first film to sell one million copies on VHS. This was the first huge teenage female film I can think have that had EVERY girl going to see it 4 or 5 times in the theater. And every one of those girls, now women today, owns the DVD guaranteed.
You could almost call this a female Star Wars, in a sense, because just about every woman you meet will know the dialogue, music and characters by heart as well as the production history.
I like to refer to this film as “The one that I had to inevitably watch at EVERY girl’s house back in sixth grade that I wanted to make out with.” And if the film wasn’t on, then one of the TWO multi-platinum soundtracks would be on a tape deck.
Even Swayze had a hit on the soundtrack with “She’s Like the Wind” which was inspired by his longtime wife Lisa Niemi. I was more of a “Hungry Eyes” guy myself if we’re being honest here. I sang it once to a girl to impress her and it worked so it’ll hold a nostalgic place in my heart.
One of the main reasons the film connected so well to girls and women is that Dirty Dancing is every young girl’s ultimate fantasy. What girl wouldn’t want to lose their virginity to some gorgeous rebel who could dance better than everybody else? Every girl fell in love with Swayze’s bad boy dance instructor Johnny Castle and fantasized that they were sweet daddy’s girl Frances “Baby” Houseman, played by Jennifer Grey (pre-nose job) being lifted in the air by him in the iconic finale as “(I've Had) The Time of My Life” - co-sung by Righteous Brother Bill Medley plays in the background.
Needless to say it wouldn’t be the only iconic Swayze moment accompanied by a Righteous Brother singing on the soundtrack that made many a female horny.
Swayze’s extensive background in dancing was never more suited for him then in this film where he had the grace of Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire rolled up into one. Much like John Travolta did in Saturday Night Fever, he inspired countless men to try and take up dancing in order to impress women.
The dialogue in the film is every woman’s wet dream with such winners as when Jennifer Grey tells Swayze; “I’m scared of walking out of this room and never feeling the rest of my whole life the way I feel when I’m with you.”
Most women would probably say that the immortal “Nobody puts Baby in a corner” is the greatest Swayze line ever. Since I was never that crazy about the film unless it helped to temporarily pacify girls, I can’t really admit to being part of that camp, but it is probably his most recognized line for females next to “Ditto.”
Road House (1989)
After the breakout success of Dirty Dancing, Swayze could’ve easily accepted the typecast of dancing pretty boy that made women of all ages swoon and done dozens more sappy romantic films. But (and this is why guys like me loved him), he used his success to do hard-core action films so that he could indulge his inner adrenaline junkie.
Road House has to be the considered the 1A of definitive Swayze action films with Point Break being 1B. Even though I’d say that Point Break is my favorite Swayze movie of all time, Roadhouse is THE definitive Swayze movie for most males.
Somewhere on TBS or Spike TV, it’s playing right now guaranteed. Released in 1989, at the height of Swayze’s post-Dirty Dancing fame, the film bombed - earning only $30 million at the box office and nearly cost Swayze the role in Ghost.
However, Road House has become a modern-day cult sensation in the years following its release on video, and has steadily built up steam as the guiltiest of guilty pleasures. The film is a true testament to cheesy, over-the-top 80s cinema.
The plot goes like this: Patrick Swayze and his mullet star as Dalton, the best “cooler” in the bar business. For those of you not up on bar terminology, a “cooler” is the head of the bouncers; the one who watches over the bar and makes the call on when a situation must be dealt with.
Dalton is obviously different from your usual bouncer: he owns a Mercedes; he has a Ph.D. in philosophy from New York University; is a martial artist; practices Tai Chi; stitches up his own wounds; reads Jim Harrison on nice quiet evenings; chain smokes; likes his coffee black; and sleeps in the nude so that everyone (including female stalkers) can have early morning access to his ass.
He also hears someone say every five minutes that they “thought he’d be bigger.” Dalton, no first name just Dalton, is hired by a bar owner (Kevin Tighe) to clean up his bar the ‘Double Deuce’ in Jasper, Missouri. This is no easy task, mind you for the Deuce is “the type of place where they sweep up the eyeballs after closing.”
After waltzing in the Deuce and observing the chaos firsthand, Dalton gets to work. He weeds out the overly aggressive bouncers and drug dealing waitresses that he doesn’t want and lays down his law.
Dalton rents a room at a farm that just happens to overlook the estate of the main villain - that being one Brad Wesley (Ben Gazarra.) Wesley is a corrupt local businessman who runs the town and shakes down the local businesses. Those businesses, and for that matter the Jasper economy, seem to consist of the Double Deuce, an auto parts store, and 2 auto dealerships.
