REAL MEN DON’T NEED KISSES
It’s no coincidence of costuming that the story lines render them frequently bare-chested. And the cameras make caressing, lingering love to their muscular bodies much the same way Playboy leers at its centerfold women. Heightening the emotional (and sexual) intensity is a fixation with weaponry. There are close-ups of guns hugged tightly to sweaty chests, of grenades in clenched fists, of ominous cutlery being stroked tenderly.
As a climax, the star may hoist his automatic rifle and stare intently through the scope--and at the audience.
But, hey!, there’s something missing--women.
There is a curious new twist to a pervasive Hollywood genre. It involves sexuality and male stars. And it presents the dichotomy that women figure only peripherally in these films--and there is no consummation of relationships.
Welcome to tough-guy terrain.
Adventure and macho heroes dominate this world. (And here the word macho delineates one no-nonsense rough customer who is in no way, shape or form a wimp.)
Played by actors like Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Chuck Norris, and such antecedents as Clint Eastwood and Charles Bronson, they are men with a mission--modern-day warriors who adhere to a tradition that forbids desires of the heart.
In “Raw Deal,” ex-FBI agent Schwarzenegger is attracted to the dishy, Mob-connected Kathryn Harrold.
And one night, following conversation and champagne, they make their way tipsily to her bedroom. Lustfully, Harrold rips open his shirt. She is awed: “Oh my God.”
Suffice to say that plot twists keep the two from ever consummating the evening. Before the Big Moment takes place--in fact, before any foreplay occurs--Schwarzenegger appears to have passed out.
In “Commando,” Rae Dawn Chong is Schwarzenegger’s reluctant sidekick--but she’s strictly along for the ride (he commandeers her teensy sports car) and the banter. And it’s Schwarzenegger who gets the hubba-hubba treatment from the camera. First seen in shorts and tank top, he will later strip down to bikini underwear. And then there’s the scene in which he dons his “commando” regalia. As he tightens straps and applies camouflage and readies his weaponry, a smoky haze billows about him.
(Where the haze came from is a mystery. Up to this time, it was a perfectly clear, sunny day.)
Stallone’s ally in “Rambo: First Blood Part II” is a brave Vietnamese girl who lets him know that she’s attracted to him. Will the doomed John Rambo have someone to care about? But after the couple share a brief, sweet kiss, she’s cut down by enemy gunfire. Stallone cradles her in his arms. “You not forget me?” she asks dyingly.
Before embarking on the film’s climactic fight, he dons her jade necklace and a red headband cut from the fabric of her dress.
“Cobra” finds Stallone cast opposite real wife Brigitte Nielsen. But he’s so busy killing killers, he doesn’t have time to play Romeo. Except for ever-so briefly: She asks him if he sees many women. His answer: “Now and then. Nothing regular. Not many people could put up with the way I live.” She pats the bed she’s sitting on and says, “Would you come over here, please.” He does. They briefly pucker up. End of on screen romance.
In “The Delta Force,” Norris is too busy saving hostage airline passengers to bother with women. There simply isn’t time. But in “Invasion U.S.A.,” he does keep running into the same spunky female photojournalist. Mild sparks fly --along with Norris’ standard line to her, “Catch ya later.” The inference is that after peace has been restored to the nation, he might ask her for a date.
As dashing Tag Taggar in “Getting Even,” Edward Albert is dashing. But he has no time for Audrey Landers--who we think may be a former girlfriend. (The script doesn’t elaborate, but she does seductively lick his chest in one scene.) Heck, he’s too busy thwarting a crazed industrialist who’s threatening to blow Texas to smithereens.
Currently filming in Mexico, “Firewalker” finds Norris and Lou Gossett Jr., as two down-and-out soldiers of fortune who happen upon Melody Anderson. She’s got a map to an Aztec treasure. Oh, and she’s beautiful. But romance will have to wait. The emphasis is on adventure, as Norris and Gossett fend off a merciless Aztec warrior. (Projected release is November.)
In “Predator,” now in post-production, Schwarzenegger leads a military rescue unit through the Central American jungle where he encounters guerrilla fighter Elpidia Carillo. She later becomes a kind of sidekick--at least temporarily--until the film becomes a battle to the death between Schwarzenegger and a trophy-hunting alien. (Projected release is summer, 1987.)
Rest assured--these guys don’t suffer from any crisis in sexual identity.
They can’t. The formula for the genre will not permit it. And these movies are largely written to formula. (“It sometimes looks as if we’re all shooting from the same script--or that we got some of each others pages,” laughed director Joseph Zito (“Missing in Action” and “Invasion U.S.A.”).
It is imperative that the central character be 100% heterosexual.
“There just can’t be any question about that. He’s just got to be normal (heterosexual),” said director Steve Carver, who’s worked with Norris (“Any Eye for an Eye” and “Lone Wolf McQuade”) and Stallone (“Capone”).
