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Sylvester Stallone
Brian Dennehy
Richard Crenna.
Ted Kotcheff.
Sylvester Stallone.
Running Time
90 minutes

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First Blood
It was all downhill for Stallone from here'

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Wandering into a small town in Oregon, Vietnam veteran John Rambo is arrested for vagrancy by corrupt, abusive Sheriff Will Teasle. When Rambo can't stand anymore abuse at the hands of Teasle and his deputies, Rambo goes crazy, killing a deputy and escaping into the surrounding hills, massively armed with every weapon he needs. The local authorities bring in Rambo's former commanding officer, colonel Samuel Trautman, and all Trautman does is tell the locals that they had better get a lot of body

It should, on the face of it, be almost impossible to defend John Rambo. For most people the name conjures up the cartoonish excesses of Rambo First Blood Part II (1985), with sweaty Sylvester Stallone grunting his way through director George P. Cosmatos' kerosene drenched excess. But times get the heroes they deserve, the erstwhile cine-hack progenitor of the likes of The Cassandra Crossing (1977) and Cobra (1986) (together with a youthful James Cameron on screenplay duty) delivered an icon utterly appropriate to the political and social overkill of the mid 80s.

The unfeasibly pneumatic Stallone, complete with ammo-decked granite-hewn pecs and an anti-tank grenade launcher slung casually over his shoulder, became a poster-boy for America's flourishing Republican right. Ronald Reagan became — entirely to his non-dismay — "Ronbo". The gun lobby gazed lovingly at Rambo's array of hardware like horny raincoats at the ammunitions equivalent of a fuck show. And potato-headed adolescents in Arse Springs, Arkansas, no-doubt dribbled half-chewed "goober" as the Vietnamese were reduced to so many targets on a hi-tech human coconut shy.

It's all gloriously ironic because, in fact, the John Rambo created by novelist David Morrell is a considerably more ambivalent, anti-authoritarian figure than the steroidal stereotype of the First Blood sequels. In fact he's the first of a cinematic archetype — the emotionally wounded vet betrayed both then and now by his country — and of a sub genre, the confessional 'Nam film. After Rambo it would be impossible to make a gung-ho rumble in the jungle like The Green Berets (1968) and have it taken seriously. Platoon, Casualties Of War, Hamburger Hill and Full Metal Jacket all incorporated some element of the "war as a personal hell" motif while Oliver Stone located Rambo's real-life counterpart in Born On The Fourth Of July. For American audiences at least, these post-Rambo Vietnam flicks were the ideal combination of bloody mayhem and Oprah-style emotional gush, crystallised in the poster image for Platoon, a soldier, arms flung heavenward with the legend "The first casualty of war is innocence." But Rambo got there, and lost it, first.

It's pretty obvious that First Blood is going to be an untriumphant take on the war from the very start when John Rambo wanders into a small, picturesque lakeside town to track down an old war buddy. There he finds that his friend has died of cancer — blamed by his widow on all that "orange stuff" employed by the US Army. Worse, when the local Sheriff (ever dependable movie heavy Brian Dennehy) criticises him for wearing, ironically he assumes, the American flag. Rambo's response, after being abused and degraded, is to deliver a little taste of Vietnam to the small-town America that had put him there. In so doing, Dr. Frankenstein like, he created a monster.

But as well as the sociopolitical fun to be had, and the deeply satisfying fact that once again America got hold of the wrong end of the cultural stick, there's the fact that First Blood is a first-rate, taught action thriller. Ted Kotcheff, an eclectic Canadian director who won an Emmy for classic British TV drama Edna, The Inebriate Woman before much later delivering the less critically lauded Red Shoe Diaries 3: Another Woman's Lipstick, paces the film superbly — the motorcycle/police cruiser chase in the opening 20 minutes is a textbook example of how to shoot one, using no musical soundtrack and long takes. Whereas cinematographer Andrew Laszlo (who the previous year had lensed backwoods drama Southern Comfort to which, along with Deliverance, First Blood owes at least a visual debt) shoots British Columbia in coldly evocative greys and muddy greens.

Stallone himself employs the doe-eyed, baffled innocence that served him so well in Rocky before he transformed himself into a laughable human caricature. He's a walking, stalking muscular martyr who half the time seems to be inviting the audience to pull a thorn out of his psychic paw. Wisely, he restricts his dialogue to the bare minimum (admirable since he shares a screenwriting credit) only erupting into what many critics felt was absurd burbling in his final touchy-feely breakdown sequence ("... he's fuckin' screaming', there's pieces of him all over me... I'm tryin' to pull 'em off you know? And he... My friend! It's all over me!") But to be fair, isn't the whole point of hysterically emotional incoherence that it is emotional, hysterical and, erm, incoherent?

