Film: First Blood

First Blood is the first film in the Rambo franchise, released in 1982. It is based on the novel of the same name written by David Morrell.

The film deals with John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) struggling to overcome the trauma he experienced during the Vietnam War. Having just learned his only remaining squadmate is dead, Rambo visits a small Washington State town for a bite to eat. However, the sheriff, Will Teasle (Brian Dennehy), doesn't appreciate "drifters" in his orderly town, so he drives Rambo out to the town limits to send him on his way. When Rambo turns and heads back, Teasle arrests him for "vagrancy" among other false charges and orders him cleaned up for his trial. Police brutality ensues as the deputies rough him up while doing so, dredging all of Rambo's war trauma back to the surface.

Ultimately, a flashback to being tortured as a POW results in Rambo escaping from custody, becoming a fugitive from the law. Thus begins a small-scale war with the town police, which escalates to include not only the state police but the National Guard. This attracts the attention and assistance of Colonel Sam Trautman (Richard Crenna), Rambo's ex-commander, who knows what kind of killing machine he trained Rambo to be and hopes to capture him alive. The police would do well to heed his advice, because Trautman knows just how much damage Rambo is prepared to do if pushed too far...

First Blood is notable for being completely different in tone, genre and feel from the rest of the franchise, being an anti-war psychological thriller that deals with the hefty subject of the dehumanization and mistreatment of Vietnam War veterans, complete with a famous speech on the subject. The One-Man Army Rambo is known as today would not surface until the Actionized Sequel Rambo: First Blood Part II put him back in the battlefield.

This film provides examples of:

  • Accidental Murder: Rambo didn't intend to kill Galt; he was just trying to fight back however he could, and Galt was enough of a bloodthirsty idiot to take his seat belt off.
  • Adaptational Heroism: Perhaps more like "adaptational sympathy", but Rambo was a somewhat darker character in the book. The novel puts more emphasis on the fact that the whole situation mostly happens because of Rambo's own pride, and Teasle actually gives him several chances to leave the town peacefully, as opposed to the movie where he takes him in after coming back once. Rambo's actions also seem more like vengeance, whereas in the movie they seem more like self-defense.
  • Adaptational Modesty: Rambo's escape from jail happens after getting hosed, and putting on some clothes. In the novel, he did this completely in the nude.
  • Adaptational Villainy:
    • While Teasle was still a bit of a jerk in the novel, he was also a far more complex character. The novel goes into great detail on his motives, his relationships with his family and other members of the town, and acknowledges several similarities between him and John. He arguably comes off as more sympathetic than Rambo and even drives Rambo to a diner to have something to eat before taking him to town limits. The film makes him into a one-dimensional asshole who the audience has no trouble rooting against.
    • The other cops count as well, most particularly Galt. In the novel, they were, while not the nicest people around, still very sympathetic characters. In the film, the cops, with the exception of Mitch, are all insufferably unlikable douchebags.
  • Anti-Hero: John Rambo.
  • Artistic License Gun Safety: John Rambo could've just as easily sat back and let the sheriff and his deputies kill each other in friendly fire accidents. They keep fingers on triggers, sweep muzzles through heads and chests, and so on.
  • Artistic License Military: Colonel Trautman should know better than to wear his uniform into a bar. Also, it's not "the congressional Medal of Honor;" it's just "the Medal of Honor."
  • Asshole Victim: Nobody cried when Galt fell out of the helicopter to his death.
  • An Ass-Kicking Christmas: Rambo's capture, escape and counterattack takes place around Christmastime.
  • Badass Boast:
    • Col. Trautman gives one in his introductory scene.
    Sheriff Teasle: What would possess God in Heaven to make a man like Rambo?
    Trautman: God didn't make Rambo. I made him!
    • After Rambo incapacitates all of the remaining deputies (Galt having died falling from the helicopter), he ambushes Teasle and holds a knife to his throat:
    Rambo: I could've killed them all. I could've killed you. In town, you're the law. Out here, it's me. Don't push it. Don't push it or I'll give you a war you won't believe. Let it go. Let it go.
  • Badass Longcoat: Trautman wears a fine example of this when he first enters.
  • Blatant Lies:
    • The reporter at the National Guard basecamp describes Rambo as a heavily-armed cop killing psychopath, and says that he failed to kill the deputies only because of "their skilled training in police enforcement techniques." In reality, the deputies all carried assault rifles versus Rambo's knife and stolen hunting rifle, and they only survived because Rambo deliberately avoided using lethal force (with the one death being an accident).
