“God didn’t make Rambo, I made him!”
The Scoop: 1982 R, directed by Ted Kotcheff and starring Sylvester Stallone, Richard Crenna, and Brian Dennehy
Tagline: This time he’s fighting for his life.
Summary Capsule: Vietnam vet declares war on rural America
Justin’s rating: Washington is the Mullet State
Justin’s review: It’s hard to imagine that, prior to 1982, the word “Rambo” simply wasn’t present in the pop culture dictionary. Sure, we had a sparse handful of one-man-vs.-the-world legends, but most of them firmly resided in the cop genre (hail Dirty Harry!). First Blood introduced the world to John Rambo, and in so doing, ushered in an age of overly-muscled freaks with limited vocabularies and enough ammunition to level Seattle.*
Although the public zeitgeist of Rambo pictures an overly-patriotic commando winning the Second Vietnam War (July-August, 1985), we often overlook Rambo’s humble beginnings as a disgruntled Vietnam vet who goes on an understandable — if excessive — rampage in a small Washington state town.
It only took 2,000 hours of community service to wipe that record clean, but for Mrs. Roberts’ azalea garden… well, some nightmares shall never be forgotten.
The only surviving member of his Green Berets squad from Vietnam, John Rambo (Sly Stallone) drifts through the American northwest in search of a good meal and partial sanity. Unfortunately, his short, stubby legs drift him right through one of those towns where having a five o’clock shadow and shaggy hair almost down to your shoulders is the sign that you’re a dirty, dirty hippie, and should be treated with extreme prejudice. “A shave and a cut for two bits” is the motto for the American northwest, and you’d be well advised to abide by it.
His filthy hippie soldier drifting blood quickly finds itself on the wrong side of the blunt force law, and Rambo learns that the Washington penal system is almost identical to the POW camps he visited during the war. This triggers a psychotic rage within his soul, bringing a furious, chiseled ball of war machine to this small hamlet. Rambo lays down the smack on a dozen or so officers, escapes into the deep woods, and relies on his expert survival skills to stave off the ensuing manhunt.
War has changed John Rambo, and now he’s brought a slice of it back to the largely indifferent U.S. of A. In civilization, the movie ironically notes, he found himself struggling. It’s only in the wild that he’s in his element.
First Blood wastes very little time getting to the action meat of the tale. While this isn’t as slick or high octane of a thriller as we’ve come to expect in recent years, there is something exciting about watching a good action story without the safety net of CGI. Despite what he’s come to represent in our culture, Rambo isn’t portrayed as an invincible supersoldier; he’s a very tough hombre, sure, but he gets kicked around, shot, and hurt enough to make us care that he wins. Even though him winning means that the system has failed in a very critical way.
Stallone isn’t asked to do much in the way of verbal acting until almost the end of the flick, but he does get to have a lot of fun going all military MacGuyver on the countryside. Give the man a sharp knife, a few sticks and a length of rope, and he’ll give you a fully-functional bear trap before high noon.
Pursuing Rambo is the revenge-bent Sheriff Teasle (Brian Dennehy) and Rambo’s previous commanding officer, Col. Trautman (Richard Crenna). Both men want to see Rambo stopped, but in different ways and for different reasons. Like Vietnam itself, the three main stars of the film couch their actions in a muddled gray zone, where neither “right” nor “wrong” are clearly defined.
Following the Rocky films, First Blood cemented Stallone’s rise to mega-stardom in the ’80s, giving phenomenal success to a man whose muscle tone barely masked the fact that he was incredibly hard to understand.** I figure, hey, if Weird Al Yankovic eventually does a parody of your character, then you’ve done something right in your life. At ease, Rambo.
*President Regan was a Rambo fan, and was quoted as saying “After seeing Rambo last night, I know what to do next time [the 1985 Palestinian hostage crisis] happens.” Nevertheless to say, this really freaked some people out.
**Although it’s tradition to bag on Stallone for this, I’m not – these features came from birth complications that caused ptosis and partial facial paralysis.
- One of the stunt drivers broke his back jumping his police car.
- The name “Rambo” came from a brand of apples of the same name. In Japanese, “rambo” means “violence”.
- John Travolta was considered for the part of Rambo. Thank God.
- For the scene where Rambo jumps from the cliff and falls through the trees, Sylvester Stallone opted to do the last part of the stunt himself, much to the concern of director Ted Kotcheff. His concerns were apparently well founded, as the stunt didn’t go as planned and Stallone broke three ribs. This apparently took place on camera and the shot is in the movie.
- Sylvester Stallone hated the first cut of the film so much that he tried to buy the film back and destroy it. When he couldn’t do that, he suggested that the producers cut much of his part and let the rest of the characters tell the story. That cut the movie time in half and set a precedent for future action movies.
- There are numerous differences to the book. In the novel, John Rambo dies.
- This film has a reputation of being overly violent. However, the total body count of the movie is four.
Rambo: They drew first blood, not me.
Teasle: He was just another drifter who broke the law!
Trautman: Vagrancy wasn’t it? That’s gonna look real good on his grave stone in Arlington: Here lies John Rambo, winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor, survivor of countless incursions behind enemy lines. Killed for vagrancy in Jerkwater, USA.
Trautman: God didn’t make Rambo, I made him!
Trautman: I don’t think you understand. I didn’t come to rescue Rambo from you. I came here to rescue you from him.
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.
Rambo: I could have killed ’em all, I could kill you. 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. Let it go. Let it go.
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: A good supply of body bags.
If you liked this movie, try these:
- Rambo: First Blood Part II
- Rambo III