First Blood (1982): Breakdown by RANTBO
A crazed Vietnam veteran wages a one man war on Reagan Era infrastructure in a redneck mountain town. Re-defines ‘Bad-Ass’.
[THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THEIR BADASSITUDE]
Sylvester Stallone is Ex-Green Beret John J. Rambo
If Rambo had a biography it would read like a modern-day American legend, the likes of Paul Bunion or Pecos Bill. Of course by ‘modern-day’ I mean ‘violent, twisted, hapless and macabre’.
Col. Trautman: You don’t seem to want to accept the fact you’re dealing with an expert in guerrilla warfare, with a man who’s the best, with guns, with knives, with his bare hands. A man who’s been trained to ignore pain, ignore weather, to live off the land, to eat things that would make a billy goat puke. In Vietnam his job was to dispose of enemy personnel. To kill! Period! Win by attrition. Well Rambo was the best.
On it’s own, Stallone’s hairy, ‘roid fueled physique would surely put him in running for World’s Ultimate Male. But with injecting his magnificent body with rage, testosterone and the freshly slaughtered wild bore that powers the character of John Rambo—he becomes a lock. And this before even factoring in his back-log of legendary exploits in ‘Nam and the plethora of macho endeavors he achieves during the events of First Blood.
While his past remains quite shady until the later installments, he writes a whole new chapter of badassery in First Blood. And with blood, for that matter (mostly animal, but you got to start somewhere). Beginning by taking on the whole of a police department by hand (and foot), Rambo crescendos his ballad of ballsiness with a daring motorcycle chase, a jump off a 150ft cliff wall into a tree AND surviving a rocket launcher explosion; all which build up to his pièce de résistance: raiding an armory-truck and blowing up the town of the sheriff who wronged him. Now, sure, Rambo does end the film in tears, but even with this small strike against him, there are few men out there that can match him and, at least in my opinion, NO ONE that can surpass John J. Rambo in sheer, unfiltered badassness. Expect for First Blood Part II’s Rambo… But that’s a whole other beast altogether.
Brian Dennehy is Hope Sheriff Will Teasle
Far less sympathetic than his novel version, Dennehy’s Teasle clearly lands himself on Team Antagonist. While one can still find sympathy in his motivations and well-meaning intentions, it doesn’t change the fact that the Sheriff is a dyed-in-the-wool blow-hard asshole. I give him credit for his initial personal pursuit of Rambo, as he shows no fear even after witnessing first hand the Green Beret’s violent skills. And Teasle even stands his ground and refuses to abandon his beloved mountain town as it explodes around him. However, there’s really not that much that’s badass about standing around bitching and being a stubborn prick, which is what the majority of his character’s screentime boils down to. But man is he fun to hate! I’ll give him that much for sure.
[THE SEX AND VIOLENCE]
DUDESWEAT AND MACHISMO:
Stallone was still Rocky III trim, so his rippling pectorals weren’t nearly as glorious as they would go on to be in the subsequent sequels, but his ass was still plenty juicy from all the beachside running with Action Jackson, so it kind-of evens out. Plus the filmmakers were pretty liberal in showing said posterior getting hosed with high-pressure H2O. Not to mention, the cops doing the ass-blasting seemed to be enjoying themselves a little too much to be anything but closet flamers.
Aside from the man-ass, the only other precursor to the penis flavored rainbow that follows in Part II is the final male bonding scene between Colonel Trautman and Rambo.
Rambo breaks down when confronted on his shenanigans and blubbers his way through some traumatizing memories. Eventually making the vibe in the room so awkward that Trautman bends on-knee and embraces the big-bad Green Beret in a man-hug, if for nothing else than to say, “Daddy still loves you, boy”. And when you cry your heart out on another man’s shoulder, you create a bond stronger than any marriage. In fact I’m certain that if the scene had lasted just 30 seconds longer, a full-mouth kiss would have capped off the emotional embrace like the final float of a pride parade.
EXPLOITATION AND MISOGYNY:
There isn’t a single woman in the whole picture after the first couple minutes. At least not any that the camera centers on. It was like Glengarry Glen Ross, but instead of neck-ties, there were headbands and instead of Kevin Spacey, there was phallic symbolism. But, really, who needs women when you’re watching a ripped beefcake rampaging through the woods and killing things with his “knife”?
