I sat down tonight and watched one of my old favorites: First Blood. Culture has taken the Rambo character and blown it into an stereotype of 80’s exaggeration, but the first film is far from that iconic image.
First Blood is a movie about John Rambo, a Vietnam veteran that has turned into a drifter after discovering the last of his unit, the last of his friends, has passed away. He wanders into the town of Hope, OR and is hassled by the local law enforcement, led by Brian Dennehy’s Korean War veteran sheriff. What starts out as a “we don’t want your kind here” scuffle turns deadly as Rambo’s treatment stirs up POW flashbacks and he escapes the local jail. The ensuing chase causes a deputy to get killed and it escalated in the wilderness until Rambo returns to town, armed with National Guard munitions and a heavy regression into his wartime service. His saving grace is his commanding officer, Colonel Trautman (played by the late Richard Crenna). At the end of the film, Trautman comes into the destroyed police station to convince Rambo that the fight is over, and that he will die if he continues. The final scene of the movie is a testament to Stallone’s under-appreciated acting skill; he devolves into an emotional mess as he recounts a story of one of his buddies dying in Vietnam, and how he is nobody in the public sector and he can’t hold a job. Trautman escorts Rambo out of the building and into custody.
First of all, this movie is based on a novel by David Morrell. In the novel, Rambo is shot and killed by Trautman at the end of the movie. Stallone felt that this was too much of a “downer” ending (…yeah) and that it sent the wrong message to Vietnam vets around the country; this was released in 1981. Many veterans at the time hailed this movie as being able to express emotion that they were unable to verbalize and that the representation of PTSD is a hallmark. I also have to give kudos to Jerry Goldsmith for the score. I own the CD and it is always on my iPod for a listen.
If you’ve never seen First Blood, it’s not quite the action extravaganza that the later films turned into. In my book, this is a great character piece that serves as a reminder to the horrors of war and the delicate balance it disrupts in human nature.