The JOE-DOWN Reviews ‘First Blood’

Welcome to the JOE-DOWN, a back-and-forth movie review blog by two snarky newspapermen named Joe from Minnesota, Joe Froemming and Joe Brown. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, Froemming picked “First Blood.”

The info:

The Movie: “First Blood”

Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Brian Dennehy, Richard Crenna

Director: Ted Kotcheff

Plot Summary: (From IMDB) A veteran Green Beret is forced by a cruel Sheriff and his deputies to flee into the mountains and wage an escalating one-man war against his pursuers.

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 86 percent

Our take:

Froemming: This week, we are reviewing the cinematic recreation of a tragic event that once happened to Philadelphia bar owner Frank Reynolds.

Kidding aside, in our last foray into the life of John Rambo, he was helping the Mujahideen in Afghanistan…which in hindsight was not the best idea for our hero.

Now, a few years ago I bought the Rambo collection (having never seen a Rambo movie) figuring they were just dumb action movies that allowed Sylvester Stallone to rewrite the loss of the Vietnam War, much like how “Rocky IV” allowed him to win the Cold War. And for the most part, that was the correct assumption for me to have.

With one glaring exception. That being the first Rambo movie “First Blood,” in which the battle John Rambo is battling is the scars and PTSD of his time in Vietnam and the treatment of veterans when they came home. 

Oh, and a battle with a goofball cop and his good-time police department, who hassle him for no rational reason and through their bullying, trigger his PTSD resulting in a one-man war against the boys in blue.

#BlueLivesMatter, Rambo. Did you not get the memo?

Anyway, Brown as I hassle this hitchhiker bum on the side of the road, why don’t you give us your first thoughts?

Brown: Like you, I also own the Rambo collection. On Blu-Ray, no less. I think I bought it 10ish years ago at the Last Stop CD Shop in Marshall, Minnesota. 

And you’re also right about the weird tonal shifts of these movies. I’ve seen “First Blood” prior to this review and at its heart, it’s a heavy movie dealing with some real themes of post-Vietnam. 

… And then it just becomes a series of movies where Sly gets all jacked and oiled up like he’s a goddamn pro wrestler. I think there’s a point, too, where Rambo shoots a chicken with a bow. 

No, wait, I’m getting the life of John Rambo confused with “Hot Shots: Part Deux” again. 

Froemming, get us started while Brian Dennehy drives me to the edge of town. 

Froemming: Our movie begins with drifter and combat veteran John J. Rambo heading to the home of a friend of his from the war on the outskirts of Hope, Washington. Here, Rambo is informed his friend had passed away from cancer the previous year. Cancer that materialized from his exposure to Agent Orange while fighting in Vietnam.

Writing that out really makes the introduction to this franchise pretty heartbreaking. Until “Rambo: First Blood Part 2” where he finally wins that damn war for the USA.

Brown: Shaken up about his friend being dead, Rambo continues to wander the roads of Oregon like he’s Bruce Banner. 

Froemming: Do you think he ever made it to Portland where the dream of the 90s are still alive?

Brown: I’m more shook reading that this movie takes place in Washington and not Oregon. Frank Reynolds lied to me! 

Froemming: I am upset by this as well, damnit! (REDACTED) you, Frank!

Brown: In times like this, I like to quench my thirst with a delicious Wolf Cola. There’s nothing like that to wash away the sorrow.

As Rambo reaches the outskirts of Hope, Oregon Washington, we see Big Tom Callahan from Callahan Auto Sheriff Teasle doing his small-town sheriff duties of saying hello to everyone and hassling veterans?

That’s the weird juxtaposition of this movie in the eyes of politically-driven 2022: A cop is harassing a veteran wearing an American flag on his jacket? 

Froemming: Not since rednecks starting a fight with veteran Cameron Poe — because they hate the military and veterans — have I been this confused by the logic of a movie. But, given how messed up the 1970s were and libs and conservatives were both equally shitty to vets, I guess this could be based on a real encounter.

Brown: I would have thought Sheriff Teasle would be in a good mood after his son Tommy graduated college after seven years. 

So Teasle threatens Rambo and has him ride in the police cruiser to get him out of town and headed to Portland. Or to California, which is apparently super cool to the homeless.

Having done nothing wrong and annoyed by this whole process, Rambo turns around and tries to head back into Hope. 

Teasle is having none of that and brings Rambo in for vagrancy, resisting arrest and possession of a concealed weapon after finding a combat knife on Rambo.

Froemming: Obviously these are bullshit charges, and I find it hard to believe that a concealed combat knife would be breaking any law. I mean, if you were hitchhiking in the 1970s and didn’t carry a knife, you were probably found dead in a ditch somewhere.

The cops here take a dislike to John Rambo, because they probably think this jacked up muscle man with a hippie haircut is some extra in Portland’s community theater production of “Hair.” Except one cop, whose bright orange hair and ghostly pale skin told me this was an early performance by none other than Hollywood’s other famous ginger (Ron Howard being the more famous one): David Caruso. 