Coincidentally, Wesley seems to have the only mansion in town. He also has really cool late night sex parties, is fond of monster trucks, beating up his own henchmen, and has a trophy room filled with hundreds of animals, including polar bears, that could be found in National Geographic and your local tropical forest.
In no time at all, Dalton is ruffling Wesley’s feathers by firing his boys from the Deuce, going to outside liquor suppliers, continually beating the crap out of his incompetent men, and having eyes for Wesley’s love, Doc (a HOT Kelly Lynch). Doc, by the way, just happens to be a doctor. She’s into getting her back slammed against a brick wall during sex, having sex on balconies and in lakes, not getting any sleep before going into work, and generally looking good enough to eat at ALL TIMES. Her name is supposedly Elizabeth but she goes by Doc.
After receiving a knife wound at the Deuce, Dalton goes to the hospital and meets Doc who staples his wound. Dalton is so polite he even brings his own medical file with him so as to cut down on time. He woos Doc with such deep musings as “Nobody wins a fight” and “Pain don’t hurt” - which he delivers with all ‘80s seriousness after he turns down a local anesthetic.
What chick wouldn’t be drawn to a guy like this? After one coffee date, they are screwing to Otis Redding and doing it on the roof of Dalton’s pad, all under the watchful eye of Wesley. If all women were this easy, there would be no war in this world and no poverty. But, I digress. The stakes are raised as Dalton clearly represents a threat to Wesley and his rule over Jasper.
Nothing needs to be said about the merits and Oscar worthiness of the writing, directing and acting. There are bar fights, hot chicks, rock and roll, and explosions at every turn. You won’t be bored, that’s for sure. The fight scenes (and there are plenty of them) are in a class of their own in terms of authenticity and enjoyment. Swayze and his mullet ARE Dalton. It’s not the same as saying you can’t picture anyone else but Brando playing Don Vito Corleone, but there’s no one else who could’ve played Dalton.
In true Swayze fashion, he establishes Dalton, much like his Bodhi in Point Break (more on that later) as an iconic presence and a man’s man, capable of, as the movie’s tagline says “bustin heads and breakin hearts.”
For all of you women, don’t worry about the old Hollywood standard of gratuitous female nudity in a film like this. Yes, thank God there is some T & A, BUT you get even more gratuitous shots of Swayze’s greased up ass and chest.
For a tough, macho film like this, there is a small, subtle hint of homoeroticism that runs throughout. I still can’t believe this wasn’t a bigger hit with women considering the amount of Swayze flesh on display there is here.
This is an unashamedly stupid, logic defying, testosterone driven, yet hilarious B-movie that presents itself as a modern day western. Road House is a movie that, early on, leaves all common sense and believability so far in the rearview mirror that it is impossible to take seriously. You’ll laugh more in this film than in most comedies.
It doesn’t make many demands mentally and can easily be filtered out as you watch it. It does, however remain immensely watchable and is one of the more popular guilty pleasures of the 80s for males.
The script is one of the most quotable of all time and we’re not talking because of its great, witty dialogue. I could name off countless lines but I’ll leave you with possibly the best dialogue of the film and true Swayze greatness. This comes near the beginning of the film as Dalton is instructing his new bouncers at the Deuce how to deal with the customers.
Dalton: “Don't worry about it; all you have to do is follow 3 simple rules: One, never underestimate your opponent…expect the unexpected; Two, take it outside, never start anything inside the bar unless it's absolutely necessary; and Three...be nice. If somebody gets in your face and calls you a cocksucker I want you to be nice. Ask him to walk, be nice, if he won't walk, walk him, but be nice, If you can't walk him, one of the others will help you and you will both be nice...I want you to remember, that it's the job, it's nothing personal…I want you to be nice.. until it's time…to not be nice.”
This film would also be known as the “other” Swayze film that women swooned to in droves. When you consider that Dirty Dancing and Ghost were Swayze’s two biggest box office hits, you realize why Hollywood gears its films towards the teenage girl. Why?
Because if the film involves star-crossed lovers and is sappy and sentimental enough; they’ll go see the film 4 or 5 times. See the success of Titanic if you don’t believe me. At least Ghost was a suspense thriller so I didn’t mind it as much as I did Dirty Dancing. I guess it’s no wonder that the male-driven Swayze films like Roadhouse and Point Break weren’t box office hits but as the years have gone by have become cult-classics that most guys like myself know each and every stitch of dialogue to.
Sam (Swayze) and Molly (Demi Moore) are the happiest couple you ever did see despite the fact that Sam has a problem with a certain three-word phrase meant to express affection. Walking back to their new apartment after a night out at the theatre, they encounter a thief in a dark alley, and Sam is murdered. He finds himself trapped as a ghost and realizes that his death was no accident.
