Road House – 30 Years Later

road house

“Nobody ever wins a fight” – Patrick Swayze, as Dalton.

The late actor spoke some thought-provoking dialogue throughout Road House.  Thirty years after the action film’s release to theaters, it is now regarded as a cult classic despite receiving negative reviews and achieving moderate box-office success. It received several Golden Raspberry Award nominations having been viewed poorly by most critics.

Today, the film has a home in the pop culture lexicon thanks to Seth MacFarlane and the minds behind Fox’s animated series Family Guy.

Swayze was still riding a wind of success when Road House began filming in April of 1988. Dirty Dancing was still fresh in the minds of moviegoers.  Personally, I have a vivid memory of riding past my hometown theater and seeing a crowd of people lined up around the block to see Swayze and Jennifer Grey set the screens ablaze. Dirty Dancing would ice the cake as a defining romantic drama of the 1980’s. Swayze’s value as an actor skyrocketed. Casting him was seen as raising the potential of a film’s bankability.

Road House was more than just a one-person action film. As the lead bouncer/cooler for the Double Deuce club in Jasper Missouri, Swayze shared the screen with a remarkable cast of talent who matched their roles quite.  It would be difficult to imagine Road House without Ben Gazzara as the tyrannical villain Brad Wesley, Kelly Lynch as Dr. Elizabeth Clay, Sam Elliott as wise Wade Garret or  Punk-Rock legend John Doe as bartender turned henchman Pat McGurn. There are too many to mention here. Even the smallest roles lead to the big impact of the film.

As a ten-year old impressionable kid, it was the first R-rated film that I recall watching which automatically made it memorable. There was the shock and awe of seeing nudity in film for the first time. My friends and I all cheered for the fight scenes as if they were really happening in front of us. We wanted Dalton and his bouncers to beat the hell out of the Brad Wesley and his goons. There was the appearance of wrestling legend Terry Funk who we all knew from watching a few too many television wrestling broadcasts. The Deuce’s house music group was played by The Jeff Healey Band. This gave the film a bit of home country flavour we could be proud of, with Healey turning in a great acting performance as Cody. During one of the many memorable scenes, Healey shares the stage and lead vocals with bar server Carrie Ann (acted by the multi-talented Kathleen Wilhoite) in what is arguably one of the best versions of the Eddie Floyd classic “Knock On Wood”. It is unconscionable this song, along with a track from the opening scene band Cruzados are omitted entirely from the film’s soundtrack.

Despite the verbal and written slashings the film received, it has over thirty years developed a cult following. When Road House was released to video it enjoyed more noticeable success. It still receives regular airplay on several American televisions stations, albeit in a heavily edited format. Viewing the film with tempered down language and  subtracted sex scenes is a great example of how “edited for television” moments can completely kill the appeal and story of a film.

Returning to memorable quotes, Swayze and other cast members delivered many words of great wisdom from this screenplay.  Many of the friends that watched Road House with me still quote the film’s funny moments on a regular basis.

No matter if I am being served at any number of retail stores, or restaurants, or serving the public myself in any of the day jobs I’ve held, getting called “Sir” has happened often much to my annoyance. Yet I appreciate that it is part of the trade. So I’ve turned it around every single time by quoting Dalton’s Landlord Emmett (Sunshine Parker) in the scene when they meet and agree to tenancy of a room for Dalton at Emmett’s farm.

“Calling me Sir is like putting an elevator in an outhouse.  Don’t belong”.

This has always draws laughter in response. There have been a few occasions where the person knows the movie I’m quoting.  They point and respond excitedly, “Road House!”

Thirty years after the initial release, Road House has found a generation of new fans. Thanks in large part to television and repeat references by the patriarch of the Griffin Household on Family Guy, Road House has cemented itself as an integral chapter of classic cinema.     



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