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Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Classics Corner: First Blood (1982)
A mentally unstable Vietnam war vet, when abused with a small town's police force, begins a one man war with it

I remember the Eighties well. Surrounded by materialistic adults drenched in the Thatcherite revolution, driven to instant hits of satisfaction all steeped in the Greed Is Good mantra. The Eighties provided the world with a backdrop of pretence and fast-paced media imagery. Think Eighties, see the ostentatious shoulder pads and widow-making Porsche 911’s. See Lemar’s haircut and city-boys in red braces. We were graced with people who were downright horrible to look at, and even worse to be around. Our radio stations wobbled under such atrocities as Milli Vanilli and The Thompson Twins. And then there were our cinemas.

Everything had a sequel that was bigger, more expensive and flashier than the original. Then the third beat the second and so on...Jaws III, Superman III, and Rambo III.
In Rambo III, Sly took on a helicopter with a tank, fought an entire Russian tank division and killed over 200 soldiers. So farfetched and bathed in explosions was the film, that Germany banned the uncut version outright. The Eighties were littered with these outrageous mega-budget wastes-of-time. And the great sadness is that Rambo: First Blood is all too often dowsed with the gushing blood and napalm of its sequels.
In 1972, English professor David Morrell published his first novel, “First Blood”. A tense thriller about a war veteran –John Rambo–struggling to come to terms with the return to a nation that had no gratitude for the untold pain he and his platoon suffered back in Vietnam.
Ten years later Sylvester Stallone was on the big screen starring as the same Vietnam veteran. Alongside Brian Dennehey who played the local Sheriff Teasle, Stallone followed up his success in Rocky and Escape to Victory with a gritty performance that showed the earlier hard-hitting portrayal of the Italian Stallion was no fluke.
Throughout the film, the contrast between Rambo and Teasle as two very different men is maintained and echoes the chapter-by-chapter switching of viewpoint between the two men that marks out the novel. Teasle is an instinctive, egotistical aggressor while Rambo is a calculating, efficient, lethal machine. Yet dispite this, the underlying refusal to back down runs through both men, which doesn’t bode well for the town of Hope, Washington.
Rambo begins the film indignant at the vagrancy accusations that Sheriff Teasle makes, and perhaps given the sacrifices he’s made in the name of his country is justified in his viewpoint. Teasle’s attitude is a commentary on the attitude of the United States to home-coming veterans, an unwelcome indictment of the nation that perhaps flew under the radar of the mass public. The disagreement escalates as Rambo is beaten in the town jail, and in true Green-Beret style escapes. The lack of ability of the local small-town police force to deal with Rambo is emphasized in the film with constant shots of overweight officers, and their shocked dishevelled faces.
We watch helplessly as the ill-equipped and relatively dumb civilian force fails to capture the man from the military elite. As Rambo works his way through survival against the ever increasing numbers of people hunting for him, we meet his Colonel – Sam Trautman – who takes great pleasure telling the inept Teasle how incredible Rambo is. A lot of plot is panned out in a few minutes of discussion which is a great shame. There’s a whole other film in the story of Rambo and how he became the last of his platoon, and it’s lost in that brief summation.
The tectonic stress between Rambo and Teasle leads to a warzone in the town that while being extravagant, is believable and even satisfactory. And though the finale of the films parts company with the finale of the book, the result is still reasonable. With no quarter given by either side, nobody leaves as a winner. Ahead of it’s time perhaps in this respect, we are left to wonder how the future will pan out for these guys.
In it’s own context, Rambo:First Blood is a brilliantly done thrilling question about the struggle of the home-coming soldiers and their re-integration into a lazy, self-centred society.
The shame is that Rambo II and Rambo III ruined everything.

Review Submitted and Rated by: Patrick Murphy



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