If you didn’t have a mullet or an attitude, then you didn’t get the 1989 film Road House that eventually became a cult classic. By the time Patrick Swayze appeared on the big screen as Dalton, the legendary bouncer with a Ph.D., it was two years after Dirty Dancing and one year before Ghost. Swayze was THE guy. And the audiences that went to see Road House knew the man could dance. But they never expected him to rip a guy’s throat out with his bare hands.
The film’s producer, Joel Silver, predicted his film would become “the best drive-in movie ever made.” Eventually, after countless cable TV airings, Road House made a name for itself in the classic cult category as the quintessential “so bad it’s good” kind of movie.
Here are some behind-the-scenes-facts about Road House!
Doc Could Have Been Played by Someone Else Entirely
As it turns out, Kelly Lynch, who played Dr. Elizabeth Clay (aka “Doc”) in Road House, wasn’t the producers’ first choice. They initially wanted Annette Bening to play the part, Lynch revealed in an interview with The A.V. Club. Although Bening was in the original cast, she was fired. Why? Well, according to Lynch, “Patrick just didn’t feel any chemistry with her or something.”
Once Lynch was cast, she spent a month learning to be a doctor. In order to authentically portray a small-town doctor, Lynch shadowed medical practitioners in a hospital. “I spent a month learning how to tie off stitches,” she said. But she was disappointed when, in the end, “they hand me a staple gun. I was so p****d off. Like, oh, this is cheating!”
It Wasn’t Even Filmed in Missouri
In fact, not one part of the movie was filmed there. Although it’s set in Jasper, Missouri, it was shot in Chicago and California. As for the bar, Joel Silver thought that the Double Deuce looked “too nice,” and so the crew had to make it look more like a dive bar. The exterior of the Double Deuce was part of a film set, but the interior scenes were shot at an actual dive bar called The Bandstand (which has since closed).
The film may not have been very realistic in that sense, but it does have some real-life inspiration. Screenwriter, David Lee Henry, said the inspiration for his script came from the time he visited a real-life, small-town bar. Henry revealed that the name Dalton was taken from the Georgia town of the same name where the bar he went to was located.
Swayze’s Looks Became a Problem
Patrick Swayze was a freshly-made star by the time he was filming Road House, and every woman wanted a piece of him. In fact, while shooting, a pickup truck with a group of middle-aged blonde women tried to drive up to the star’s trailer to meet the actor. And then there was the scene with the big fight by the river.
As they were filming, a raft of Swayze-obsessed women sailed by. In another scene, a female extra who was playing a waitress got caught up staring at Swayze instead of watching where she was going, and she tripped, spilling all the drinks on another extra.
Fun fact: Swayze hated his mullet. He referred to his hair in the film as the “bane of my existence.”
He Had a Bad Knee
Swayze was plagued by a knee injury that he got while playing football. It was an injury that cut short what could have been a promising college football career. When Road House was being filmed, after the five-day-long shoot fighting Jimmy (played by Marshall Teague), Swayze needed to get 2.5 ounces of fluid drained from his left knee.
As it turns out, it’s something he’s had to do before, during the production of Dirty Dancing. As a result of the knee injury inflicted on him in Road House, Swayze had to turn down the roles of Gabriel Cash in Tango & Cash (1989) as well as Mike Harrigan in Predator 2 (1990). He went with Ghost (1990) as his follow-up film instead since it was a much less physically strenuous role.
The Elvis Connection #1
The actor Robert Gene “Red” West played Red Webster, the auto parts store owner. In reality, West went to high school with Elvis Presley and was even a member of the “Memphis Mafia.” West was a songwriter, too, and acted in some of Elvis’ films, sometimes working as a stuntman. He wasn’t just a close confidante of Presley’s; he was also his bodyguard for a period of time.
Ultimately, West was fired after clashes with Presley over issues related to his addiction. Presley gave West a leg-up in Hollywood, but in the end, West had to swap his gig with The King for the thrills and spills of films like Road House. It became his most commercially successful role.
Everyone Did Their Own Stunts
As Sam Elliott aptly put it: “You hear all that bullsh** about ‘It’s all stunt doubles’ and all that sh**. Well, it isn’t.” Elliott told The A.V. Club that all the actors in Road House, as far as he knew, did their own fighting. He also revealed that he got the “sh** kicked out of me for the entire film.”
The actors were all trained by Benny “The Jet” Urquidez, a fighter who held nine black belts in nine different disciplines. Urquidez happened to believe so much in Swayze’s abilities that he even suggested to the actor that he should become a competitive kickboxer.
Fun fact: The director, Rowdy Herrington, purposely made the fights funny. He wanted to make them “like a Keystone Cops melee.”
It’s Sam Elliott’s Most Recognized Film
It might seem strange that a man with nearly 90 credits to his name is most recognized for Road House. But it comes from the mouth of the mustached man himself. In 2007, Elliott told Collider that he’s actually most recognized from this film. He also admitted to Vulture that he “wasn’t so good” in the film. The truth is that Joel Silver cast him due to his “baggage,” as Elliott put it.
