Saturday, June 28, 2014

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: BraveStarr (1987 - 1988): "Memories"

In “Memories,” Fort Kerium newspaper man Angus McBride gets a report of alien slavers in the solar system.  He investigates and learns that an alien ship has landed on New Texas along with its “cargo:” goat-men slave-people called Krangs.

Angus is captured by the Slavers in short order.  Before BraveStarr and Jamie can rescue him, however, a “blaster-packing” “star marine,” Commander Kate, arrives to take over rescue operations.  

She dismisses BraveStarr and Jamie as "amateurs," but when she learns that Jamie is Angus’s daughter, she changes her tune.  It turns out that once upon a time, Kate and Angus were in love. But that was a long time ago...

Jamie feels threatened by this information, even though her mother Eileen has been dead for a decade. 

After Angus is rescued and the Slavers defeated, Angus and Kate marry. Having overcome her concerns and wishing for her father to be happy, Jamie -- in her capacity as local judge -- officiates at the ceremony.

“Memories” is a nice little character piece, and a surprisingly adult story for a kid’s cartoon.  We learn a lot about Angus here, for instance namely his curiosity and propensity for trouble.  More than that, we learn of his intense feelings of loneliness since the death of his beloved wife.

There’s also some nice conflict in “Memories,” since Jamie isn’t too keen on the idea of her father re-marrying.  But delightfully, BraveStarr doesn’t remain locked in amber, forever trapped in the status quo and never willing to take chances.

Instead, the series embraces the concept of change, and Angus, indeed, marries the tough-talking, highly competent star marine.  

We don’t get as much background information in “Memories” about BraveStarr himself, but we do learn that he never had the opportunity to know his parents, a fact which softens Jamie in terms of her relationship with Kate.

It’s worth noting here, perhaps, that BraveStarr was made in 1987 and yet it seems fully “modern” in its non-judgmental depiction of gender and ethnicity.  

The hero of the series is a Native American, but he doesn’t speak in embarrassing Pidgeon English (like Tonto, for instance).  A tough-as-nails star marine is an older woman with a gray streak in her hair, and the town judge is a young woman.  

Similarly, Angus -- the newspaper man -- is an older man, and yet still allowed to be seen in terms of romance and love.  

In short, the series just completely demolishes Western-style stereotypes and conventional depictions of heroes.  It's a "new frontier" indeed.

Next week: “The Day the Town was Taken.”

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Monster Squad (1976): "The Weatherman"

In “The Weatherman,” Walt and the Monsters are concerned when a freak snow storm hits the city….in July. 

Before long, the culprit has made his demands. A villain called “The Weatherman” (Avery Schreiber) wants to be unanimously elected President of the United States, or else he will force the country to endure severe weather for months.  He plans to bury Wisconsin in ice, for example.

The Monster Squad learns that the Weatherman is headquartered in an old U.S. Government weather research center, and confronts him there.  The group learns that he has armed himself with a weapon called a “thunder-buss” that can freeze living tissue.

Unfortunately, the Wolf Man falls prey to the device, meaning that Dracula and Frankenstein must not only defeat the villain of the week, but thaw out their frozen friend as well.

As Monster Squad (1976) winds down (we’re in the home stretch, folks…I promise…), some hidden writer agendas are clearly coming to the series forefront, and those who like to complain about the liberal media indoctrinating kids should be happy at the counter-weight, I suppose. 

Specifically, two weeks ago “The Wizard” complained about the government making bad real estate deals and screwing citizens, while “The Weatherman” depicts the government as incompetent, leaving vacant (for criminal use…) a deadly weather research lab.

And when Werewolf, Frankenstein and Dracula go to the facility, they are asked to sign-in on the guest list…in triplicate.  “Well, it’s only to be expected in a government installation,” The Werewolf quips. 

Perhaps the increasingly apparent dislike of the American Government in the 1970s is not unexpected here, given what the nation had gone through in the two years prior to 1976, specifically the Watergate Scandal and an ignominious withdrawal in the Vietnam War. 

Still, it’s a little shocking to see the anti-government jokes starting to come hot and heavy in a Saturday morning kid’s show.  But hey, Fred Grandy -- Walt in this series -- eventually became a Republican congressman, right?   Perhaps he developed his political philosophy here, in the wax museum…

Seriously, the next time someone complains about liberals indoctrinating children, remind them that conservatives do it too, in fare like 1976’s Monster Squad.