    • Teasle does this twice in a Deleted Scene, an extended discussion with Sgt. Kern:
      • "Dammit, Dave, you think this kid just waltzed into town, announced he was a Medal Of Honor winner, and then I just leaned on him for the hell of it? I tried to do him a favor." Uh, Sheriff, "leaning on him for the hell of it" is kind of exactly what you did.
      • There's also the claim that he "treated him (Rambo) like one of my neighbor's kids." Apparently he's in the habit of arresting kids for vagrancy and having them sprayed with a fire hose.
  • Bloodier and Gorier: The movie inverts this from the book. In the novel, Rambo kills at least a dozen people. In the movie he kills three people at most—one guy who falls out of a helicopter when Rambo throws a rock at it in self-defense and two cops who he ran off the road (and who quite possibly survived).
  • Book Ends: The first dialogue in the film has Delmar Barry's widow telling Rambo how Barry died. The last dialogue in the film has Rambo telling Trautman how Joe Danforth died.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: What sets off the action is a PTSD flashback to an example of this, with a Vietcong soldier cutting a helpless Rambo's chest with a knife.
  • Colonel Badass: Colonel Trautman of course.
  • Conditioned to Accept Horror: Rambo, to the point he has no idea what he's supposed to do with his life now that the war is over.
  • Cool Guns: Rambo variously uses an M16 assault rifle and an M60 Machine Gun.
  • Could Have Avoided This Plot: All Rambo wanted was to buy lunch before leaving town, but Teasle apparently decided that it was a crime for transients to patronize the local restaurants. See the Film subpage of Disproportionate Retribution for the extent of the destruction such pride cameth before. In the original novel, this was averted as the sheriff was willing to let Rambo buy some food in town—so long as he ordered it to go.
  • Deadly Dodging: In the hunting scene, Rambo steps out of the way when Balford is about to shoot, which leads to Ward getting shot in the arm.
  • Did I Mention It's Christmas?: Christmas decorations are visible throughout the movie, but nobody ever actually makes mention of the holiday.
    • Supposedly, the Christmas decorations were already up when they began shooting, and they left them both for the ironic quality and to wordlessly remind the viewer that Rambo is on the lam in a wifebeater and jeans during a very cold time of the year.
  • Dirty Cop: Possibly most of the cops, due to being prejudiced against drifters because of their own rules, and their mistreatment of inmates.
  • Disney Villain Death: One character falls to his death out of a helicopter. Since this isn't Disney, however, we see his body soon after, and the results aren't pretty.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: As Teasle should have remembered, pride cometh before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. His pride ended up refusing to let a Green Beret and Medal of Honor recipient eat within his city limits, and what happened afterwards more than demonstrates how much of a bad idea fucking with a Green Beret is.
  • Driver Faces Passenger: An Army soldier does this when Rambo steals his truck, prompting Rambo to remind him to look at the road.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: Needless to say, this film is unlike the One-Man Army action flicks that make up the rest of the Rambo franchise. It also happens to be the best-reviewed in the series.
  • Elites Are More Glamorous: Lampshaded as Rambo is clearly an elite soldier but his head is so fucked up that his life couldn't be called glamorous. He has presumably drifted from place to place since the war, clearly smells and needs a good feed. His escape and evasion is hardly glamorous too and shows the difficulties of surviving in the wild with minimal gear. Also subverted in the novel with Teasle being a Jerk Ass but also a decorated veteran from the 1st Marine division in the Korean War.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Mitch is horrified when Art Galt strikes Rambo and knocks him to the floor before the cops start to clean him up:
    Mitch: Galt, what the fuck was that!?
    Galt: Well, the man said "clean him up." [kicks Rambo] Clean him up.
  • The Film of the Book: First Blood by David Morrell, as mentioned above.
  • Genre Savvy: Even before finding out that Rambo is an ex-Green Beret, Deputy Mitch was the first one to point out that Rambo was able to escape the police with surprising ease, being stronger and more skilled than the usual drifter. After they confirm his identity, he notes that chasing a special forces soldier into the woods is a very bad idea, but is ignored.
    Mitch: We ain't hunting him, he's hunting us!
  • Good Guns, Bad Guns: The deputies, state troopers and National Guardsmen carry M16's. Justified as they are the official "good" guys. Rambo uses these and an M60 too, so he's using the Good Gun. Teasle uses an Heckler and Koch G3, which is justified as he is both an authority figure but not necessarily good, so it shows he can be viewed either way. Trautman is unarmed despite being Colonel Badass which shows he is the truly heroic character as he'll face a Knife Nut Axe Crazy Shell-Shocked Veteran with a Cool Gun with nothing at all.