The reason has something to do with the genre’s audiences--which are largely male--and adolescent. Males can admire a so-called “man’s man” without being “threatened.” (And women can imagine themselves with such seemingly unattainable he-men.)
But tough guys haven’t always been so tough.
Yesterday’s macho men had vulnerable moments--and inferred relationships. (And screen censorship of the time would have prohibited today’s R-rated couplings.)
The emphasis might have been on action, but audiences knew that guys like Clark Gable and John Garfield were also sleeping with women friends.
But today’s audiences aren’t like yesterday’s.
Said screenwriter Steven de Souza (“Commando”): “Back then, when everybody (adults, too) went to the movies, when it came time for the mushy stuff, kids would close their eyes. Today, since it’s mostly kids (and I can’t deny that these kind of movies are now aimed at adolescents), the mushy stuff is just ignored altogether.”
Then there’s the issue of practicality.
Laughed De Souza, “Look, there are two things these heroes can pull out in a moment of crisis. What should he unzip? If it’s his pants, he just may please the leading lady. If it’s his rifle, he just may save the world.”
Zito quipped: “It’s as if the central character is saying, ‘Gosh, I’m torn between these two things. I really want to (make love). But, I really do have to save the world.”
As fans know, these story lines are often accompanied by what amounts to a ticking clock. The central character has a set amount of time in which to carry out a mission. In “Commando,” John Matrix (Schwarzenegger) has 11 hours to save his daughter; in “Invasion U.S.A.” Matt Hunter (Norris) has 16 hours to save America from the Communists; Rambo has 36 hours to locate MIAs.
Currently scripting “The Running Man,” in which Schwarzenegger will be a participant in a futuristic death sport, De Souza admitted, “As of today, the character has four hours (to make it through the game.) It’s a good thing they don’t have to go to the bathroom in these films. There just isn’t time.”
Today’s heroes haven’t always been on such a tight schedule. In the ‘70s the formula demanded that the hero have a sexual experience just before the Big Fight.
“It was by design,” said Steve Carver. “It was the best way to create an emotional surge. The idea was that somebody who’s about to face death would want some emotional closeness beforehand.” And so, in “Eye for an Eye,” Norris went off to battle after romancing Maggie Cooper; in “Lone Wolf McQuade,” Barbara Carrera took those honors.
But, Carver concedes, the formula had its woes: “It’s not always easy to work a woman into story lines where the hero is in the war zone 99% of the time.”
They run into the same problems over at Soldier of Fortune magazine, which scrutinizes Real-Life war zones.
“We cover about 12 or 15 wars that are largely overlooked by the major media,” explained associate editor Jim Pate. “Occasionally our correspondents will mention how much a guy misses his girlfriend, or something like that. We usually trim out that part. It just doesn’t seem to fit.”
Even in those countries where women fight alongside men (“And women are fighting in places like El Salvador, Nicaragua and Lebanon,” said Pate), romance is hard to come by. “People in war zones don’t have a lot of time to take off their clothes and lie down. Besides, in a warlike situation, there’s a lot of tension.”
In its 11th year, the para-military-oriented Soldier of Fortune (“We specialize in hairy-chested stuff, and we don’t make any bones about it either,” said Pate) frequently scrutinizes the tough guy films. In fact, its top-selling issue had Rambo as the cover boy.
“When it comes to these movies, what we’re most concerned with is the weaponry--how accurately it’s used, offensive objectives, things like that.” Pate laughed, adding, “We aren’t too concerned with the soldiers’ sex lives. We’re concerned with the fight.”
The tough guys didn’t just happen.
They owe much to John Wayne’s portraits of the strong, silent loner. Never mind that the myth of Wayne as the cowboy who kissed his horse and rode off into the sunset is largely a myth.
In fact, many of Wayne’s films were hugely romantic (including some of his Westerns, like “Angel and the Badman” (1947), with Wayne as a gunslinger and ladies man who finally eschews his wild ways--and a blond saloon girl--for True Love with a pure Quaker girl).
As film historian William K. Everson, author of “Love in Film,” pointed out, “Even when Wayne played what might be called a ‘Rambo'-type, as in ‘Sands of Iwo Jima’ (1949), he was shown to be vulnerable to women. Don’t forget that that film had flashbacks showing him with his wife.”
That audiences tend to remember Wayne as a loner has to do, believes De Souza, with perceptions of the classic mythical heroes.
“They were always on quests. After they finished, they went their ways.”
Then there were those legendary tough guys who dallied--and paid a price. Who could forget Samson. His saga in the Book of Judges included lots of strong man stuff (he once killed 1,000 Philistines with the jawbone of an ass) and a liking for the ladies. Especially Delilah. When the Philistines heard about their shenanigans, they offered her money in exchange for uncovering the secret of Samson’s strength.
It took some nagging, but Delilah finally learned that it was his long hair and. . . .
(He got revenge when his hair grew back and he toppled an entire Philistine temple, killing thousands--himself included.)
