With the publication of my most recent book, the adventure/survival story BIG GAME, and the imminent release of the film, I’ve been looking back at books, films, and real life stories that have influenced my writing. In my last post, I talked about Deliverance, but the film in this post is one that you might not consider as seriously. Bear with me though, because although the sequels were over-the-top, and turned the main character into a violent cartoon, the first film to feature John J Rambo is a different thing altogether.
In FIRST BLOOD, Rambo is an emotionally wounded Vietnam veteran who wanders into a small Oregon town to find an old friend. But his war buddy has succumbed to cancer, brought on by the effects of defoliants used in the jungle, so the despondent Rambo decides to have a bite to eat and move on. The local police don’t much like the look of him, though, and arrest him for vagrancy. They taunt and abuse him until he snaps and escapes into the nearby wilderness – which is where he is most at home – and he is forced to use all of his skills to evade the National Guardsmen sent in to find him. And he has considerable skills. He fashions make-shift clothes, becomes invisible among the trees, he hunts, makes fire, builds traps, climbs sheer rock faces, improvises, adapts and . . . and he even sews his wounds using thread from his survival knife.
And EVERY boy who saw First Blood wanted their own survival knife, complete with hollow handle containing fishing hooks, thread, needles, matches and compass.
I watched First Blood numerous times, all the boys crowded around the small screen in the tv room at boarding school. We watched until the VHS tape became worn, and messing about with the tracking no longer made any difference so, yeah, I’d say this film has had some influence on me. But not just on me. First Blood was a hugely influential action film, and was both a critical and a commercial success. I’m not making this up. Despite the reputation of subsequent films featuring the character, First Blood is a surprisingly good film.
There’s something else you need to know if you haven’t seen it. Only one person dies in First Blood. And their death is an accident. The point here is that Rambo does everything he can to avoid killing people. He is a war hero, shunned and betrayed by his own country, abused and let down, dragged into a fight he doesn’t want, and yet he holds back. When he could kill, he does not. This gives the film a special quality, and it gives the character a nobility that has been long forgotten, lost beneath the body count of its sequels. We see that Rambo could rain hell on those who would maltreat him, but all he wants to do is have something to eat and move on . . .
The film was based on the 1972 novel by David Morrell and was heavily influenced by Geoffrey Household’s classic survival story, Rogue Male.