MURDER BY NUMBERS: [ 1 HUMAN, 4 ANIMALS ]
Click HERE for the Body Count Breakdown
One dumbass hick cop takes an unintentional swan-dive out of a helicopter onto some rocks. Rambo butchers a warthog for nourishment. And three Doberman Pinchers meet their canine maker after failing to take a bite outta Sly. So, not much really, but this first film is more of an Action-Thriller than a full-blown one-man-army Cheeseburger Death Machine entry like the sequels.
MOST SATISFYING ASS-KICKING AND/OR DEATH: Rambo vs. The Hope City Police Department
Shortly after being arrested for trying to buy a cheeseburger (2nd offense), Rambo is taken down to the poky and forced to clean up his rugged act. First they strip him, then they spray him, then they TRY to shave him. This is where Rambo draws the line in the cleanliness sand and his ‘Nam flashbacks begin to take over. Too bad for the eight little pigs.
And those are just the highlights.
[THE BEST OF THE REST]
EPIC MOMENT: A War You Won’t Believe
In a movie chalk full of memorable and bad-ass happenings, I have to say I’m quite partial to the sequence late in the third act featuring Rambo trouncing around the mountain town like Michael Myers with a M60. Several shots even begin with just his silhouette creeping across a wall, as he sneaks around the abandoned alleyways looking for prey. Plus, his double-crossed bandolero bullet suspenders of death are bitchin’.
My first impulse was to go with Rambo’s monologue to the Sheriff:
Rambo: In town you’re the law, out here it’s me. Don’t push it. Don’t push it or I’ll give you a war you won’t believe.
But, since I can only pick one, I have to go with this exchange:
Teasle: Are you telling me that 200 of our men against your boy is a no-win situation for us?
Trautman: You send that many, don’t forget one thing.
Trautman: [Dramatic Pause] A good supply of body bags.
It’s that end line that sells it. The way Crenna delivers it is the best. It could have easily been followed by “…bitch.” I laugh every time.
The first film chronicling the misadventures of “retired” U.S. Army Special Forces ass-kicker, John J. Rambo, First Blood was a triumph for action cinema.
Based off the 1972 anti-war action novel of the same name by David Morrell. The idea for the subject matter of a the renegade Vietnam solider came to Morrell from, of all places, two back-to-back news stories. One about a Vietnam fire fight and the second about a protester riot Stateside. So with the simple idea of ‘What would happen if the war in Vietnam, came home?’, Rambo was born.
Not just one of many illegitimate and discarded children of Uncle Sam and Lady Liberty—the best. In the military he was the alpha, omega and everything in-between. Now discharged and back on American soil, he is just another long-haired drifter, grazing the highways of a country that shunned and forgot him. His disturbing past as a decorated, yet disillusioned and disaffected veteran having left him broken and lost, it was only a matter of time before the boiling pot of traumatic stress and rage within Rambo overflowed and unleashed war.
Now, in the novel, when Rambo snaps, people die. A lot of people. A killer born and raised, Rambo loses all restraint and ruthlessly slaughters many of the local police. A very different, though equally enthralling direction. To counter balance the novel’s less sympathetic, more psychotic version of Rambo, Morrell split the story into two point of views. Rambo’s, of course, and Sheriff Will Teasle.
In the novel Teasle is a decorated veteran much like Rambo, but from the previous generation’s war in Korea. Who whilst still possessing the head of a pig and the drive of a plow is far more empathetic, as the reasons for his actions in pushing Rambo are justified by actions that he truly believes are for the best of both the town and “The Kid”. Of course this dichotomy posed a problem in translating the story to film, so the fantastic character actor Brian Dennehy was chosen to bring to life only the bastard surface of Teasle to better make the audience empathize and root for Rambo. Who, of course, was adapted as far-less brutal and insane to mirror the other changes.
But in choosing between the novel or the movie, I think it comes as no surprise that despite the removal of 99% of the violence and bloodshed—I pick the movie. An entertaining book to be sure, there are certain aspects of First Blood the film that I’ve come to love that just can’t be translated. For starters, Stallone’s Rambo is too perfect in my opinion and it’s too hard to picture him as Rambo when reading the original character’s story.
Arguably my favorite actor, Sly has become one of three people in my eyes: The movie star that despite his age, is still cranking out what his biggest fans desire; and Rocky and Rambo. The last obviously being my favorite. Stallone’s portrayal of the tortured soldier is action magic. His look, his style, his presence—there could be no other.
Next, Jerry Goldsmith’s score. Simply perfection. It’s consistent mournful trumpet hearkens to a military funeral on a rainy day, while at the same time being able to transform the sorrowful undertones and ever so slightly up the tempo when necessary, creating Rambo’s signature heroic theme. Which is, and if you’re an action fan I think you’ll agree, one of the best ever composed.
