Monday, January 6, 2014

#1,239. First Blood (1982)

Directed By: Ted Kotcheff

Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Brian Dennehy, Richard Crenna

Tag line: "One war against one man"

Trivia: Lee Marvin turned down the role of Col. Trautman because he didn't want to play a Colonel

The first entry in the Rambo series, 1982’s First Blood is as much a character study of a troubled Vietnam Vet as it is a balls-to-the-wall action film.

Former Green Beret John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) was trained to kill in Vietnam, but since his return to the States, he’s had a hard time fitting in. On his travels, he wanders into a small Northwestern community (ironically named “Hope”) and immediately has a run-in with the local Sheriff, Will Teasle (Brian Dennehy), who mistakes Rambo for a vagrant and tries to boot him out of town. When Rambo refuses to leave, he’s placed under arrest, and suffers abuse and humiliation at the hands of Teasle’s deputies, bringing back memories of the torture he faced while in a Vietnamese Prisoner of War camp. Before long, Rambo has beaten up every cop in the station and escaped into the nearby woods, where he falls back on his military training to survive. When Teasle and his men are unable to flush Rambo out, both the state police and the National Guard are brought in, but according to Col. Sam Trautmen (Richard Crenna), who taught Rambo everything he knows, it’s gonna take more than a few hundred men to bring his finest soldier to justice.

While every other movie in the series is a straight-up action flick, with Rambo racking up dozens of kills as he takes on entire armies by himself, First Blood explored the psychological effects of warfare, and how difficult it was for some soldiers to readjust to life at home. In the opening scene, Rambo arrives at the house of his last surviving comrade, Delmar Barry, only to be told by Barry’s mother that he died a short while back, stricken with cancer he got in Vietnam (from being exposed to Agent Orange). It’s shortly after he receives this crushing news that Rambo first encounters Sheriff Teasle, and when Teasle’s longtime deputy, Art Galt (Jack Starrett), starts beating Rambo at the station, it awakens terrible memories, causing the former Green Beret to spring into action. Shunned by a society he fought to protect, Rambo finds he’s now an outcast. “Back there, I could fly a gunship. I could drive a tank. I was in charge of million dollar equipment”, Rambo says to Trautman, who’s trying to convince him to give himself up. “Here, I can’t even hold a job parking cars”. Trautman and the army turned John Rambo into a killing machine, but when the war ended, nobody took the time to show him how to switch that machine off.

Despite the very low body count, First Blood is a thrilling action movie (the scene where Teasle and his men are taken out of commission, one by one, as they hunt for Rambo in the woods is incredibly tense). But where the sequels would focus on Rambo the Green Beret doing what he does best, First Blood was more interested in getting to know the man behind the uniform.

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