Two other points for consideration here: As I noted recently, Dracula is almost entirely flesh-toned now, his white pancake make-up barely coating his skin. 

And secondly, both this episode and “The Skull” have featured references -- visual or textual -- to the Invisible Man.  In this episode we see him in the Wax Museum behind the Crime Computer, and in “The Skull” the King Toot mummy is unwrapped to reveal no one…or perhaps, the Invisible Man.

If Monster Squad had survived, I wonder if the Invisible Man would have joined the team.

Next week: “Lawrence of Moravia.”

Friday, June 27, 2014

Cult-Movie Review: No Blade of Grass (1970)

The relatively obscure 1970 science fiction film No Blade of Grass is a cutthroat post-apocalyptic vision which forecasts films such as The Road Warrior (1981), and which deals meaningfully with the idea that our modern civilization is fragile because it is based on an easily compromised premise: the satisfaction of a full stomach. 

When there is no food, there is no society, and no civilized behavior.

In this adaptation of John Christopher’s 1965 novel The Death of Grass a British man, John Custance (Nigel Davenport) witnesses the end of that social contract occur as one-hundred million people die of starvation worldwide.  A famine is destroying grass and wheat.

And without wheat, livestock dies. 

And without livestock, humanity’s very future is jeopardized. 

With anarchy spreading rapidly and some states like China resorting to mass-murder -- essentially killing many to save a few -- Custance attempts to preserve his family (symbolizing the future…) at any cost. 

Yet John’s quest can’t really be termed successful.  His wife and young daughter are savagely raped on the road by other travelers, and he murders an innocent family much like his own for food stocks, which amounts to no more than a loaf of bread.  Eventually, John even makes war against his own biological brother to gain a foothold in this strange and savage new world.

This nearly forty-five year-old film presents a caustic, blistering look at human nature, and the ungracious way our species may countenance its end. But No Blade of Grass is also one of my all-time favorite science fiction films of the 1970s, and a cinematic work of art that Paul Simpson (The Rough Guide to Cult Movies) accurately termed “a tense and provocative” picture.

Writing in The Montreal Gazette, film critic Jacob Siskind called No Blade of Grass one of the most terrifying motion pictures he had ever seen, “uncomfortable real,” and “something that should not be missed.

Both of these reviews capture the tense, uneasy, disturbing nature of a film that more science fiction fans should acquaint themselves with.

An unidentified virus begins killing grass, white, rice and barley in Asia, and then rapidly spreads across the globe, causing a famine of vast proportions in the civilized world.

One family -- the Custances -- decides to abandon London when there is news that China has bombed its urban population in a last-ditch attempt to save “the Chinese nation.”  The Custances believe the English government could do the same thing.

John Custance (Davenport), his wife Ann (Jean Wallace) and their daughter Mary (Lynn Frederick) make a survival run through the English countryside for the distant farm of John’s brother.  The family is joined en route by a man named Pirrie (May) who is good with a gun but prone to instability and violence. 

On their way to hopeful sanctuary, the Custances face the total collapse of law and order in England, and fight rapists, motorcycle gangs, and other hazards.  Finally, when John meets up with his brother, he finds that even the bonds of family can’t overcome the fear and dread surrounding the famine and burgeoning apocalypse.

All along, No Blade of Grass forecasts just how bad things are going to get by flashing forward to -- in blood-red imagery -- upcoming violent confrontations.  Just when the family has overcome one life-or-death crisis, another one is signaled in shades of scarlet terror. 

Although I remain unconvinced, generally, of the efficacy of fast-forwards in a narrative structure, they are deployed well in No Blade of Grass.  The flash-cuts suggest the end of optimism and hope.  Future days will be no better than these days.  In fact, they may very well be worse. If the present seems bad, the movie promises, the future will be much, much worse.

Similarly, during moments of extreme violence -- such as a confrontation with a roving biker gang --director Cornel Wilde flips the imagery to its negative, so that the screen fills with blacks and grays.  Suddenly, those committing the violence, and even those defending themselves, resemble inhuman monsters.  The shades of gray not only de-humanize the characters at their most savage, they remind audiences that moral absolutes no longer exist in a world of famine.

Before No Blade of Grass is done, Custance and his family members have murdered soldiers, nations have bombed their populations to oblivion to keep a few handpicked survivors fed, and a brother has launched a war for resources against a biological brother. 

