Movie Project #1: First Blood [1982]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

First Blood [1982]

First Blood [1982]
Director: Ted Kotcheff
Writers: David Morrell (novel), Michael Kozoll (screenplay), William Sackheim (screenplay), Sylvester Stallone (screenplay)
Country: USA
Genre: Action/Adventure/Drama
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Brian Dennehy, Richard Crenna
Running Time: 93 minutes

Before watching First Blood, I envisioned the character of John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) to be a shirtless, testosterone-fueled one man army armed with a machine gun and endless ammunition. This is the image that I had been fed through the pop culture canon over the years. I was a bit surprised, then, to find a mentally damaged Vietnam War veteran in place of the fearless commando I thought I knew.

First Blood begins with a shaggy-looking Rambo wandering the streets of a small town in the Pacific Northwest. The local sheriff, Will Teasle (Brian Dennehy), notices him walking about and forcefully “offers” a ride out of his town. After being dropped off, Rambo simply starts walking back the way he came, drawing the ire of the sheriff. Teasle arrests him for vagrancy and drives him back for a night in jail. Once there, the rest of the police force joins in on giving Rambo a hard time for no good reason. A few officers attempt to give him some unwanted grooming; when a razor is pulled out, Rambo has a flashback to being tortured in ‘Nam, and he panics. He fights his way through the entire building, steals a dirtbike and heads deep into the mountains, now a wanted fugitive.

The police force, equal parts stubborn and embarrassed, refuse to back down, and soon tracking dogs, the State Patrol and the National Guard are all brought in. Little do they know that Rambo is a former member of an elite Special Forces unit, and the odds are actually against *them* to survive. Rambo’s mentor, Colonel Sam Trautman (Richard Crenna), arrives in an attempt to talk sense into both sides, but by then it’s all too late — this is war.

First Blood [1982]

The idea of Rambo taking on an entire town’s worth of enemies is a bit ridiculous, but it never feels as outlandish as other 80s action flicks. Stallone does a tremendous job of getting us to be on his side, even as he lays waste to a poor, innocent town. He even gets to show off his acting chops in a surprisingly touching final act. The closing scene with his Colonel is what really pulls everything together, and it provides some sort of meaning to what had until that point been a relatively run-of-the-mill action film.

First Blood still has its issues — the policemen are stereotypical villains with no depth, for one — but damn if it didn’t leave on a high note. Now if only that godawful “It’s a Long Road” song didn’t play over the end credits…

7/10

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22 thoughts on “Movie Project #1: First Blood [1982]

  1. Victor De Leon says:

    I had such a blast watching this in the theaters upon it’s initial release and so many times after that with my Grandpa. Great review!

  2. Gary Smith says:

    Great review, as always. I’ve actually never seen the entire film, only bits and pieces over the years. You’ve got me wanting to sit down and actually watch the movie now. Not really a Stallone fan (something about him annoys the hell of out me), but I’ll give it a shot.

  3. jackdeth72 says:

    Hi, Eric:

    Great choice!

    Always enjoy the scene where Rambo gets the drop on former ‘Hill street Blues’, derby wearing punk. And future Miami CSI. David Caruso.

    Also one of Richard Crenna’s last beat roles.

  4. Chris says:

    Yeah, the first film is more of a character study than the later entrys in the Rambo series. I remember First Blood entertained me, and even made me think, which is rare for a S Stallone movie. Been a while since I last saw this one, though.

  5. Jules says:

    This was a childhood favorite of mine. Surprising to see what a “grounded” movie this was (although of course Rambo was still a sumerhuman badass to some extent) in comparison to the ridiculous one man doomsday machine he becomes in all of the sequels. I remember in the commentary from the DVD I watched that they actually considerably toned down the body count from the book the movie was based on [SPOILER FOR THOSE WHO WANT TO READ THE BOOK} (in the book Rambo takes out like half the police force, and is killed at the end… Good stuff man.

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