He must warn Molly about the danger that she is in. But as a ghost he can not be seen or heard by the living, so he tries to communicate with Molly through Oda Mae Brown (Whoopi Goldberg in her Oscar winning role), a phony psychic who didn't even realize that her powers were real until Sam communicates to her.
Because of his lack of box-office success since Dirty Dancing, Swayze wasn’t the first, second, or 30th choice for Sam Wheat. Director Jerry Zucker refused to even see him audition because of his performance in Roadhouse and thought that he’d blow the audition. Reportedly, within 30 minutes of reading for Zucker, Swayze had the part.
Consider for a moment that Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise, Kevin Bacon, Al Pacino, Bruce Willis, Harrison Ford, Nicolas Cage, Mickey Rourke, David Duchovny, Johnny Depp, Paul Hogan and Alec Baldwin ALL turned down the role because they thought that the film would never work. Some of those names do make you cringe don’t they?
This was another one of Swayze’s films, almost identical to Dirty Dancing; that I had to begrudgingly deal with, only this time it was in high school when it came to trying to impress a girl with how sensitive and caring I was.
The film’s iconic love scene with Swayze and Moore making out on her potter’s wheel with The Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody” playing on the soundtrack would be parodied ad nauseum on T.V. and film for the rest of the decade. Much like the one-half Righteous Brothers song “(I've Had) The Time of My Life”; the full-on Righteous Brothers “Unchained Melody” quickly became one of the most hated songs I can remember after being played ENDLESSLY on the radio and much like “The Time of My Life” becoming a cliché first dance song for newly married couples.
I also refer to this film as “The film that taught me that it was cool to respond with “Ditto” after a girl says “I love you.” Why? Because it meant that I was ENIGMATIC and COOL.
Real men don’t have to say “I love you.” Unfortunately I learned rather quickly that it was only cool IF I looked like Patrick Swayze. Needless to say, I was shit out of luck when it came to that. Even HE got called on it before he dies. It goes to show you just how appealing he was when a simple word like “Ditto” could make women’s heart flutter AND inspire dumb asses like me that hate saying “I love you.”
His last words to Demi Moore at the end of the film: “It’s amazing, Molly. The love inside, you take it with you,” STILL make women ball their eyes out.
Point Break (1991)
Once again, after the huge success of Ghost, Swayze could’ve again gone for typical pretty boy romance films but, thankfully, he again indulged his inner adrenaline junkie for, quite possibly, the ultimate adrenaline movie.
The tagline of the film and one of Swayze’s lines in the film sums it up perfectly; “100% pure adrenaline.” In my mind, no other Swayze film can come close to the cocaine-high type of sheer masculine enjoyment that Point Break revels in.
Released in the summer of 1991, Point Break came and went without much fanfare or box office. In the years since, it has become a beloved cult film and now stands as one of the best action films of the 1990s.
There are moments of stunning stupidity and ineptitude in terms of dialogue and plot, but the enthusiasm of the cast and the energy that Kathryn Bigelow provides behind the camera more than makes up for the suspension of disbelief.
Keanu Reeves plays the infamously named Johnny Utah. Johnny was once a star quarterback for Ohio State, leading them to a Rose Bowl victory over USC. But, in the process, he blew out his knee and subsequently joined the FBI. As the film opens, he has just graduated from Quantico and has been sent to Los Angeles. He is partnered with a grizzly FBI veteran, Angelo Pappas (played to a hilt by Gary Busey).
In many ways, Pappas in similar to Jimmy Malone in The Untouchables. They have both had their time in the line of fire and are somewhat content, in their later years, to play it safe. A series of bank robberies, 27 banks in 3 years to be exact, have the L.A. bureau chasing ghosts.
The group responsible for the robberies call themselves the Ex-Presidents because they wear rubber masks of former presidents LBJ, Nixon, Carter and Reagan. Pappas, who’s been at this game for 22 years, can tell that they are solid professionals. In their robberies no one gets shot, the ex-presidents only stick to cash drawers, they never get greedy and go for the vault and they are in and out in 90 seconds.
Pappas does indeed have a theory as to who the Ex-Presidents might be but it’s not a popular one amongst the bureau. By examining what one would think is minor evidence, Pappas has concluded that the Ex-Presidents are surfers and are sticking to a summer schedule when it comes to robberies.
Utah is young, dumb and full of cum. He wants to nail the bank robbers and be a hero. After reviewing some evidence with Pappas along with some Corona and Jack Daniels, Utah is convinced.