In tactless, brutal terms, the film depicts total, utter anarchy, and the collapse of decency.  We witness a live birth on camera (and you can see the baby’s head crowning…), and generally the film spares its audience no indignity, no terror, no hard truth. The scene involving the rape of Mrs. Custance and her daughter is especially difficult to watch.  The rapists hold the women down, rip off their under-clothes, commit their acts of brutality and the camera doesn’t flinch or cut-away.

Wilde’s point is plain. When anarchy arrives, no one will be spared. Not mothers. Not daughters.  Not families.  When civilization goes so will go modern medicine, electricity grocery stores, mass transit and every law but the law of the jungle.  The film suggests these taken-for-granted modern conveniences and constructs are all but fragile dominoes, falling one after the other after the other. 

“Everything’s different now, boys…we have to fight to survive,” one character states in the film, and indeed that’s true.  The “old law” evaporates and the law of the jungle reigns supreme.  Those who can’t adapt quickly to the New World Order die quickly instead.  

Accordingly, one of the most disturbing moments in the film finds Custance’s teenage daughter, Mary, leaving behind her former, civilized, and gentle boyfriend in favor of the sociopath-murderer, Pirrie.

Despite the fact that he killed his own wife in a fit of rage and is obviously unstable, Pirrie’s apparent physical “strength” and tough demeanor makes Mary feel safe.  She knows he will protect her. Ardent feminists will not appreciate this moment in the film, to be certain, but so many of today’s constructs including equality of the sexes simply would not survive all-out, universal anarchy.  Women like Mary, in the film’s blunt terminology, carry “a survival kit” between their legs.  Sex becomes one of the few tools they can use to assert power, or find protection. 

As the preceding description suggests, No Blade of Grass is caustic and sharply observed.  One early scene reveals an abandoned Rolls Royce scuttled on the side of the road, but a voice-over from an old TV commercial accompanies the imagery so that the moment suggests just how utterly meaningless the old conventions are in the New Order.  What role is there for luxury transportation when there is no food, anywhere?  No gasoline? No restaurants to drive to?

Another, equally brutal moment intercuts a report of children dying of starvation in the Third World with extreme close-up images of avaricious restaurant diners eating gourmet food in an upscale London restaurant.  The unmistakable point is forged in the sledge-hammer cutting, in the slamming contrast.

It is easy to observe other people’s children dying of famine and do nothing about it. Pass the salt…

The cause of the civilization-destroying virus in No Blade of Grass is, in true 1970s fashion, mankind himself.  A (dated) folk song opens the film and establishes how little mankind has done to “save the Earth.” 

This funereal composition is accompanied by a montage of images of real-life pollution.  We see documentary-like footage of spewing tail-pipes, traffic jams, smog hanging over cities, brown water, dead fish, crop dusters, nuclear reactors, factories spewing chemicals and other late 20th century horrors that somehow we manage to put out of our minds, and imagine can’t harm the planet. 

But according to No Blade of Grass there was a secret revolution: “One day the polluted Earth couldn’t take it anymore.”

And Mother Nature struck back.

Chilling and in-your-face, No Blade of Grass is one of the most unforgettable science fiction films of the 1970s. It is made more so by the fact that its protagonists -- whom we are meant to closely identify with -- are ultimately no better or nobler than anyone they encounter on the road. 

The Custances prize their survival above all else, and take steps to assure it that we, as civilized people, should abhor.  They become murderers with relative ease and speed.

 But who could say that you or I would choose differently given such global, dangerous anarchy?

That folk song in the film that I mentioned earlier features a lyric that goes “It’s the end of love.”  In No Blade of Grass, that’s an understatement. In this film, mankind confronts his mortality and the results aren’t pretty.  I hope if something like this disaster ever does happen, we can face the end with more dignity and grace and far less bloodshed.

Movie Trailer: No Blade of Grass (1970)

Thursday, June 26, 2014

At Anorak: The Five Greatest Episodes of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century

My latest article at Anorak remembers five great episodes of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979 - 1981), a cult-tv series which celebrates its 35th anniversary this year.  

Here's a snippet (and here's the url:

AS impossible as it is for me to believe, Glen Larson’s version of Buck Rogers in the 25thCentury (1979 – 1981) turns thirty-five years old this year.
Today, this cult-TV series is often remembered for its spandex fashions, its gorgeous female stars and guest stars,  its penis-headed robot Twiki (Felix Silla/Mel Blanc), and its oppressive re-use of familiar or “stock” visual effects in the space dogfights.
Though Buck Rogers in the 25th Century had its weak installments, for certain (like the dreadful “Space Rockers”) it was also a light science fiction series — a romp, essentially — and the series is recalled fondly by fans on those terms too.
Yet in remembering the series, one can detect that the best episodes — or at least the ones that best hold up today — are those that concern relevant cultural issues, or base their narratives in literary or mythic antecedents
Below, are my selections for the five best episodes of this space series, which ran for two seasons on NBC, and from 1979 to 1981.