Beyond Swayze, director Rowdy Herrington didn’t have many people locked in when he was casting the film. At first, gravel-voiced Elliott turned down the part of Wade Garrett, Dalton’s mentor, and best friend. But then Herrington adopted Silver’s blunt style of negotiating, and over lunch, he simply looked at Elliott and said, “Sam, if you don’t do this movie, I’m f***ed.” Elliott took the part.
One Scene Has Been Useful for the NYPD
Remember, when Dalton speaks to bar staff about “three simple rules?” Well, believe it or not, that scene has been used by the New York Police Department to train their officers. After it was reported that cops were falling asleep during the lectures, the instructors tried to keep things interesting for the trainees to stop their minds from wandering.
The NYPD goes through a mandatory, three-day retraining course. But, incorporating this particular scene from Road House hasn’t gone down well with all of the trainees. One officer said, “It’s crazy. They’re showing us something from a movie, and they want us to act like that in real life. It’s not realistic.”
The Direct-to-DVD Sequel
Did you watch the direct-to-DVD Road House sequel from 2006? Did you even know it existed? Neither did I. But it’s a real thing. Road House 2: Last Call is about Dalton’s son; however, the film features none of the original cast and was even considered by one critic as “a mindless, silly mess.”
Dalton’s son, D.E.A. agent Shane Tanner, was played by Johnathan Schaech, who was once headhunted by the Chippendales dance troupe before landing a minor role in That Thing You Do! (Tom Hanks’ directorial debut). In the sequel, Swayze’s Dalton was mysteriously shot and killed off-screen, and his son has to come into his own as a cooler and get to the bottom of his father’s murder. I guess the straight-to-DVD part makes sense now.
Three and a Half Hours?!
Road House is pretty standard when it comes to its runtime. Sure, its 114 minutes might be a tad long for an action movie, but it still falls neatly inside the 90 to 120-minute range of most Hollywood films. But at first, it was much longer. Speaking with The Oklahoman, Sam Elliott confirmed that the original runtime of the movie was three hours and 20 minutes.
In other words, a third of the film was removed to make it compatible for its theatrical release. Many of Elliott’s scenes were cut, although he noted that “everybody suffered… That’s OK. I’m a big boy, although on some level you can say, yaaah, why… but you can’t take it personally.”
He Was Disappointed… At First
Elliott was initially disappointed in how the film turned out, given his opposition to violence. In his words: “It’s in bad taste. It’s gratuitous. It’s all the things that you’d like it not to be… plus the fact that half of my stuff is on the cutting room floor, including my best scene in the movie. How am I going to go to New York and promote this movie?” In the end, Elliott chose not to take the movie too seriously. After all, he had fun on the set. Plus, he added, “I’m happy every time I get a job.”
There were other major alterations, like having to remove Kathleen Wilhoite’s Carrie Ann and heavily edit certain fight scenes. There was a scene that was unsurprisingly cut in which Dalton makes the other bouncers dance in tutus as a part of their training. (Yes, this is true.)
They Were All Named After Cowboys
Empire described Road House as “a Western in every respect except the stetsons and six guns.” Not many westerns involve the main guy ripping out someone’s throat with their hands, but the Road House filmmakers must have been thrilled. The truth is the movie owes more to the Western genre than you might think.
In fact, most of the film’s major characters were named after famous cowboys and outlaws. Elliott’s Wade Garrett was inspired by Pat Garrett, the sheriff who notoriously killed Billy the Kid. Tilghman, the owner of the Double Deuce, was named after Oklahoma lawman Bill Tilghman. And the bad guy, Brad Wesley, shares a name with the famous bandit John Wesley Hardin.
Swayze’s Wife Lisa Niemi Coached Him on the Intimate Scenes
In the documentary, Patrick Swayze: Ghosts and Demons, it was clear that Swayze’s widow, Lisa Niemi, took a real interest in her husband’s sex scenes in Road House, especially the one with Lynch. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that the two women looked quite similar.
Either way, Niemi coached Swayze on how he should act out the scene in order to maximize his chemistry with Lynch. Swayze, a true professional, took his wife’s advice to heart, and the results were seen by us all. Speaking about the scene to A.V. Club in 2012, Lynch revealed something about her sex scene with Swayze that some of you might find a little amusing.
The Scene That Gets Bill Murray Every Time
In a somewhat creepy yet hilarious Road House piece of trivia, there’s a scene that gets comedian and actor Bill Murray every time he sees it: the infamous sex scene between Lynch and Swayze. Every time he sees it on TV, Bill calls screenwriter Mitch Glazer – Lynch’s husband to this day – to tell him that his wife is having sex with Swayze.
In one instance, Bill called Glazer long distance from Russia to pull the prank. And it’s not just Bill. Lynch said that any one of Murray’s brothers might call and say, “They’re doing it. He’s throwing her against the rocks!” Lynch explained that she was wearing discreet pads under her clothes, “so it looks more painful than it was.”
Stephen Colbert Auditioned for the Movie
The former Daily Show comedian Stephen Colbert admitted multiple times that he read for a part in Road House. But for some reason, Colbert doesn’t remember exactly which part it was. Then again, maybe he’s too embarrassed to say. Either way, just the idea of the comedian showing up as a bouncer is truly humorous.