Utah then goes undercover as a surfer to ferret out the robbers. This sets off a chain of events that leads him to Tyler (Lori Petty) and Tyler’s former lover, the Zen-like surfer and appropriately named Bodhi (Patrick Swayze). Utah becomes seduced by Tyler and then by Bodhi. Tyler is a spunky, headstrong, no BS type woman that Utah hasn’t encountered before so that can be explained. However, Bodhi is a free-spirited, highly enlightened soul.
After a beach football game (where the two men feel each other out almost like dogs sniffing each other) Bodhi befriends Utah and teaches him what the real meaning of surfing is both physically and psychologically.
Utah is willing to do anything to break the case, but Bodhi opens him up to a side that he has never fully acknowledged but has always been simmering - that being the most masculine of all sides that exists in men – pushing life to the limit and past it no matter the consequences. This realization along with his eventual discovery of the Ex-Presidents’ true identity leads Utah to have to come to terms with what he is willing to sacrifice in order to win and nail the bad guys.
Point Break is not the type of film where one spends time trying to figure out why the characters do what they do. It’s a film that is based on and is driven by the characters expressing themselves through action. There are several instances where one could question the logistics and believability of what is happening.
You can go grow brain dead rather quickly if you ask such questions here. The plot strains credibility (a character jumps out of a plane without a parachute, air tackles another with a parachute and puts a gun to his head) as it progresses and the acting won’t be honored in any acting studios. Neither of those factors matter in the end. Much like Road House, Point Break succeeds in spite of itself.
Despite the inadequacies of the plot you are willing to be taken over by the film it because of the energy of the story and the performers. Movies don’t always have to be landmark works of art. Sometimes they can just be sheer energized entertainment for us to lose ourselves in. Point Break is the definition of the latter.
It is an exhilarating action thriller that constantly keeps you occupied and energized. James Cameron must be given kudos for executive-producing the film and helping to rescue it when it seemed as if the film might not be made.
Mark Isham’s beautiful, soulful and haunting score provides another element to the film that provides the viewer with a strong emotional anchor. The rock/surf infused soundtrack perfectly complements what is happening on-screen. The haunting use of Ratt’s “Nobody Rides For Free” over the end credits essentially summarizes one of the film’s many lessons - that being that everything in life costs a price.
No one gets a free ride. Yes, you can get some of life’s lessons out of Point Break, as pathetic as it sounds. As Bodhi remarks early on,” If you want the ultimate, you’ve got to be willing to pay the ultimate price. It’s not tragic to die doing what you love.”
Patrick Swayze, much like his Dalton in Road House, was born to play the enigmatic and seductive Bodhi. His inviting charisma contrasts well with his hidden dark side. Swayze was seldom better suited for a role than he was here and makes Bodhi a real entity that a weaker person can be easily seduced by.
Keanu Reeves’s performance is hilariously wooden here (“I am an F.B.I. agent!”) but Johnny Utah is still considered to be his most enjoyable performance. Still one does wonder how much better the film would’ve been had Johnny Depp, who was considered for the role of Utah before Reeves was brought on, had accepted.
Once again, much like Roadhouse, the film was a box office failure and the critics bagged on it but, just like Roadhouse, it now has a cult following. Again, I can’t understand how this film didn’t have more of a box office success considering that there were not one but two pretty boys that women could ogle.
Oh wait, now I remember. It’s because this was an action driven film that had a love angle as a minor subplot and it didn’t involve Swayze. The dialogue in the film, much like Roadhouse, has become iconic with many of the great lines going to Swayze.
Swayze would say that the Bodhi character was the closest character to himself that he would ever play and it shows. He did many of his own surfing and skydiving scenes without a stunt double including the infamous “Adios Amigo” fall near the end of the film which is shot without a cut.
In the making-of documentary included on the Pure Adrenaline Special Edition DVD of the film released in 2006, Swayze admitted that he almost died several times doing his own stunts.
In fact, test audiences liked the Bodhi character so much that they hated the original ending where he dies a conventional movie-type death. Bigelow went back and reshot the ending which gives Bodhi a more dignified and iconic end.
These are just the films that were significant for me and for my generation when it came to Patrick Swayze.
I would be selling him short if I did not mention many of the gutsier, risk-taking roles he took later in his career such as the drag queen Vida in To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything Julie Newmar in 1995, Gunnery Sergeant Jim Lance in the criminally underappreciated Green Dragon in 2001 and the motivational speaker/closet pedophile Jim Cunningham in Donnie Darko also in 2001.
As difficult as it is to accept his loss, the best goodbye I can think of for Patrick Swayze would have to be one of his immortal lines. As Swayze says to Keanu Reeves near the end of Point Break; “I see you in the next life!”