|Directed by:||Ted Kotcheff|
|Written by:||Sylvester Stallone, Michael Kozoll, William Sackheim|
|Cast:||Sylvester Stallone, Richard Crenna, Brian Dennehy, Alf Humphreys|
- First Blood is one those movies with an interesting production history. It was based on a book released in 1972 by author David Morrell about a Vietnam Vet who comes home and goes on a killing spree in the Kentucky mountains after a mental breakdown. As a movie property the book was passed around Hollywood throughout the 70's but never got made into a film because of the controversial subject matter. It went through many rewrites throughout the decade with such actors as Paul Newman, Burt Reynolds, Al Pacino, Steve McQueen, Robert De Niro, Nick Nolte, John Travolta and Michael Douglas all considered for the part of John Rambo during it's long development history. Steve McQueen's version came the closest to being made as he was very passionate about it, but in the end it was decided that he was to old to play a returning Vietnam Veteran as he was in his mid 40's at the time. Pacino wanted to make Rambo even more crazed than in the book and DeNiro opted for The Deer Hunter instead. The rest felt it was to dark and violent so they passed on it.
- Finally in the early 80's two young producers looking to make their first movie named Mario Kassar and Andrew Vajna, whom are now best known for The Terminator acquired the rights and decided to offer it to Stallone. At the time Stallone had been riding high off the success of Rocky, but was struggling to break out of the type casting that role had trapped him in. Stallone was at first reluctant to accept the role as First Blood was now an infamous property in Hollywood, but finally accepted when the producers offered to let him rewrite the script to make Rambo a more sympathetic character instead of just a lunatic on a killing spree.
- Early in production Kirk Douglas was cast in the role in Colonel Trautman, the producers even went so far as to have posters made with him as the selling point to help entice investors. However creative differences arose when Kirk turned up on set having rewritten the entire script and refused to film anything from the approved script. He wanted it to be more like the original book were Rambo went on a killing spree and Trautman killed him in the end, but the producers refused to shoot his script so he dropped out of the movie and went home. The film makers then scrambled to replace him and found Richard Crenna. The rest was history as Crenna knocked it out of the park and the character of Trautman became so popular he went on to reprise the role in two more sequels becoming almost as integral to the series as Rambo himself.
- The original cut of the movie proved to be so disastrous when screened that Stallone wanted to buy the film himself and burn it. The first cut had major pacing problems that killed all the movies momentum. They however decided to edit it down cutting out most of Rambo's dialogue and trimming the excesses to help compact the story. Artistically it ended up working out perfectly for the character as Rambo is a man who has bottled everything up to the point where he just explodes and lets his actions speak for him. The relentless pacing and heightened sense of tension ended up being the blueprint for all action films to follow.
- In the movie John Rambo is portrayed as a man suffering from post traumatic stress disorder whom has trouble reconciling the past with the present and is living in a state of shock from his traumatic experiences in Vietnam. First Blood was one of the first movies to really deal with this kind of subject matter on film in a compassionate and sympathetic way. Prior to First Blood the psychotic Vietnam Vet had become a bad cliche in Hollywood that had cast a stigma on real troubled veterans. Stallone's instincts had turned out to be right in the end as the character of Rambo really spoke to a whole generation of veterans dealing with P.T.S.D. themselves, and they were thankful that a film had finally shed some light on their condition without portraying them as just being violently deranged lunatics that need to be put down like rabid dogs.
- The three main characters in First Blood are all very human and flawed. Nothing is black & white in this movie, and everyone is portrayed in shades of grey.
- One thing I think makes this movie so different in terms of an action movie is that Rambo is not the clear cut hero in it, he's more of an anti hero. Of course now we just think of Rambo as the hero as he went on to become an action icon, but the thing to remember is that this movie was not originally conceived that way. In the original book Rambo kills over 200 people and in the end Colonel Trautman blows his head off with a shotgun. The movie doesn't portray Rambo as a deranged lunatic on a killing spree quite like the book did though. It toned down the violence by having Rambo just wound the Deputies pursuing him, and the only one who really dies in the movie is Deputy Gault who accidentally falls out of the helicopter while trying to kill Rambo. Though Rambo is as much to blame for his behavior as Teasle and his men are for instigating him. He tells Teasle to "Just let it go," but Rambo himself chooses this fight instead of walking away when he had the chance.
- Sheriff Teasle is the kind of man who really does think he's just doing his job when he hassles an outsider like Rambo and runs him out of town. In his eyes he's doing whats best for his community by keeping out what he deems as undesirables. He may be abusing his authority, but to him he's trying to be as nice about as he can be. He honestly believes that. When Rambo directly defies him though it challenges his authority so he then feels that he has to enforce it. Teasle is the alpha male in this territory and Rambo doesn't show him the respect that he demands so he has to teach him some. Teasle's a classic bully, though with Rambo he has no idea what he's dealing with and then learns the hard way that if you keep pushing people sooner or later someone comes along that pushes back. You can see from all the trophy kills in Teasle's office that he's a hunter with some war experience of his own judging by the medals on his desk. For him hunting Rambo is like the ultimate hunt, or "the most dangerous game" so to speak. It's all about pride with Teasle, the young lion has challenged the old lion and he needs to, at first capture Rambo, but then kill him when it becomes personal after Deputy Gault dies so he can save face and reestablish his dominance.