The Films of 1982: First Blood

In general, I am not the world’s biggest fan of the Rambo films. 

Parts II – III (I haven’t seen IV…) serve largely as awkward polemics in which a fighting man who is not really a “thinker” is put in the position of making political statements, and quite awkwardly so. 

The grandiose, high-flying words just don’t feel right or ring true coming out of John Rambo’s mouth.  He’s not a politician.  And he’s not a deep thinker, either.

I’m certain others will disagree with me, but the blockbuster 1985 film Rambo: First Blood Part II feels more like a laundry list of flag-waving philosophical talking points than a fully-articulated movie.

However, I am an affirmed admirer of First Blood (1982) the film that introduced the world to Sylvester Stallone’s character, a Vietnam veteran named John Rambo.

I resolutely admire this film not only because of the splendidly orchestrated stunts and action scenes, but because Rambo’s righteous anger is not directed at any one particular group or party, but at everyone in a system that has egregiously failed him.

In this way, First Blood is neither a right wing diatribe nor a left wing polemic.

Instead, it is an aching, emotional primal scream that transcends politics and partisanship. 

The brilliantly-staged film asks -- in a rage-driven bellow -- how the world could turn out this badly for someone who was only doing what he felt was his patriotic duty, and what he was called to do.

To put it crudely then, First Blood is simultaneously anti-war and anti-anti-war.

The film vehemently derides the system that landed men into armed conflict without the resources they needed to cope with the violence they witnessed, and then abandoned them upon their return stateside.

At the same time, First Blood decries the protest movement, which in some cases blamed soldiers for the decisions of their superiors, and the decisions of politicians in Washington D.C.

There’s more than enough anger to go around, in other words. And make no mistake: First Blood is an angry, emotional, reactionary film. 

Indeed, that incredible passion is the engine that fuels this work of art and provides it tremendous energy.

By contrast, later Rambo films attempt to suggest that might is right, and that if only Rambo were “allowed” to fight unfettered, we would have won the war in Vietnam. 

“Do we get to win this time?”  Those films asked, and that’s a deflection.  It’s the wrong question, and the wrong point to focus on.

Whether or not one supported the Vietnam War, this focus represents a deeply unsubtle simplification or reading of history.

Or described another way, First Blood is a veritable primal scream suggesting that the Vietnam War was a nation’s folly, and that elements of the anti-war movement are responsible for making it worse for those men who (bravely) fought in it than it already was. 

The later Rambo movies say, basically, if we could just re-fight the war, we’d sure win it this time.

There’s a lot of space between those two different philosophies. I find the first admirable, and the second delusional. 

First Blood still impresses as a work of art today as well because it recreates -- in small-town America, no less -- the deep contradictions, divides, and paradoxes that bedeviled the country in the 1960s and early 1970s.

First Blood isn’t a gung-ho, macho, flag-waving cartoon, either.  That’s merely the caricature that Rambo became later.  To some extent, critics have retroactively imposed that popular image on this initial film, and a re-watch reveals it just doesn’t fit.

On the contrary, First Blood is an angry, righteous -- and necessary -- exorcism of a national tragedy; one in which there is plenty of blame to share on all sides of the debate.

We aren’t hunting him. He’s hunting us.”

Some years after the end of the Vietnam War, former United States Army Special Forces soldier John Rambo (Stallone) goes to visit in his friend, Delmar, in the Pacific Northwest, only to learn that he has died due to his exposure to Agent Orange. Delmar’s death makes Rambo the last survivor of his unit.

Rambo continues his journey through the town of Hope, Washington, but is intercepted by the town sheriff, Teasle (Dennehy), who fears that he is a drifter, and a dangerous element. Teasle drives Rambo out of town and when Rambo tries to return to Hope, Teasle arrests him.  Teasle finds a knife on him, and charges Rambo both with vagrancy and carrying a concealed weapon.

While incarcerated, Rambo is treated brutally by Teasle and his deputies, including Galt (Jack Starrett), Mitch (David Caruso) and Ward (Chris Mulkey).

This wretched treatment causes Rambo to experience flashbacks from his excruciating time as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, and to lose control of his impulses. His survival instinct kicks in, and Rambo injures several police officers, escapes the jail, and flees into the nearby forest.

