Rambo: A Love Letter to Sylvester Stallone’s ‘First Blood’
First Blood (1982): My First Ultimate Action Movie
Whether it’s your first word, first step, first kiss, first job, first date, etc., life is about milestones. Why are high school reunions fairly well-attended? People are nostalgic. They want to remember life way back when. They wax poetic about their younger days when life was simpler.
But this site is The Ultimate Action Movie Club. You didn’t come here to wax poetic; the only waxing we do here is waxing on and off — so we can make our way through a gauntlet of better-trained Kobra Kai bullies. But I’m getting off topic.
The First of Many Ultimate Action Movies
Allow me to me re-focus and get back to today’s topic: What was the first ultimate action movie that you can remember seeing? For me, this is an easy question to answer. I was approaching my eighth birthday in October 1982, when First Blood was released nationwide in theaters. I can recall how excited I was when my dad (a Vietnam veteran himself) told me he was going to take me to see the movie. As an Italian guy who idolized Sylvester Stallone in the Rocky saga, this was a special treat to see him in another role, albeit an action one.
Simply put, the experience would change my life, particularly how I consumed movies. As cool as I thought the animated world of G.I. Joe was at the time, it was minor league compared to the offerings of the then-modern cinema.
Rambo’s First Blood
With three sequels and several spoofs of the franchise already publicly released, it’s easy to forget First Blood’s humble beginnings. In the 1970s, David Morrell was a professor at Penn State in State College, Pa. Some students enrolled in his class were veterans of the American conflict in Vietnam and repeatedly challenged his classroom authority. Why should they do what a college prof told them to do after what they had seen and done? Morrell would use that emotion and pen a novel about a Vietnam veteran pushed a little too far by a small-town sheriff, himself a Korean War vet. With no wife, kids or real family to speak of, lead character John Rambo viewed Col. Samuel Trautman, his commanding officer in Vietnam, as a father figure. He recruited and trained him, and it was proven countless times that he was the only person whom Rambo trusted.
Getting the novel made into a movie proved quite difficult, as its rights were bought and sold in Hollywood several times. Actors became attached and unattached, but Sylvester Stallone had the foresight to see gold among coal. He rewrote a lot of the movie’s script to make Rambo a more sympathetic character; his kill count for the movie is one, and even that was incidental. Richard Crenna was literally a last-minute casting choice for Trautman after Kirk Douglas quit the project over a script debate. He and Brian Dennehy (cast as Will Teasle, the town’s sheriff and the movie’s antagonist) were all brilliantly cast. While it doesn’t get credit as a cast member, the physical setting of the movie — the cold, damp, wet forestry of Hope, British Columbia, Canada — is like a character unto itself. Rambo has to combat it as much as an army of National Guard soldiers and the town’s small police department.
All because he wasn’t allowed to eat in the town.
My Ultimate Hope
TANGENT TIME: A) My father has never had a flashback or suffered any PTSD as a result of his combat experiences (that I know of). I never appreciated him taking me to this movie until years later. B) Before I married my wife, she and I discussed where we planned to honeymoon. She was born in Canada, and was determined we honeymoon there. I really didn’t want to go there, but proposed a compromise: If she agreed to visit Hope, the town where First Blood was filmed, I’d book a honeymoon in Canada. In 2002, the 20th anniversary of the film, we toured all its filming locations. The film is quite nuanced for an action movie. It’s not mindless; character motivations develop, the plot thickens, and you genuinely root for the protagonist. As great as I think it is, I genuinely don’t feel it gets nearly the credit it deserves.
Well, I guess you could say I drew “first blood” with this post. Now, I ask thee: What was your first ultimate action movie that you remember watching?
Part Tony Manero, part Rocky Balboa, John Acquavita is a N.Y.-area transplant currently living in Ohio. He uses his “particular set of skills” to contribute to various websites covering 1980s-era action movies.
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