Whatever its flaws—which include a dreadful end-title song with the cringeworthy lyric, "It's a real war/outside your front door" as well as the creation of an early 80s adolescent vogue for cheap rip-off, "Rambo knives" complete with compass and "wire-saw" in the handle in case the same thing happens to you, down the Arndale presumably. All in all, not bad for the director who, seven years later, would deliver Weekend At Bernie's and a star who would go on to attempt the world's first arm-wrestling drama with Over The Top.

The watershed movie as far as Vietnam and the portrayal of its forgotten victims was concerned.

Reviewed by Adam Smith

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Average user rating for First Blood
Empire Star Rating

RE: The birth of a legend

GREAT FILM - POOR BLU-RAY had not seen this film for some years, although had fond memories of it recently bought "Rambo" (film #4) on Blu-Ray and loved it found First Blood on Blu-Ray, and duly purchased it the film itself was great, with some bits I did not remember from memory but I was quite disappointed in the HD quality - perhaps because its an old film, or the transfer was done without due care? it seemed very murky, and lacking sharpness, quite flat in plac... More

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Posted by hampstead bandit at 21:46, 10 November 2009 | Report This Post

The birth of a legend

How could they have known what they were up against? Ifmonly they could have somehow been shown rambo 2,3 and 4 before they decided to give him that fateful haircut and de-lousing. This mans a war vet - a trained killer - that's all he knows. And he happens to love his hair - on his head. The best bit of the movie is sly's speech at the end. what a piece of acting. You might take it all in the firast time if you speak 'blubbering sly;' but it'll probably take a couple of watches. A slighty m... More

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Posted by Smootle at 14:39, 20 September 2009 | Report This Post

First Blood

Easily Stallone's finest hour. The first RAMBO outing is, of course, the best but it also still serves as a blueprint for a lot of modern action cinema. I hate it when people slag Stallone off as a non-thinking neanderthal when he quite clearly has carved out a career and screen legacy that most could only dream of. to hell with yer Bales and Depps - Sly's haunted Vietnam Vet is the original and the best! Jerry Goldsmith's beautiful score is probably one of the greatest ever written. A true clas... More

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Posted by Snake-Eyes at 09:41, 09 August 2008 | Report This Post

Rambo rules!

Sylvester Stallone fu***** rules. Well, back then, ruled. ... More

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Posted by nc_jj at 05:24, 21 March 2008 | Report This Post

RE: First Blood

First Blood makes some pretty serious points about the treatment of Vietnam vets. I think it's an excellent movie - the sequels are a joke compared to this one. ... More

Posted by Fluke Skywalker at 16:22, 04 August 2006 | Report This Post

RE: First Blood

And underrated action movie and much more low key than Rambo's reputation would suggest (that was based more on the woeful sequels anyway). Stallone is actually very good in this, especially in his partly incoherent but still quite affecting final outburst and there's good support from Dennehy. Pity they didn't finish like the book where, in quite a sad ending, both Teasle and Rambo die. ... More

Posted by MOTH at 15:51, 04 August 2006 | Report This Post

RE: First Blood

First Blood is a hughly entertaining film. I think the trick is not to take it too seriously its a Saturday night 'popcorn' movie, with enough explosions and death scenes to make 'the Governor Of California' cringe. I watched it for the first time only a few years ago and I loved every second of it. I know people give it a bad rap sometimes but I think its one of the finest action films. Raw, gritty and plenty of kick ass fight scenes.  **** ... More

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Posted by Dr Geek at 07:44, 04 August 2006 | Report This Post


ally really enjoyed this and the older i get the more i seem to enjoy. Not just for the fantastic orchestral score that builds rumbling under the unfold scenes. The cartoon ultraviolence of the sequels has diluted this movies impact but i find it an unforgettable and emotional rollercoaster of a movie. Its not for everyone but its got fine drama, dennehey especially good turn as the sherrif who pushes to hard. Credit to stallone also for a rather subtle performance buy his standards. ... More

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Posted by Atomhammer at 17:27, 03 August 2006 | Report This Post

... More

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Posted by Gwilly at 15:35, 03 August 2006 | Report This Post

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