Brown: I’m sure the cops thought to themselves as they looked at John Rambo, “Look at them sideburns! He looks like a girl. Now, Johnny Unitas, there’s a haircut you can set your watch to!

One cop in particular, chief deputy Art Galt, is a special breed of asshole. He’s threatening to crack Rambo’s skull with a club, spraying him down with a hose and trying to restrain the man while they try to shave him with a straight blade. 

During all this, Rambo is having ‘Nam flashbacks. And we know he’s been through some shit when we see the scars all over Rambo’s torso. 

So when the straight blade comes out, all hell breaks loose as Rambo assaults almost every cop in the precinct and escapes town on a dirt bike. 

Froemming: The straight blade could have triggered a PTSD-induced flashback, or he might think Galt will trim his sideburns like Don Mattingly.

Brown: This leads to a chase scene between Rambo on the bike and Teasle in a police cruiser. And it’s a perfectly fine chase scene through scenic Oregon Washington. 

The one thing the chase scene lacked: HOT MERGING ACTION!

Froemming: Rambo escapes to the mountains, where he is perfectly equipped (we find out later) to not only survive on his own, but create weapons and Rube Goldberg contraptions to stop those after him. 

These dingdongs triggered his war mentality, and based on how out-of-shape the cops look, they are in fact in for a bad time.

Also, rarely mentioned in the Rambo cinematic universe, was his weird-ass mustache he had back in the war. Looks like a cross between John Waters’ and a racist caricature by Rob Scheider in a Happy Madison film.

Brown: Look Froemming, bad decisions are made when you aren’t ready for the incessant amount of “Fortunate Son” you heard in ‘Nam.

With Rambo running up into the mountains, Teasle calls in a search party with *checks notes* dobermans, assault weapons and a helicopter. All in a sleepy Oregon Washington town.

… Wow. Even in the 70s, law enforcement was militarized. It’s to the point where Rambo has to hide from a helicopter shooting at him like a goddamn video game boss. 

Froemming: My favorite element with the cops was their hubris. They run a background check on Rambo before his escape (I think) and find out he is ex-Green Beret, special forces, ect. And they are still “Let’s bully this guy. Stupid hippie with this Grateful Dead albums.”

And then he escapes, and they know this and are still “We can stop this guy.” And they get the local helicopter company to use his chopper to hunt this guy down while the others are running around in the woods getting the bejesus knocked out of them.

And I am glad Stallone demanded a certain change in the script: Rambo does not kill anyone on purpose. He just beats them up and a little later, a rock he throws has a hilarious consequence. 

Brown: He also does make booby traps that (REDACTED) some of these cops up. But you’re right, he doesn’t kill. 

He’s pretty much Arnie in “Terminator 2.”

Froemming: Even though he would be justified killing them because, well *pops on sunglasses* they drew first blood.

Brown: After running from dogs getting a whiff of his scent, scaling a rock face, jumping from said rock face into a tree to break his fall and slicing his arm open, Rambo somehow has the energy to avoid Art Galt shooting at him from a helicopter. And one well-placed rock to a windshield forces the helicopter to adjust quickly, caulsing Art Galt to plummet to his death. 

Froemming: 

Brown: Now, Rambo didn’t directly kill Art Galt. But, he did steal a dead man’s jacket and rifle. So, still not a great guy.

After Art Galt’s body is found, Rambo emerges with his hands up. He didn’t (technically) kill Art Galt and he just wants to leave this alone. But, the officers shoot at Rambo again, so this isn’t ending anytime soon.

The chase continues, but now Rambo is going full guerrilla commando. He makes booby traps and uses camouflage to pick off each cop one by one. 

Hell, David Caruso, the one cop who shows sympathy for Rambo, gets a knife to the kidney for his trouble. 

The final one left is Teasle, who Rambo holds at knife point. Rambo simply states to Teasle: Let it go.

Froemming: But Teasle is not going to let it go. He is not going to let the state police handle this. In fact, he is pretty arrogant when Colonel Sam Trautman shows up and spills the beans on old Rambo being a one-man army who has been honored with the Medal of Freedom. Trautman basically says he is there not to protect Rambo, but protect these cops from Rambo. 

Trautman recruited Rambo and basically, from what we see in this and the following movies, has ruined the life of John J. Rambo. He gets him into ‘Nam. He gets him back to ‘Nam in the next movie. He is always showing up to make Rambo do shit he doesn’t really want to do. 

Anyway, with this insanity going on, Trautman makes an offer: Let Rambo go, the army will pick him up the next town over, and this will all be over. He just needs to talk to his old friend.

And when he does, we get another glimpse into the loneliness of Rambo and how even Trautman abandoned him: We find out Trautman has basically been ghosting Rambo for years and might have even known the dangers of Agent Orange on his men. So, you know, this guy ain’t giving up because Col. Chucklehead showed up. 