    • Actually, Trautman usually has an M1911 .45 holstered on his belt, but it's usually either hidden under his trench coat, hidden on his right side while the camera views him from his left, or just below the field of view. It's only drawn in the non-canonical alternate ending, in which Rambo uses it to kill himself.
  • Good Versus Good: With the exception of Rabid Cop Art Galt, most of the people Rambo fights are regular, reasonable guys who are trying to hunt down an escaped killer. Rambo himself is good too, and goes out of his way to avoid killing the deputies. The final showdown between Trautman and Rambo is a classic non-violent take on this.
  • Groin Attack: Rambo's first attack during his escape is a groin kick. One especially unfortunate deputy also appears to suffer one of these when a wooden spike trap slams into him at pelvic level.
  • Harmony Versus Discipline: Rambo just wants to be left alone and is more than capable of living off the land. Teasle wants a nice, quiet, orderly town.
  • Jaywalking Will Ruin Your Life: Invoked. Rambo gets picked up by the police for "vagrancy," which leads to them messing with him and dredging up his Vietnam War trauma, which leads to rapidly escalating troubles, which leads to a dead cop and, eventually, Rambo working a prison quarry. Towards the end of the movie, during the police's Hope Spot when they think they've managed to kill him, Rambo's old commander has this to say:
    Trautman: Vagrancy, wasn't it? That's gonna look real good on his gravestone in Arlington: "Here lies John Rambo, winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor, survivor of countless incursions behind enemy lines, killed for vagrancy in Jerkwater, USA."
  • Jerkass: Most of the cops, but particularly Galt.
  • Karmic Death: The one guy who goes out of his way to try to kill Rambo is killed by his target accidentally.
  • Knife Nut: Rambo has an iconic knife, whose hilt is hollowed out to include a compass and self-suture equipment.
  • Let's Split Up, Gang: Sheriff Teasle orders his deputies to do this whilst hunting Rambo in the woods, despite losing two of them to Rambo moments earlier because they were separated from the group.
  • Made of Explodium: One of the police cars crashes into another car, and the latter car explodes.
  • Manly Tears: "Nothing is over!"
  • Mangst: Rambo's been tormented by the deaths of his squad in the Vietnam War and how he was treated when he returned home, and learns right at the start of the film that the one other surviving squadmate he knew of died of cancer. He doesn't show his feelings, however, for most of the film, apart from Rambo telling Col. Trautman over the radio about what became of his squad during their first talk. It's not till the end that he breaks down crying and lets out all of his anguish in a long speech.
  • Metaphorically True: Quoth Trautman: "You did everything to make this private war happen." Except for Rambo being the innocent victim when Teasle chose to harass him, arrest him on trumped up charges, before subjecting to cruel mistreatment at the hands of his fellow officers. All Rambo did was deliberately head back into town to spite Teasle for kicking him out, as well as exercise his right to remain silent when refusing to answer any questions.
  • Mook Horror Show: Rambo's ambush of Teasle and his deputies in the woods is played like this. In a matter of minutes, five of them are on the ground with painful but non-lethal wounds crying out in pain and fear, as a thunderstorm rages around them. Even Teasle is left sobbing after Rambo pounces on him with a knife to the throat.
  • Mugging the Monster: The National Guardsmen (who are just average Joes who never expected to be called into service in their quiet town) fire wildly at Rambo's general direction while chasing him down, hooting and hollering like 19th century cowboys running down slaves... Until he returns fire, nearly hitting every single one of them, scaring them into cover. They're so terrified that they refuse to even peek out of cover.
  • Named by the Adaptation: John Rambo had no first name in the original novel.
  • Only Sane Man: Mitch Rogers, the young red-haired cop, is the only one to express dismay when Galt starts messing with Rambo. He's the lowest ranking officer, though, so no one listens to him. For his part, he does get off lighter than the rest of the cops, as Rambo disables Mitch by simply stabbing him in a non-vital area (the thigh) that's mostly healed by the next time we see him.
    • Colonel Trautman is also the only one who understands the gravity of the situation.
  • Plot-Triggering Death: Rambo would have never come to the area had he known his squadmate Delmar Barry had died.
  • Police Are Useless: Mitch thinks he and his fellow officers are this and felt they should leave the matter of capturing Rambo to the state police professionals, but Teasle stubbornly refuses to accept this fact.
