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Story Notes for Red Dawn

Weeknights during prime time on AMC, you can catch Story Notes — real time trivia and facts about your favorite movies! Below is the online version of the Story Notes for Red Dawn.

Biographical Notes
Powers Boothe married his wife in 1969. They’ve been together ever since.

Director John Milius learned to create the effect of a napalm bombing on the set of Apocalypse Now. He wrote the famous line, “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.”

Both Sheen and Swayze have real life brothers that are also actors. Sheen’s brother is Emilio Estevez (The Mighty Ducks). Don Swayze recently appeared on True Blood.

Casting Notes
This is Patrick Swayze’s first leading role. He later starred in Dirty Dancing (1987) and Ghost (1990).

This is Charlie Sheen’s first movie ever.

The teacher is Frank McRae, a former NFL player. He also plays the police captain in 48 HRS. (1982).

As a child actor, Brad Savage (Danny) was in Escape from Witch Mountain and The Apple Dumpling Gang.

Ron O’Neal (Colonel Bella) starred as a conflicted cocaine dealer in Superfly (1972).

Darren Dalton went to high school in New Mexico. In 1984, he also appeared in Joy of Sex.

C. Thomas Howell (Robert) had acted with Patrick Swayze one year earlier in The Outsiders (1983).

Elan Oberon (Alicia) is director John Milius’ wife.

Harry Dean Stanton (Mr. Eckert) starred in Paris, Texas the same year as Red Dawn (1984).

Ben Johnson (Mr. Mason) was the star of many Westerns, like The Wild Bunch (1969). He won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for The Last Picture Show (1971).

Jennifer Grey had only been in one movie before this, a small part in Reckless (1984).

Lea Thompson (Erica) had just played Tom Cruise’s girlfriend in All the Right Moves (1983).

Sam Slovick (Yuri) was a protégée of Andy Warhol.

Director John Milius’s friend, Fred Rexer, appears briefly in the movie at one point. He helped create the actors’ training program.

Powers Boothe plays Vice President Noah Daniels on 24. He’s also on Deadwood.

William Smith (who leads the soldiers) once worked as a Russian linguist for the CIA. He also plays Conan’s father in John Milius’ Conan the Barbarian (1982).

Historical Notes
In 1984, the U.S. and Soviet Union were in the midst of an extremely volatile phase of the Cold War. President Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union an “Evil Empire.” War felt imminent.

Some historians consider the Cold War to have been a third World War.

Jedediah Smith and his men were the first Americans to travel overland across the Southwest to California.

Countless books were burned in the Soviet Union during the Communist regime.

The Soviet Union’s forced labor camps were called Gulags. Prisoners worked up to 14 hours a day.

“John has a long mustache” was a code used to mobilize French Resistance forces on D-Day in WWII.

As president, Theodore Roosevelt established 150 National Forests.

“Spider holes” were used by Vietcong guerillas in the Vietnam War.

The National Council of American-Soviet Friendship was a real organization from 1941 to 1991.

Russia was allied with the U.S. and Great Britain in both WWI and WWII.

In 2003, the U.S. Army named its mission to capture Saddam Hussein “Red Dawn.” The two safe houses it targeted were given the names “Wolverine 1” and “Wolverine 2.”

Around this time, U.S. Navy officer John Anthony Walker, Jr. pleaded guilty to leading a Soviet spy ring.

The 1949 Geneva Convention, signed after WWII, outlines the humane treatment of prisoners of war.

The Japanese placed explosives under dead bodies in WWII.

The Colonel’s HQ is really the historic Castañeda Hotel in Las Vegas, NM, built in 1898 by Fred Harvey.

Location Notes
The movie was mostly shot in and around Las Vegas, New Mexico. Parts of Easy Rider (1969) and No Country for Old Men (2007) were also shot there.

One scene was shot on Johnson’s Mesa in New Mexico. It got as cold as 40 degrees below zero that day.

Love Note
Lea Thompson was dating Dennis Quaid at the time. They met on the set of Jaws 3-D (1983).

Music Notes
“The Battle Hymn of the Republic” was written by Julia Ward Howe during the Civil War.

Composer Basil Poledouris also created the epic score for John Milius’ Conan the Barbarian (1982).

Pop-Culture Notes
Red Dawn (1984) is a cult classic featuring some of the biggest stars of the ’80s before they were famous.

The movie theater in the movie is showing Alexander Nevsky (1938), about a Russian prince fighting off an invading army.

“Avenge me!” is one of the most quoted lines from Red Dawn.

Jennifer Grey later made out with Charlie Sheen in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986).

The following year, Judd Omen played Mickey in Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985).

Lane Smith (Mayor) plays Perry White on Lois & Clark (1993-1997) and is in My Cousin Vinny (1992).

Red Dawn was the first movie released with a PG-13 rating. The new rating was created in July of 1984, as a step between PG and R.

“You’re entering a world of pain” is a famous line by Walter Sobchak in The Big Lebowski (1998). Walter, played by John Goodman, was loosely based on Milius, a friend of the Coen Brothers.

Red Dawn has been called “World War III as fought by the Breakfast Club.”

In the 2007 Guinness Book of World Records, Red Dawn held the record for most violent movie. There are 134 violent acts per hour, averaging a little over two every minute.

Strelnikov is named after a character in Doctor Zhivago (1965).

Prop Notes
All of the military vehicles were supplied by Veluzat Motion Picture Rentals, run by two brothers. Renauld Veluzat: “[John Milius] knew the serial numbers of every vehicle.”

RPGs, like the one Robert’s got, were used by the Soviets in their invasion of Afghanistan in the ’80s.

Quotation Notes
Director John Milius says the location is almost like another character in the movie.