Brown: I do rather like Trautman’s role in this movie. I’m usually a stickler for the movie idea of show, don’t tell. Well, this movie showed first, then had Trautman come in and explain that the cops of Hope, Oregon Washington entered a world of pain. When Teasle says that Rambo has no chance against 200 state cops and national guardsmen, Trautman tells him to bring plenty of body bags. That’s pretty badass, if not scary for what Rambo is about to do.

The next day, the manhunt is on again as a small army is now traipsing through the woods to find John Rambo. And once Rambo runs into a child hunting in said woods, it begins another chase. It reaches a head when Rambo runs into a mine while a line of weekend warrior National Guardsmen have the perimeter. 

One of them shoots a rocket launcher into the mine, presumably killing Rambo. And man, they were as excited to use this rocket launcher as Dennis Reynolds was on Valentine’s Day.

Froemming: Well, they commit one of the biggest errors in movies: Assuming they killed their target. I’ve seen every “Halloween” movie and I can attest that this is, indeed, a grave error to make.

Rambo survived all right, and he has a torch and is killing rats in this subterranean hellhole that is for some reason filled with water. I am not sure who kills more rats, Rambo or Charlie.

I mean, both seem to have that thousand-yard stare after rat bashing.

Anyway, he is now so pissed off that he is about to become a (REDACTED) domestic terrorist!

Before this, we get a scene with Trautman and Teasle at a bar, where these two shoot the shit and we the viewer kind of know why Trautman is still in this crappy little town filled with insane police: Rambo is about to make shit even worse.

And he does. The day starts with John Rambo stealing a damn military truck (I am assuming he had a hearty breakfast of dead rats) and throwing the driver out of the moving vehicle. He may not be killing these people, but he sure as hell is making them hurt like a sonofabitch. 

Rambo’s plan? Well, he is going to destroy Hope, Washington. He is going to burn it to the ground!

Brown: Yeah, there was an M60 in the truck, which I’ll say like before, this is the kind of weapon a video game boss would use. And he’s using it to destroy a sleepy Oregon Washington town. Probably because he’d rather be in Oregon. 

Hell, Rambo runs the military truck through a gas station and lights the goddamn place up. 

He also shoots up transformers to cause blackouts all over town. Then he goes into an ammo shop and sets fire to the place. 

… It’s one thing to go after the police, but the citizens of this town did what, exactly? I suppose they elected Teasle, so yeah, Rambo is justified. Carry on. 

Froemming: Elections have consequences, pal. 

Brown: Teasle won because of all those Dominion voting machines. We need an audit in Hope, Oregon Washington! Where’s Cyber Ninja?!

And what does our celebrated hero Teasle do, especially after telling Trautman that “everybody dies?” Why, he sits on the roof and watches the chaos unfold. 

What a hero to the people of Hope, Oregon Washington!

Froemming: Well, unfortunately for Teasle, John Rambo is a better marksman than he is and is shot and falls through a skylight. Again, the hubris of the police department of Hope, Washington is astounding. Rambo has now spent days (REDACTED) these chuckleheads up. 

Well, Rambo now has his chance to kill Teasle — the man who started all of this when all John Rambo wanted was a nice diner to have lunch at. 

Brown: Is this whole movie predicated on John Rambo wreaking havoc on a town because he’s hangry?

Froemming: Yes. And I sympathize with that. Because if I do not get my lunch in at a good time, I am a (REDACTED) hangry jerk for the rest of the day.

Anyway, right before Rambo gets the chance to take this guy out for making him hangry, Trautman appears out of nowhere like:

He lays it all out for Rambo. If he kills this guy, he is in big trouble. I figured assaulting an entire police force for two days, causing the death of a cop who fell from a helicopter, evading arrest, blowing up a gas station, assaulting a member of the military when he stole that military truck, blowing out the town’s electricity and shooting a sheriff would already have put Rambo in a sticky legal situation. 

Then in the most astounding part of this movie that shook me to my core, I found out that Stallone could, you know, actually act?

Brown: This and “Rocky” all show what Sly can do. Shit, the man was nominated for an Academy Award for best actor in “Rocky.” 

But again, just like “Rocky,” the sequels to this movie become dumber and dumber, so the original impact of these roles is diluted. Sylvester Stallone’s career is fascinating. Sometimes, he has these poignant roles and moments. Other times, he makes movie montages with his brother Frank singing in the background. 

So after his tearful diatribe, Rambo collapses into Trautman’s arms. Then he is escorted out of the destroyed police station as Teasle is brought into an ambulance. 

And in the next movie, Sly will get SUPER JACKED and tear up Vietnam. … Kinda destroys the levity of this movie. 

Now, I know Rambo thinks “NOTHING IS OVER”…

… But, this review is over. Froemming, let’s get to recommendations. 

WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?

Froemming: Oh yeah, this is the best “Rambo” movie for a reason. 

Brown: Absolutely. “First Blood” somehow gets the mix right of action with purpose and levity. It’s one of Sly’s best performances. 

Here is what’s coming up for the next JOE-DOWN

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