Colbert revealed his failed audition while interviewing Bobby Cannavale and Rose Byrne when the actors confessed to watching Road House during a bout of ill health. “They shot a lot of it in Chicago, and I was a young actor in Chicago,” Colbert divulged. “I got called in!”
The Movie Was Marketed Like Dirty Dancing
Dirty Dancing and Road House don’t have much in common apart from the main actor. But then again, there were some questionable references to Dirty Dancing in Road House, as well as in its marketing. First of all, the film’s original tagline was a well-intentioned jab at Swayze’s dance flick success: “The dancing’s over. Now it gets dirty.”
Then there was Road House’s inclusion of Otis Redding’s single, These Arms of Mine, which plays during the infamous love scene in Dirty Dancing. In Road House, when Doc and Dalton were getting down and dirty (pun intended), the same song plays in the background. I guess it was a little something for the Dirty Dancing fans.
Swayze Contributed to the Soundtrack
Swayze’s career was that of a typical ‘80s hunk: action films, chick flicks, and a roller-disco comedy-musical. But it isn’t every day that a big-name actor comes along that can sing like Swayze. He wrote and sang She’s Like the Wind for the Dirty Dancing soundtrack. That song reached number 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 17 on the UK charts.
So, it’s not surprising that Swayze took to the recording studio for Road House, too. He not only wrote and sang Cliff’s Edge, but he also sang Raising Heaven (in Hell) Tonight – both are on the official movie soundtrack. While it didn’t really match the success of the Dirty Dancing soundtrack, it was popular enough to get an expanded reissue in honor of Road House’s 30th anniversary in 2019.
Swayze Was Attacked by What?
Swayze and the rest of the cast performed their own stunts and along the way, they blurred the lines of what a stunt can be. It was most apparent when actor Marshall Teague, aka Jimmy, mistook a wooden log for a prop and ultimately smashed it into Swayze with all his might.
Teague and Swayze didn’t really get along at the beginning of production, but with time, the co-stars developed a mutual respect after seeing each other’s commitment to their fight scenes. It was their commitment that inspired the two to improvise much of their fight choreography. In other words, they were practically fighting for real. And so, Swayze didn’t see it coming when Teague swung the log like a two-by-four. Word on the street is that he suffered a couple of broken ribs as a result.
The Off-Broadway “Fightsical”
It’s true: Road House was adapted for an off-Broadway musical (aka “fighstical”) in 2003. But the show wasn’t really what fans of the film were expecting. For one, it followed the film’s reputation as a wacky, hyper-masculine “thriller.” All the ‘80s mush and silly hair were definitely in the musical. And the title of the musical was unique indeed.
“Road House: The stage version of the cinema classic that starred Patrick Swayze, except this one stars Taimak from the ‘80s cult classic The Last Dragon wearing a blonde mullet wig” is the full title. Who knows why, but the production was done by New Zealand scientist Timothy Haskell – one of the world’s leading experts on sea ice.
The Same Location as 48 Hrs.
Released in 1982, 48 Hrs. kick-started the “buddy cop” film genre and put the comic Eddie Murphy on the map. Seven years later, by the end of the ‘80s, it became a legacy. 48 Hrs. and Road House don’t have much in common, other than the fact that they share the same filming location: the garages where Dalton stores his Mercedes – the same place Reggie Hammond (Eddie Murphy) stores his.
It could be due to the fact that both films were produced by Joel Silver. 48 Hrs. was actually Silver’s first project. He later went on to produce Die Hard, The Matrix, and Lethal Weapon. Silver recently resigned from the company that bears his name in 2019.
There Was Almost a Remake
And professional wrestler and actress Ronda Rousey could have starred in it. In 2015, it was announced that Rousey would star in a female-focused version of Road House. It wouldn’t even be the first time that a wrestler went from the ring to Hollywood (i.e., Jesse Ventura was an ‘80s icon).
Nick Cassavetes (who directed The Notebook) signed on to direct the remake, and Rousey even reached out to Swayze’s widow, Lisa Niemi, to get her blessing. It was given to her, too. However, in the end, the planned start-date came and went, and nothing was ultimately done with the project. Rousey has mainly abandoned her acting career. Maybe fighting is what she should stick to for now.
So How Did It Fare in the End?
Road House saw lackluster box office returns, but it did do quite well on home video. And it became a cult classic with a second life on cable television. Upon its initial release, Road House received mainly negative reviews. Rotten Tomatoes’ critical consensus reads: “Whether Road House is simply bad or so bad it’s good depends largely on the audience’s fondness for Swayze – and tolerance for violently cheesy action.”
Roger Ebert gave it two and a half out of four stars. When interviewed by the late Anthony Bourdain, Bill Murray (who clearly gets a kick out of it) lauded the movie as unappreciated. Road House was nominated for (but never “won”) five Golden Raspberry Awards for Worst Picture, Worst Actor (Swayze), Worst Supporting Actor (Ben Gazzara), Worst Director, and Worst Screenplay.
Okay, so if the only reason you even watched Road House was because Sam Elliott was in it, then you’re gonna wanna stay tuned…