Charlie Sheen: “[Swayze] kind of took the youngsters by the hand and helped us along. Not just performance-wise… with just trying to keep your head about you in a very confusing landscape.”

John Milius has said that he wanted the movie to show the futility of war.

C. Thomas Howell: “I grew up as a child living Red Dawn. I was leaping out of spider holes, mowing down Russkies at the age of eight.”

Lea Thompson: “[Red Dawn] is very operatic. The emotions are big.”

Swayze: “I learned things I shouldn’t know. I know how to make bombs out of household goods.”

Milius has said that, in movies, nature is more present and stronger than human interaction.

Powers Boothe: “This character came to symbolize some kind of sanity for them… [as] a father figure.”

C. Thomas Howell: “I liked the idea of playing the kid who kinda goes off the deep end.”

Powers Boothe thought his “Army pukes” line was horrible and that he’d be laughed off the screen. Boothe: “[But] I remember seeing it and the audience roared and applauded.”

Milius: “I knew it was kind of an outrageous film. I knew that Hollywood would condemn me for it. I would be known as a right-wing warmonger from then on: totally uncontrollable, un-housebroken.”

C. Thomas Howell said for one scene: “Milius came up to me and said, ‘Look, no emotion here. You just gotta get the job done. Drop the guy, swing up on your horse, and ride out of town.'”

Swayze: “This is just like a young actor’s dream, to be the leader of a teenage group of guerilla fighters.”

Swayze and Jennifer Grey did not get along on set. Later, he had to convince her to do Dirty Dancing (1987). Swayze said, “Jennifer couldn’t stand me once I started barking orders at everyone.”

During their boot camp training, the actors only got to eat when their instructor felt they earned it.

Milius says Robert is “like somebody who gets in a river and the river just carries him away. He’s really drowned in the river because he becomes absorbed with the war.”

Swayze said, “Everything on Red Dawn was epic in scale: the hard-core training, the controversial plot… the insanely rigorous shoot, and the antagonism between myself and a certain young actress [Grey].”

Sheen: “When you’re 18… trying to get your feet wet, it’s like, screw politics… let’s go kill some Russians.”

Charlie Sheen on William Smith (Strelnikov): “He was terrifying… you couldn’t talk to him on the set.”

Milius: “I like the idea that [the villains] have a sort of sympathy. They’re not just robots. They… have sympathy for the insurgents because they were once insurgents themselves.”

Swayze: “We take our freedom for granted and we think [that] it can’t happen to us. Red Dawn sort of just stirred the worldwide pot a little bit. It got people thinking and got people scared.”

Milius: “I think the movie touches people’s desires to live free. I think everybody wants to… protect their beliefs and their country.”

Script Notes
After the jet explodes, Andy yells “Do svidaniya,” which means “goodbye” in Russian.

Red Dawn was originally titled Ten Soldiers and was closer in tone to Lord of the Flies.

A more in-depth love story between Jed and Toni was cut from the final movie.

Set Notes
Five of the 36 paratroopers in the beginning of the movie did get blown as much as a mile off course during filming. One of them got stuck in a tree. He had to convince locals that he wasn’t really an enemy soldier.

The production crew built a gas station. Tourists driving by tried to fill up there, thinking it was real.

John Milius carried a loaded pistol around on set with him.

Director John Milius gave most of his notes to the actors through Patrick Swayze. Swayze said, “Of course, a lot of times it didn’t make me very popular with the [other] actors.”

The actors all went through an intense boot camp to learn how to live in the woods and handle weapons.

Patrick Swayze was dealing with the recent death of his father during filming.

The actors trained using real weapons so that they wouldn’t make mistakes using the prop ones. Lea Thompson: “We went to a firing range and there was every kind of gun you could imagine.”

Lea Thompson said that Red Dawn is the best time she’s ever had on a movie.

As it got colder, the actors had to adapt to freezing temperatures, often well below 0° F.

The blast from an exploding jet was so strong it knocked five trailers off their foundations.

Powers Boothe says Sheen came up to him during one scene and asked if he was doing a good job. Boothe reassured him that he was doing okay.

Real Green Berets helped with the actors’ boot camp training.

Two CIA men came to the set, having received reports of Russian tanks in the area. They were relieved to hear the tanks were just for a movie.

Patrick Swayze stayed in character throughout filming. He said, “I became Jed Eckert.”

Many of the fighting techniques the actors learned came from Native American tribes, like the Apaches.

At her audition, Lea Thompson was asked if she could ride a horse, shoot a gun, or kill an animal. She said no, but she still got the part.

Patrick Swayze got frostbite during filming. Years later, he said it still felt like someone shoving toothpicks up his fingernails when he got too cold.

C. Thomas Howell (Robert) had been a rodeo cowboy. He helped teach the rest of the cast to ride horses.

Tech Notes
The napalm was created by filling a plastic plumbing tube with gasoline and setting it off in sections.

There are no computer graphics effects in the movie — all of the explosions are real.

Trivia Notes
John Milius was on the NRA’s Board of Directors for six years.

The top three survival items recommended by a knife, butane lighter and tinder, and a metal cup.

In Asia, some people drink blood from deer antlers for its medicinal properties.

“Sawing off” a shotgun makes it easier to conceal, turning it into a deadlier version of a handgun.

Eagle Scout is the highest rank in the Boy Scouts of America. To earn the rank of Eagle Scout, Boy Scouts must earn 21 merit badges and lead a troop for six months.

“Eagle driver” means he flies an F-15E Strike Eagle fighter plane.

In the army, Colonel is two ranks higher than Major.

Wardrobe Note
Because of the extremely cold conditions, the cast and crew all had to wear Everest assault suits.

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