- Colonel Trautman is like a father figure to Rambo, yet he's sent in to kill him if necessary and he struggles with what to do throughout the movie. Teasle even asks him after they think Rambo is dead if he would've done it and Trautman says he didn't know until he came face to face with him, which he does in the end. They even filmed a version of the ending in which Rambo did die by grabbing for Trautman's gun and pulling the trigger himself. Audiences hated it when it was test screened though as now without the killing spree like in the book and with all the political undertones in the movie Rambo was seen as a man standing up against the oppression of an abusive system. He became almost like a radical icon, and audiences felt that by killing him the system had won in the end. They then changed the ending to a stalemate with no clear victor. Rambo goes to prison, and Teasle goes to the hospital. It's a very ambiguous ending to a very grey shaded movie.
- The cast in First Blood is just great across the board. Stallone created an icon with John Rambo that is still going strong 30 years later. Brian Dennehy embodies the role of Will Teasle, a small town Sheriff with an ego as big as he is. As a character Sheriff Teasle is such an asshole, but because it's an actor like Dennehy in the role you kind of like him, or at least see him as a well rounded character who's a flawed human being. Replacing Kirk Douglas is Richard Crenna as Colonel Trautman. We learn about Rambo through Trautman as Rambo barely speaks, and Trautman's speeches make Rambo out to be the biggest bad ass of all time. Crenna's delivery of such lines as "You send that many don't forget one thing... A good supply of body bags." is so deliciously over dramatic. There's even a very young David Caruso (C.S.I. MIAMI) amongst the cast as well.
- First Blood has more in common with the smaller, more gritty and grounded movies of the 70's than the big blow out polished action movies of the late 80's, but much like Hitchcock's Psycho has been called the grandfather of the modern slasher film the same could be said about First Blood in terms of the action genre. It really created the blueprint for all future films in the genre to build upon with it's relentless pace and raw action, and was like a shot of adrenaline right into the heart of the genre. First Blood is the bridge between a movie like Dirty Harry and Die Hard. A movie like Die Hard may not have existed without it's influence. Without First Blood there certainly wouldn't have been a RAMBO: First Blood Pt.II which is the definitive 80's action movie in my eyes, or The Terminator as First Blood put Kassar and Vajna in business. It was definitely a game changing movie for it's time, and a major influence in the genre which can even be seen today in movies like SHOOTER starring Mark Wahlberg. Just look at the character of Martin Riggs in the Lethal Weapon series whom is also an emotionally troubled Vietnam Vet to see what I mean, and it even helped influence characters outside of film as well like The Punisher.
- Jerry Goldsmith's score for First Blood is just magical to say the least. It's iconically American which fits in with the themes of the movie, and so heroically exciting yet also incredibly mournful at times. It's one of the all time great movie scores and is as synonymous with Stallone as the theme from Rocky.
- There's some interesting symbolism going on in this movie. In the beginning we see a sort of generational clash going on with Rambo in the role of the long haired, free spirited 60's Liberal male with no ties or responsibilities holding him down, and Sheriff Teasle very much in the big belt buckled, clean shaven, larger than life Conservative mans man role of the previous era. When we first see Rambo he's very scruffy looking and wearing a flag on his flack jacket, to which Sheriff Teasle makes a comment about it saying "You know, wearing that flag on that jacket, looking the way you do, you're asking for trouble around here, friend." Teasle is essentially saying that he is not worthy of being identified as an American and that he doesn't want his kind in his community, meaning Liberals. Teasle's town of course representing conservative small town America. Rambo is then treated very much in the same way 60's radicals were when the Deputies are "cleaning him up for his court appearance." It's about two generations with opposing philosophies butting heads and having a pissing contest over turf with Sam Trautman(Uncle Sam) caught in the middle.
- When Rambo escapes into the mountains though the movie becomes like a Western with the Cowboy posse hunting the wild savage. Rambo then takes on a more Native American look and fighting tactics as the Police Force hunting him are now donning the white hats of the classic American Cowboy heroes of legend. Symbolically you have the native son using the land to fight off those who would drive him off of it, visually Rambo literally ends up being driven off a cliff. Midway through the movie Rambo is seemingly killed off, only to then make his way through a cavern (a womb like environment if you know your Joseph Campbell) to be reborn with a new purpose as he emerges from it.
- In the last act we see Rambo return to lay siege to the town. He moves through the streets unseen almost like a ghost, like the spirit of the native people returning to tear down all the symbols of the white mans world. He sets fire to a gun store called "The Outpost" using black powder, and destroys the Sheriff Station, a symbol of the Government. He also blows up a gas station, a symbol of oil and industry. Shoots up a Department Store, a symbol of consumerism and he takes out their electricity, a symbol of power. I don't believe it's by accident that we see Christmas decorations all over the town either, even though the holiday is never once mentioned in the film. Christmas is a symbol of the traditional small town christian family values of which Teasle is sworn to uphold.
- See to Sheriff Teasle whom is the embodiment of the white Conservative male Rambo represents both the sins of the past come back to haunt him, and the future threatening to change his very way of life by destroying everything he values. There's that famous line from Ronald Reagan about "Rambo being a Republican," but in the case of First Blood he couldn't be more wrong. Stallone may be a Republican, but Rambo certainly is not. In the sequels Rambo becomes so disillusioned by the system altogether that he drops out of it and exists in the fringes of society. That is why politicians should stop trying to use things that they don't understand as rallying symbols to their cause because it just shows how out of touch they really are.
- First Blood is not just a great action movie, it's a rich and layered film that works on multiple levels and is really a reflection on America much like Easy Rider was. It echoes the past of the white man trying to drive the natives off their land, and the generational shift going on in America during the Vietnam War. I honestly believe that First Blood is every bit as strong a film as Rocky, and deserves the same amount of critical respect. It's one of my all time favorite movies. I've loved it for it's balls to the wall action ever since me and my little brother first watched it on VHS while sitting way to close to the TV, and have come to love and respect even more for it's deeper themes and rich ambiguous characters.