And third, Richard Crenna. Bringing to life the subtly written mentor of Rambo, Sam Trautman. “COLONEL—Sam, Trautman”. Intentionally or unintentionally, Crenna exhumes a lighthearted and funny touch to the otherwise cold and calculated ‘on-paper’ Colonel. A ball to watch, he plants the seeds in First Blood of a character that would go on to be one of the greatest assets to the Rambo franchise.
Now the two main aspects that are present in each of the Rambo films, and (aside from Stallone) subsequently make them Rambo films, are the action and political statements.
Easily the most tense and reality-based of the Rambo Saga, First Blood is as well the most reserved in regards to action. Yet it still manages to out badass the masses. We watch as Stallone acts out the ultimate weekend camping trip—into darkness. Rambo runs, jumps, climbs, shoots, stabs and survives; against the cold, the wilderness and a hundred + backwoods 2nd amendment supporters. As I said before, it’s not even close to being as gratuitously violent as its sequels, but it’s also not even close to disappointing as you can cut the tension with a knife (a big one).
The close-quarters combat and explosive rural destruction is unique to this entry, as it isn’t something featured in the continued adventures (aside from third-world huts in the sequels). Another exclusive feature is Rambo’s emotional instability. In later films, he certainly gets pushed to the brink of insanity, but never again is he in the state of mind as featured here. And in watching this descent into madness, the film takes on an almost horror-like quality. So much so, all that’s missing when Rambo jumps out of the shadows is the obligatory spike in the score’s volume.
The politics of Rambo’s first adventure are also the most reality-based. First Blood was more than just a romp in the woods with big knives, it was also a statement of the times. Filthy hippies and liberal rage discredited the soldier’s roles in upholding the supposed length of Lyndon B. Johnson’s johnson. And the returning vets were labeled as baby-killers and spit on. All Rambo wants in civilian life is a little respect, a friend that understands, and the occasional deep-fried dinner. The true American dream. And after all he went through for his country, I for one think he should get the side order of fries for free. Biggie size. But alas, he doesn’t get his fair-share of beef. Instead he gets unjustly arrested and subsequently snaps like a rubber-band. And who wouldn’t? Rambo gets the sympathy vote and even though the film pales in balls-to-the-wall action when compared to the sequels, it more than manages to warm the cockles of my pants with an engaging story, intense atmosphere and an explosive finale. Also, watching the birth of the 80s most iconic action hero is no small thing either. One of the all-time best, First Blood is a must watch, must own experience. Check it out.
[THE MORAL OF THE STORY]
If a disgruntled vet meanders into your town looking for a cheeseburger, just pass the ketchup, avoid eye-contact and walk away slowly. No sudden movements.
[THE AOBG ACTION CHECKLIST]
[ ] Athlete(s) Turned “Actor”
[X] Clinging To The Outside Of A Moving Vehicle
[X] Crotch Attack
[X] Dialogue Telling Us How Bad-Ass The Main Character(s) Is/Are
[X] Ending Featuring An Ambulance, A Blanket or A Towel
[ ] Factory/Warehouse/Castle
[X] Giant Explosion(s)
[X] Heavy Artillery
[X] Improvised Weapon(s)
[X] Macho Mode(s) Of Transportation
[X] Main Character Sports Facial Accessory(s)
[ ] Manly Embrace(s)
[ ] Notorious Stunt-Man Sighting
[ ] Passage(s) Of Time Via Montage
[X] Politically Fueled Plot Point(s)
[X] Senseless Destruction Of Property
[X] Shoot Out(s) and/or Sword Fight(s)
[ ] Slow-Motion Finishing Move(s)/Death(s)
[X] Stupid Authoritative Figure(s)
[ ] Substance Usage and/or Abuse
[X] Tis The Season [Christmas]
[X] Torture Sequence(s)
[X] Unnecessary Sequel [Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985)]
[X] Vehicle Chase(s)
[X] Vigilante Justice*
*This was a tough call. Though the men doing the hunting were cops, they still acted well beyond their constitutional rights, clearly supporting a “Shoot First, Plant A Gun Later” code of ethics, so I think it qualifies.
[TOTAL: 18 outta 25]
First Blood (1982) © Anabasis Investments, N.V. MCMLXXXII / Review © AllOuttaBubbleGum.com and Ty ‘RANTBO’ Hanson