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Movie Review: First Blood

First Blood
Directed by Ted Kotcheff
Written by Michael Kozoll, William Sackheim, and Sylvester Stallone from the novel by David Morrell
Orion, 1982

Sylvester Stallone had a one-two iconic punch in 1982 with Rocky III and the creation of a new hero, John Rambo, in First Blood.  Rocky was 3rd in overall box office that year, and First Blood was 17th.  Teaming up with producers Mario Kassar and Andrew Vajna for the second time after the 1981 John Huston soccer drama Victory, Stallone was setting himself up nicely for the rest of the decade.

First Blood is shockingly unlike the other Rambo movies, and you can forget that picture above.  This is pretty much a simple B-movie adventure, with only small amounts of the over-the-top action that would follow.

John Rambo (Stallone) has come to the small town of Hope, Washington, years after his duty in Vietnam came to a close.  He’s a former Green Beret looking for an old friend, only to find out that he died of cancer shortly after the war.  So he goes into the small downtown area looking for something to eat, and he’s stopped by Sheriff Will Teasle (Brian “God Damn” Dennehy), who quickly tells Rambo that’s he’s not wanted in this town.  So Teasle drives him over the bridge and that’s that.

Only, that’s not that.  Rambo refuses to just be left outside of a town, one of the many he fought for in Vietnam.  It’s time the town of Hope showed some damn respect.  Before Teasle can even get far down the road, he has to turn around and arrest Rambo for refusing to mosey.  He takes him to the jail, where Rambo becomes a royal pain, gets Vietnam flashbacks, and eventually beats up a bunch of cops (including a very young David Caruso, which instantly endears you to Rambo’s character) to escape.

Soon, the chase is on in the woods, where the best action of the picture takes place.  One of the cops dies, and Rambo is blamed.  Enter Colonel Samuel Troutman (Richard Crenna), who tells Teasle that he’s very lucky that Rambo didn’t just kill everybody on the force and that he should give up.  But Teasle is not one of those kinds of sheriffs to just give up on a cop-killer.

What follows is a bit strange.  You think Rambo just wants to get away, especially after the misunderstanding with the dead cop, but then he starts plotting all sorts of destruction on the town of Hope, looking for…I guess revenge.  Despite his strict David Caruso-beating policy, he’s not all that likable after that.  He’s not really fighting for a noble cause; I mean, seriously, this whole vendetta is about Teasle being an asshole when it all comes down to it.  As far as I can tell, Teasle isn’t a dirty cop shaking down brothels for a free lay, he’s just a monumental jerk.  So it’s hard to justify Rambo’s actions after he basically escapes.

This would be corrected in the next chapter, of course.  It’s easy to see why the stories became Rambo versus the Russians later on.  First Blood is a decent stand-alone man-versus-men action flick, and probably better if you can just forget that this has anything to do with the series whatsoever.

Next: Rambo: First Blood Part II


Comment from Sam Loomis
Time: January 10, 2008, 1:19 pm

It’s been a few years since I’ve watched this, and I’ve always found it to be one of the cooler action films to come out of the 80’s. After Rocky, it’s easily my favorite Stallone film; that might not be saying a ton however.

A couple things I wanted to point out. While I’m sure you’re not oblivious to this, I’m fairly certain this wasn’t looked at as being a franchise until it did so well at the box office. It was based off a novel as well, so that would explain the difference in this film and the testosterone pumped up military action fests that came about in the sequels.

As far as his actions later on in the film which as you described made John Rambo more of the bad guy than Dennehy and his crazy redneck police force; wasn’t he at this point in full flashback mode and believing that he was in the war fighting the enemy? I could be wrong, or maybe they don’t get that across as well as they could have in the film, but I’ve always assumed that is what is going on. It’s a valid point that I’ve never really thought of; I will need to watch this again.

Comment from The Projectionist
Time: January 11, 2008, 4:49 am

I don’t really think they make the connection well in First Blood that Rambo is fighting the war again. Yes, they give him a couple of flashbacks and it looks like he might be crazy, but something is lost in the translation. Maybe it’s because we stop seeing flashbacks after awhile. I do believe that’s what they were going for.

And no question, this wasn’t being looked at as a franchise until it made money. The picture looks like something that was meant to stand alone originally.

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