Furthering that you-can’t-trust-a-woman syndrome is the age-old notion that, physiologically, men can lose vital energy through sexual activity.
It’s a belief that practitioners of at least one major sport still adhere to. Rocky Balboa is one of them.
Granted, there are exceptions to every rule. But according to Southern California boxing promoter Don Fraser (35 years in the biz), boxers still believe that staying celibate prior to a bout increases their strength.
“It’s such a traditional sport--it really hasn’t changed much through the years,” said Fraser, who told of managers who will go to lengths to keep their fighters from women. “They might even take them to out-of-the-way training camps, to make sure they don’t do any fraternizing.”
Remember the first “Rocky”?
Rocky tells Adrian, “There’s no fooling around during training. I want to stay strong.”
Admonished by his trainer, Mick, to “lay off that pet shop dame,” Rocky even works out at a punching bag while chanting, “Women weaken legs.”
When Rocky first met audiences, he didn’t qualify as a tough guy. He does now. What started as a love story gradually shifted, becoming, by “Rocky IV,” a veritable war between the nations. (“The film is so macho that most of the kissing and hugging is done between men,” wrote one critic.
Asked about that transition, Stallone once explained, “There’s a certain point where I have to hold back on Adrian--and let Rocky handle his own dilemmas. Because otherwise, it looks as though he’s not making up his own mind.” Added Stallone, “The audience doesn’t want him to get too domestic.”
“What these films do--and these films are so fantastic they don’t even purport to be realistic--is give an audience the chance to fantasize about not having anyone telling you what to do,” said De Souza. “If it’s a kid watching, he’s had enough of his mom telling him, ‘Go do your homework,’ and, ‘Be sure and be in by 10.’ If it’s an adult, he gets the same kind of stuff from his wife.
“Audiences don’t want to watch someone who has a social life.”
According to Chuck Norris, his “heavy duty” love scene in “Silent Rage” brought letters from concerned fans.
“My audience doesn’t like me domestic,” he has acknowledged. “They want me to be a free spirit. . . . A lot of kids go to see my movies. They don’t usually like to see me in steamy stuff.”
So he’s quit doing those scenes.
Surmised Norris: “I’m not the Richard Gere type, you know. The audience isn’t really coming to see me get into heavy love scenes. It’s not my image.”
And then there are the times that love scenes aren’t true to the character.
Schwarzenegger (who had love scenes in both “Conan” films) battled for two months with the “Raw Deal” film makers because they wanted his character to make love to Mob moll Kathryn Harrold. In fact, the film originally was to end with Schwarzenegger going off with Harrold.
But as Schwarzenegger told New York writer Donald Chase, “I think it’s much better to have the guy work out his relationship with the wife. . . . I want to do things in the movies that are bigger than what I can do in real life--not less. That would definitely have been less.”
If De Souza has his way, Schwarzenegger will get more, and soon. “Because if I have a vote, I will have love scenes in ‘Commando II.’ ” (The sequel, which he is scripting, is scheduled to film next spring.)
It’s Stallone, however, who remains the role model for the once and future tough guys. It’s a status he inherited from Eastwood, who transcended the genre. (Especially with “Tightrope,” which found Eastwood sexually confused. In one scene he even hinted at having had a homosexual experience.)
The Stallone status is fitting, considering that he has also been credited with helping to let loose the late ‘70s infatuation with physical fitness.
And then there is the tough-guy screen persona that he has honed.
“What Stallone has done is to create his own image,” explained historian Everson. “He’s gotten rid of sentiment, of softness. It’s an excessive image and it’s being imitated.”
That image is best personified by the character of John Rambo--and the changes he underwent from one film to another.
When moviegoers first encountered the Vietnam veteran in “First Blood” (1982), Stallone portrayed him as a lonely man seeking out an old war buddy. (He expressed his loneliness to his former commander, Col. Trautman, when he asked, “Where is everybody? . . . I don’t talk to anybody.”) After being “pushed” into a confrontation with a red-neck sheriff (who didn’t want the long-haired transient in his town), Rambo retaliated by nearly destroying the town. But in the end, his anger turned to confusion and tears. He cried in Trautman’s arms before being escorted to a waiting police car.
Two years later, in “First Blood Part II” (a.k.a. “Rambo”), the character was stone-faced and seemingly impervious to pain. Flashbacks (of him imprisoned in Vietnam) in the first film found him screaming out in pain. But in the sequel, he didn’t even flinch when a vicious Soviet officer jammed a smoking-hot knife against his face.
There’s no word yet on Rambo’s point of destination or his frame of mind in the next sequel, set to film in the fall.
Change is likely: “What’s happening now is like the beefcake stuff that happened in those war films of the ‘40s and ‘50s,” said De Souza. “It’s as if there’s this time release capsule that we’ve all swallowed.
“Don’t forget that these guys all take cues from each other. So if romance works for one of them, the others will try it, too.”
Added Carver: “These guys look great naked. Put a beautiful girl in their arms and they’ll look even better.”