15 Sep 2009
Patrick Swayze (second from right) served as a father figure as Darrel in 1983's 'The Outsiders'
Patrick Swayze, who died Monday at age 57 from complications of pancreatic cancer, was known for a handful of film roles that melded a retro manliness with sensitive swagger. While no one would confuse Swayze with James Dean, some of the dancer-turned-actor's strongest turns showcased an adept ability to be both rock solid and soft-hearted.
In Swayze's biggest hit, "Ghost" (1990), his easy masculinity was tangible even though his character was an apparition floating around his flesh-and-blood fiancée (Demi Moore). And on his final project, the A&E Channel's action-drama series "The Beast," Swayze's waning physical strength actually added to the sense that his seasoned FBI agent had seen it all and lived to tell about it.
Here's a quick appreciation of four other Swayze flicks.
The Outsiders (1983)
As the surly older brother of C. Thomas Howell's Ponyboy and Rob Lowe's Sodapop, Swayze - playing the non-goofily-named Darrel in Francis Coppola's adaptation of S.E. Hinton's teen novel, set in early-'60s Oklahoma - is the film's father figure. When he dresses down his brothers for knifeplay and taunting their gang rivals, Swayze keeps his cool - not an easy trick in a movie with enough lacquered hair to clog a subway tunnel.
Red Dawn (1984)
This uber-'80s action flick - soon to be remade - is a guns-n-ammo fantasy about Wyoming teenagers who go Rambo when the Soviet Union and Cuba invade the U.S. Swayze's Jed, older brother of Matt (Charlie Sheen), becomes the de facto leader. As in "The Outsiders," Swayze, then 32, was positively grizzled next to his costars (including C. Thomas Howell and Lea Thompson), and gave writer-director John Milius's bear-ish WWIII fantasy a dose of humanity.
Point Break (1991)
In this surfer/caper movie from director Kathryn Bigelow ("The Hurt Locker"), Swayze out-zens perpetually laid-back Keanu Reeves, as an undercover Fed trying to stop a series of heists. Swayze's Bodhi - his hair burnt blond, his head like an Easter Island sculpture of Jim Morrison - is the gang's leader, a guy whose bank robbing and wave-riding is his path to enlightenment. It's the kind of role that would now go to Matthew McConaughey, who might get Bodhi's mellow tone but miss the righteousness. Swayze tagged 'em both.
To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar (1995)
As one of a trio of drag queens whose car breaks down while driving cross-country, Swayze's Vida Boheme is a chunka chunka burnin' niceness who uses his womanly ways to help a hotel owner (Stockard Channing) whose husband beats her. Wesley Snipes and John Leguizamo's Noxeema and Chi-Chi are prone to the same random acts of kindness, yet Swayze - who earned a Golden Globe nomination for the movie - doesn't ham it up. Dolled up? Yes. Goosing his image? Absolutely. But he goes through the movie with his head held high, and his heels higher.
ELIZABETH WEITZMAN REMEMBERS...
In a way, Patrick Swayze was an unlikely icon. After all, he became a star in the Eighties, when most men of his stature were swaggering action heroes. In contrast, Swayze was an unabashed romantic, a Harlequin heartthrob come to life. Sure, he had the looks to earn him status as People's "Sexiest Man Alive" in 1991. But nothing is sexier than sensitivity, a secret he, almost alone among his peers, understood from the start.
Here are four favorites worth revisiting: two international smashes, and two cult classics. Whether you're looking to pay tribute or to learn why his work deserves attention in the first place, any one of the below would be a great place to begin.
Dirty Dancing (1987)
An unfailingly sincere actor, Swayze brought a singular earnestness to his roles. Which is exactly why "Dirty Dancing" became such an enormous success, making him a superstar in the process. If Jennifer Grey represented the rare onscreen Everywoman, he was the rare, accessible fantasy: a bad boy even a father could like.
Road House (1989)
Not only did Swayze disdain the macho pose of guys like Stallone and Schwarzenegger, he never fell back on the hard-edged irony of contemporaries like Bruce Willis or Kurt Russell. And while some saw a camp quality to his open intensity, others admired it as honest. Any actor of the day could have played an oft-shirtless bouncer at a sleazy bar. But would anyone else have made room for lakeside Tai Chi sessions and solemn philosophizing?
A good man is hard to find, let alone in a city as intimidating and anonymous as New York. As for a partner as devoted as Swayze's stubbornly loyal Sam, well, who would let him go? Not the fans who swooned while Swayze's spirit--just as loving in death as in life--tried to save grieving widow Demi Moore from imminent danger. We can only imagine how actual husbands responded when their wives brought home potter's wheels.
Donnie Darko (2001)
Whether true or not, it was easy to assume Swayze was the same guy offscreen as he was on film. He played passionately dedicated men; he was married to his hometown sweetheart for decades. He was a spiritual seeker; his "Point Break" and "Road House" characters reflected an inner search.
So for many, this late-career role, in which he played a celebrity pedophile, was a revelation. It was a small part but Swayze dug deep - really deep, into darker territory than he'd ever explored. And he proved to any doubters that he wasn't simply a fading star, but a serious, committed actor. It wasn't his most well-known performance, by a long shot. But no assessment of his career would be complete without it.