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Director Flattered as Iraq Stars in 'Red Dawn' Sequel

December 16, 2003|Bob Baker | Times Staff Writer

Among those in their glory Monday at the capture of Saddam Hussein was movie director John Milius, an unapologetic traditionalist who has long contended he is blacklisted by liberal Hollywood for his love of the military.

The Army's 4th Infantry Division, which used 600 troops to capture Hussein, apparently borrowed the operation's code name -- Red Dawn -- from Milius' 1984 Cold War drama of that name.

In the flick, Soviet troops invade America, only to be repelled by a resistance movement coordinated by a group of Colorado high school students.

There was no immediate confirmation from the Army, but it was hard to miss the analogy: The two huts the troops earmarked in their search for Hussein were code-named Wolverine I and Wolverine II. In "Red Dawn," the teens name themselves after their sports teams: Wolverines.

Pleased as he was Monday, Milius still took time to grouse that he had yet to receive a phone call from a Hollywood trade publication -- liberal bias at work again. "If it had been called Operation Forrest Gump, I think that would have been front-page news."

Milius, best known for having written the script for "Apocalypse Now" during the Vietnam War, made "Red Dawn" as a cautionary tale. The story unfolds after Washington, Kansas City, Mo., and Omaha have been nuked by the Soviets. (A theater in Colorado has a marquee reading: Now Playing: "Alexander Nevsky.") Employing hit-and-run tactics, the young freedom fighters somehow prevail.

The film has been a political litmus test for two decades, perpetually scorned by the left ("nihilistic delusions of grandeur," complained a Washington Post reviewer when it was released) and embraced by the right.

"The movie has a definite following in [military] sectors and is very, very, very well liked," said Milius, 59. "It's a patriotic movie; it's a very American movie.... Nothing's more traditional than resistance." The soldiers who captured Hussein, he remarked, "are Wolverines who have grown up and gone to Iraq."

Milius' love of the warrior instinct has led him in various directions. He wrote and directed "The Wind and the Lion" (1975), based on the real-life rivalry between President Theodore Roosevelt and an Arab pirate that is regarded as one of the most sensitive portrayals of Arab dignity in an American film. He hopes to one day direct a biopic of hawkish Air Force Gen. Curtis LeMay, who wound up as George Wallace's running mate in 1968.

Milius said he was preparing to go duck hunting Sunday when friends woke him up.

"They said, 'We just caught Saddam! The best part is, it's Operation Red Dawn! Task Force Wolverine!' "

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