“…Silver wings upon their chest
These are men, America’s best
One hundred men will test today
But only three win the Green Beret…”
First Blood. Because the movie’s title is said in dialogue and Stallone drops choice ass-whoopings on a bunch of arrogant townie cops who don’t know who they’re dealing with…
What more do you need in a movie? The answer is unequivocally nothing, but there’s a bonus of scene-stealers Brian Dennehy and Richard Crenna as a belligerent sheriff and silver-smooth Colonel Trautman respectively, adding class and gravitas to a movie that probably deserves neither.
When you think about was considered to play John J Rambo, it makes you woozy, a who’s who of Hollywood machismo, who announce themselves by their surnames: Pacino, Eastwood, De Niro, Newman, McQueen, Nolte, Garner…
Ultimately, Sly came in, did a script re-write and the rest machine-gunned its way into the national consciousness, a $125 million dollar worldwide success.
“Drifter” Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) ambles into a hick town in the Pacific Northwest, and is immediately hounded by Sheriff Teasle (Dennehy). He’s taken downtown (or whatever the equivalent is in this one-stoplight burb) on trumped up charges, and while being processed, has flashbacks to his stint in a Vietnam jail. Rambo cannot be held by mere mortals, and beats the holy tar out of the entire precinct, before fleeing, commandeering a motorcycle, and hightailing it into the woods. Call in the National Guard. No really.
There are quite a few deviations from the 1972 source novel by David Morrell:
1. Rambo (no middle “J” initial like la Homer J Simpson) is more of a Born on the Fourth of the July hippie than the comparatively “kempt” (if that’s a word), Sly Stallone.
2. The initial conception of the character was more combative, violent, and generally antagonist (in the novel, he disembowels one of the jailers, whereas in the film the CO gets off with a comparatively easy elbow to the face).
3. The introduction of Rambo’s old war pal character, whose widow we meet in the opening frames, a change meant to humanizing him.
4. In the novel, Rambo flees jail confines in the nude, probably taken out for ratings concerns.
Still, all changes make perfect sense and what we’re left with is cracker-jack stuff, never a dull moment, with some incredible lines courtesy of Rambo mentor Colonel and intervener Trautman: “You don’t seem to want to accept the fact you’re dealing with an expert in guerrilla warfare…A man who’s been trained to ignore pain, ignore weather, to live off the land, to eat things that would make a billy goat puke.”
***3/4 (out of 5)
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