Dalton’s Rules: Unpacking the Authenticity of ‘Roadhouse’ in Security Work

When you think of the quintessential ‘bouncer movie’ (try googling door supervisor movie, see how far that gets you) – there can be only be one choice. That choice is the 1989 classic Road House. I’ll try and avoid spoilers here, but I will discuss a particular scene and the protagonist’s (Dalton’s) backstory. I promise obnoxious fawning over Patrick Swayze’s perfect hair will be kept to a tasteful minimum.

In short, I believe that Roadhouse does for Door Staff what Hot Fuzz does for British Policing. That is that it speaks authentically to the work. To those of you who do this job, you will immediately recognise deliberate and effective strategies for de-escalating conflict, social engineering and behavioural management. Dalton, at points offers a faithful and nuanced representation of our profession, highlighting the key skills and challenges faced by those in the industry. I frequently, probably annoyingly, reference this movie at work and whilst I teach.

For those who don’t know Roadhouse is a perfect example of the golden age of 80’s American moviemaking. It is a 114-minute, denim-clad, 80’s fever dream, written and directed with the help of a certain Columbian export no doubt (opinion of myself and total conjecture of course). The movie was sold to the general public pretty much entirely from Swayze’s marvellous hair and personal magnetism post-Dirty Dancing. Remember that this was, after all, the era of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren.

Now, Roadhouse” follows Dalton, a highly skilled and philosophical cooler (head door), hired to clean up the Double Deuce, a notoriously rowdy bar in Jasper, Missouri. As Dalton navigates the challenges of managing bar fights and unruly patrons, he brings a sense of discipline and order to the establishment. Along the way, he encounters various obstacles and adversaries, testing his skills and resolve.

Dalton is not your typical heavy. He is the warrior in the garden. A Philosophy graduate, an expert martial artist with a complicated relationship to violence, he is good at fighting, but he does not enjoy it for its own sake. This conflict at the heart of Dalton’s character is fascinating (firstly because I studied philosophy and it suits my vanity to make the comparison to him). Doorstaff are frequently required to engage with difficult personalities, to use force to protect the peace, themselves and others where it is necessary. If you like using a hammer, all your problems start to resemble nails. It is critical then that those in our society who practice our trade, must do so effectively – but reluctantly and with consideration for the person they are restraining.

Dalton sets himself apart from his colleagues at the outset in is his ability to manage conflict. He emphasizes the importance of remaining calm and using words to de-escalate situations before resorting to physical force. He’s no pushover though, being physically capable, making the case that door supervisors to be fit and able to handle physical confrontations when they arise. Dalton’s is a model of grace under pressure, he is steady in the face of stress and danger. As pop culture examples go, I can’t really think of one better for our industry (If you’ve watched the movie then you’ll understand that example only goes so far).

When I teach, I without fail put on a clip lasting a little over two minutes. In this clip Dalton gathers the staff of the Double Deuce for an introduction and some training. He lays out his thesis – pretty much about maintaining control and using your head rather than relying solely on physical strength. Dalton outlines three simple rules for his team.

Whilst researching for this article, I learned that the New York Police Department had made Dalton’s “three simple rules” (pretty much my three commandments of doorwork) part of a mandatory training 2014. Apparently, the Mayor, Bill de Blasio, said the course as had “a transcendent effect” on community policing.  What are the rules then:

**Expect the unexpected – **The importance of being aware and prepared for any situation. In public uniformed service I have heard this referred to ad nauseum as the ‘Dynamic Risk Assessment’. Expect problems from everyone, everywhere, be friendly but don’t mistake people at work as friends.

**Take it outside** – Dalton insists that any physical confrontations should be moved outside to minimise damage and danger to patrons. I have always found it’s easier to keep people outside, than to get them outside. So where the is doubt about the suitability of a customer – better to deal with it before it becomes a problem. I also tend to tell customers headed for the door that I just want to go outside for a chat. It’s not in your interest to show your hand, they might believe they have nothing to lose and dig in their feels.

**Be nice** – This is the big one, the golden rule. Dalton emphasises how crucial it is to remain calm and polite, even in the face of aggression. People cause problems, and those people are your problem – but if you take it personally, it massively exacerbates the situation. The fear or anger they emboldens on unsettles them, it gives them cause to fight. When somebody says or does something to get under your skin – they only win if you let them, so be nice.

Roadhouse to many might just be a Family Guy gag, a narrative excuse for gratuitous head kicking. If you ask certain people, that’s all it is – Road House was nominated for (but did not “win”) five Golden Raspberry Awards: Worst Picture, Worst Actor (Patrick Swayze), Worst Supporting Actor, Worst Director, and Worst Screenplay.

But the film has a real cult following – it is listed in Golden Raspberry Award founder John Wilson’s 100 Most Enjoyably Bad Movies Ever Made. Quite unbelievably, Road House even made into a musical in 2003 called (and I’m not making this up) ‘Road House: The Stage Version Of The Cinema Classic That Starred Patrick Swayze, Except This One Stars Taimak From The 80’s Cult Classic “The Last Dragon” Wearing a Blonde Mullet Wig.’ Who would do such a thing? A kiwi scientist named Timothy Haskell, who happens to be a leading expert on sea ice, of course.

For my part, I will keep recommending the movie to my peers and colleagues. It has influenced public perceptions of door supervisors and highlighted the complexity of the role. The character of Dalton continues to inspire those in the security industry to approach their work with professionalism, integrity, and skill. Also, Patrick Swayze’s hair is just excellent.

I’m going to be reviewing other media depictions of frontline of security work, and putting together a [list](https://boxd.it/vFPU2) on Letterboxd of movies that examine the experience of door work. Tune in for the good, the bad and the useful.

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