Teasle and his deputies pursue Rambo into the wilderness, and before long, have a full-scale war on their hands as the Vietnam vet arranges for them to be fouled by booby traps and other dangers.

Rambo incapacitates the entire group, and Galt is killed, though the circumstances are not precisely Rambo’s fault.  Rambo attempts to surrender to authorities, but is rebuffed by Teasle, and nearly shot in the head.  Later, Rambo captures Teasle and tells him to “let it go,” but Teasle will not back down.

Before long, Rambo’s former superior office, Colonel Sam Trautman (Richard Crenna) arrives in Hope to help negotiate a peaceful solution to the war that rages. 

But Teasle has already called in the National Guard and State Police. 

Matters are escalating, and before long, there’s a very real chance that this war will have no winners at all…only casualties.

“We had orders. When in doubt…kill.”

Adapted from David Morrell’s 1972 novel of the same name, First Blood boasts a truly clever structure in the sense that Rambo’s mis-adventure in Hope -- an ironically-named town -- seems to mirror directly much of the Vietnam War experience and context.

In particular, Rambo runs up against a man, Teasle, who refuses to back down or to negotiate with him. Teasle’s only strategic move is to escalate, to the point that his own town is torn apart by his refusal to see reason, or to think outside the rubric of “total victory” over Rambo. 

In some fashion then, Teasle -- at least as depicted in the film -- symbolizes American leadership (from both political parties) circa 1964 – 1974 or thereabouts.  He represents unyielding, boot-on-your-throat authoritarianism.  It’s his way or the highway. If he cannot win with the forces under his command, Teasle will simply call up more forces and throw them at the cause too.  His “tactic” is overwhelming numerical advantage…and that’s it.

The paranoid quality of First Blood’s narrative arrives early, specifically in Teasle’s wantonly hostile actions in the film’s first act. He manufactures a reason to hate and fear Rambo on sight, trumping up charges of carrying a concealed weapon (a hunting knife, for Heaven’s sake…) and vagrancy. 

In keeping with the metaphor of the Vietnam War, Teasle’s trumped-up charges against Rambo serve as the equivalent of The Gulf of Tonkin incident… a manufactured reason to go to war.  Suddenly, Teasle has the excuse he needs to treat Rambo badly.

Oddly, Teasle’s actions make almost no sense on a practical level. They are only sensible if one considers the Vietnam War allegory.  Rambo’s hair isn’t especially long or ratty.  He doesn’t appear especially unkempt, either. And all he wants in Hope is a hot meal.  That’s all he “hopes” to find there. 

But Teasle is unreasonably and irrevocably hostile to Rambo…even telling him that his jacket with the American flag patch on it is bound to cause a problem.  If we understand Teasle as an avatar for imperialism and authoritarianism, he makes, at least, a modicum of sense as a dramatic character.  He becomes consumed by what “could” happen because of Rambo’s presence, not who Rambo actually is. 

And frankly, this sounds a lot like the (now-discredited…) Domino Theory. If Vietnam falls to communists, other states will also fall to communists too, the theory went.  There are a lot of “ifs” in that scenario that don’t involve -- at least directly – either reality or the present circumstances. 

Similarly, Teasle sees Rambo as a future threat not yet fully materialized, but it’s hard to see exactly why. Does Teasle think that this Vietnam Vet is going to start killing babies in Hope?  Is that his hidden (and paranoid…) fear?

Uniquely, Rambo takes on the characteristics of the Viet Cong in a sense.  He is “one” with the natural environment, using the forest to his advantage and acting as a guerrilla soldier when the first shots are fired.

He also sets booby traps for the pursuing officials, and many of his decoys and traps outlast superior firepower (the rubric of American forces in Vietnam).  At one point, Rambo even takes sanctuary in a mine or tunnel system, imagery which clearly evokes Viet Cong tactics. 

In more blunt terminology, both the Viet Cong and Rambo are deemed enemies of American authority in their respective wars. They represent some “outside” or “alien” world-view.

This shuffling of traditional heroic and villainous roles in First Blood effectively recreates the visceral confusion of the Vietnam War Era.  Americans were in Vietnam to fight the Viet Cong, and yet when stories came back about the behavior of some American soldiers, the tide of public opinion in the States turned against the war.

For instance, the My-Lai Massacre -- the murder of several hundred unarmed civilians by American soldiers in March of 1968 -- scrambled traditional concepts of right and wrong, heroes and villains.  How could people feel patriotic knowing that innocent people -- families -- were being murdered in their name?