  • Police Brutality: Galt and the other deputies are ordered to get Rambo cleaned up for his trial. Apparently, this involves spraying him with a fire hose, striking him full-force with a baton when his back is turned, and restraining him in order to shave him dry. When Rambo escapes, Galt tries to shoot at him with a hunting rifle as he flees armed with only a knife, against orders to capture him alive and uncaring about whether innocent bystanders are in the way. He doesn't stop there, either.
  • Porn Stache: Rambo's flashbacks shows he had this.
  • Real Award, Fictional Character:
    • Rambo is identified as a Medal of Honor recipient.
    • Teasle also has a Silver Star, a Purple Heart, and a Distinguished Service Cross on display in his office. According to the novel and its author's commentary, he served in the Korean War.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure:
    • Colonel Trautman is level headed, practical and wants to spare both his protege's life and the lives of the police men. Justified as he's also A Father to His Men.
    • Deputy Mitch Rogers also counts, due to abiding by his responsibility as a police officer in contrast to the unhinged and power-mad Teasle and Galt as well as his Jerkass colleagues. However, he is of lower rank and most of his advice is ignored by his superiors.
  • Revised Ending: The ending of the film was changed not because they were hoping for sequels, it was changed because they felt the film was bleak enough as it was. Apparently, the original author said he was okay with the change. Said original ending can be seen in a flashback in part 4. Trautman shoots Rambo in the gut on his urging. The original ending was played after a 2008 theatrical reissue, following the closing credits and a textual introduction.
  • Self-Surgery: Rambo sewing up his wounds in the tunnels.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: One of the most famous depictions of posttraumatic stress disorder in film. Rambo was a POW in the Vietnam War who endured Cold-Blooded Torture at the hands of the Vietcong, and is the Sole Survivor of his unit (he learns at the beginning the only other survivor is dead). He ends up abused in police custody, bringing all his memories of the war back, which soon includes a memory of said torture that triggers an extreme fight-or-flight response, setting off the action.
    • For the record, violent anger triggers are sadly not impossible, but violent behavior is rare even among combat veterans; if it happens, it is almost always self-destructive. Most cases of PTSD manifest with depression, hypervigilance, nightmares, insomnia, and often alcoholism and/or drug abuse; if one is prone to violent aggression, it is usually a sign of problems other than PTSD. Unfortunately, the subsequent use of this trope in film has contributed to the real-life stigmatization and ostracization of veterans as ticking time bombs, with violent criminals who have never fought in a war claiming to have been combat veterans and people believing them without question. In this light, the film's message against the dehumanization of soldiers may be a Broken Aesop.
  • Slow Motion Fall: This happens when a character falls out of a helicopter to his death.
  • Spared by the Adaptation:
    • The originally filmed ending was much closer to the novel by David Morrell, which had Trautman killing dying Rambo with a shotgun. However, due to Rambo's more sympathetic portrayal in the film, a new ending was filmed which had Rambo being arrested instead, making the sequels possible. Due to the relative obscurity of the novel, not many are aware that Rambo was supposed to die in the first film.
    • Teasle was also killed in the book, but spared in the film. In fact all the other cops except Galt all apply.
  • Stop or I Will Shoot!: Galt tries repeatedly to shoot a fleeing suspect armed with only a knife, using a hunting rifle at that. Later, Teasle threatens to fire upon Rambo from a cliff if he makes a move, while Rambo is (again) only armed with a knife and has his hands up. A couple steps back and the whole unit follows through.
  • Title Drop: Twice in one scene.
    Col. Trautman: Well you did some pushing of your own, John.
    John Rambo: They drew first blood, not me.
    Col. Trautman: Look, Johnny, let me come in and get you the hell out of there.
    John Rambo: [to himself] They drew first blood.
  • Trigger: Rambo's escape from custody is set off when the deputies try to forcefully shave him, which triggers a Vietnam War flashback to being strung up and tortured with a knife as a POW.
  • Try and Follow: Pursued through the woods, Rambo escapes the on-foot policemen by jumping from a small cliff, using a tall tree's branches to soften his fall. It still hurts, though.
  • War Is Hell: The war will never end for those who fought it, as the Dirty Cops found out the hard way.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: "You did everything to make this private war happen. You've done enough damage. This mission is over, Johnny, do you understand me? This mission is over!"
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Rambo has this with rats, likely due to his war experience. While not outright stated, he reacts in horror to the rats in the cave when they get on him even though they're not attacking him at all.
  • Would Not Shoot a Good Guy: Rambo goes out of his way to avoid deliberately killing any of the policemen, instead trying to take them down non-lethally. The only exception was a complete accident (and would qualify as self-defense given the circumstances even if it weren't).