First Blood is very much reflective of this complex and difficult dynamic. Watching the film, we expect to be on the side of the law and order, on the side of police, national guardsmen, and state police, but find that these expected authority figures are alternately despotic and cruel, or (as in the case of the guardsmen) inept, heavily armed buffoons. 

By contrast we sympathize with Rambo, even though he is launching a full-scale assault against civil and military authorities. He destroys private property, threatens other soldiers, and creates chaos.

Once more, traditional lines of sympathy are scrambled, and it isn’t clear who we should be rooting for.

Should it be for the police to put down an armed threat who lays siege to an innocent town? 

Or for the wronged man fighting the system with every ounce of strength in his body? 

Of course, as the film’s central figure, we ultimately do root for Rambo, but he is clearly an anti-hero in this film (as opposed to the sequels, where he is the fully heroic arm of a resurgent right-wing establishment…).

In First Blood, Rambo is fighting the system -- the very system that we cherish -- but one that has been co-opted by those who refuse to compromise or see reason.

In my introduction to this review, I noted that First Blood is an “aching” primal scream, an exorcism, and a necessary one. 

This becomes especially apparent in the final scenes.  I believe that Sylvester Stallone’s greatest silver screen performance arrives in First Blood, in the last act, when Rambo lays out the details of his life post-Vietnam.

He can’t get a job, let alone keep one.

He is tortured by images of friends and comrades dying in war. 

He is hurt -- psychically-wounded -- by the fact that his countrymen view him as a murderer and a baby-killer when he went to war, essentially, at their government’s behest (and demand).  

Rambo did what was asked of him, even though it was destructive to him personally, and now he is hated for having answered the call.

Thus Rambo faces the true no-win scenario.  He is derided because the war was lost, and hated by both the establishment and the anti-establishment.

During Rambo’s rage-driven monologue, Stallone is as raw and open emotionally as we have ever seen him…as if driven mad by the contradictions of Rambo’s situation as a man without a country, even though he gave everything for his country.

It is rare for an action movie to resolve in a scene of intense dialogue like Rambo’s in the police station in First Blood, but that’s precisely what occurs here.  We get this huge catharsis -- not out of violence meted -- but out of emotional release.  Rambo finally speaks at length about who he is, and what he is become…and is heard.  To some extent, that seems to be all he wants…to be heard. 

Later films in the franchise, as I’ve noted, ask Rambo to pull a lot of partisan baggage re-litigating the Vietnam War.  But in First Blood, we simply get a portrayal of an angry man who has been abandoned at every turn, and must now reconsider what his country stands for, and what he stands for.

First Blood is all about Rambo’s consuming rage, and the fact that he has been taught by his country that the way to express such rage is through violence, war, and blood-shed.  Trautman describes the philosophy as “when in doubt…kill.”

Only in the film’s finale, when Rambo unloads his emotions on Trautman, however, is Rambo’s war truly ended.  Violence and war ultimately resolve nothing, and that’s why First Blood is an anti-war film.  War did not make Rambo great.  On the contrary, war trained him to survive in only one heightened environment -- the battlefield -- but left him without the resources he needs to live among us, as a countryman, as a human being.

Although Rambo is described as “resilient” in First Blood, the opposite is actually true. He mounts a “private war” because he “just can’t turn off” the rage within him.  Accordingly, the final, haunting freeze frame of First Blood is a portrait of a man who -- years after the war is ended -- is finally taking stock of who he is, and why he is that way.

First Blood features involving, dynamic action scenes. Rambo’s escape from jail is a kinetic dance, a battle of violence that showcases John as a living, breathing weapon.  The scene on the cliff-wall, perhaps the most dazzling in the picture, is tense, and bereft of any obvious fakery or stunt doubles.  The action here is splendidly orchestrated, but again, the film’s real gut-punch comes in the substitution of Rambo’s self-expression for a deadly shoot-out.  The film goes out not with a blaze of fire-works, but a blaze of emotions and truth-telling.

Popular reputation to the contrary, First Blood isn’t a rah-rah cartoon or a two-dimensional action film like its successors. It’s the emotionally-affecting primal scream of a soldier hated and abandoned on all sides, who is just trying to mind his own business.

Sadly, he finds that he is to be denied even that modest freedom, and fights back the only way he knows how.

The way we taught him to fight.

Movie Trailer: First Blood (1982)