October 22, 1982. I was a couple of months shy of turning 11 and a film hit the theaters that every young White kid in America saw: First Blood. The film introduced us to the character of John Rambo, a Vietnam vet and special forces operator who got hassled one time too many and started a private war. Like a lot of kids I had a Rambo survival knife:
The handle was hollow and contained stuff like fishing line and hooks, maybe some matches and other stuff. The cap on the handle was a compass. It was a piece of shit, the blade rattled around in the handle and was made of some garbage quality steel but it sure as hell looked cool.
I saw the movie in the theater, I don’t really remember when, and then saw the two sequels as well. The 80s were the golden era of action movies, Rambo flicks and ninja movies, Die Hard, RoboCop and Terminator, in short movies with gunfire and explosions and strong masculine leads. Many also had social commentary that we missed as young boys who went to movies to see car chases, machine guns and hopefully some boobs.
First Blood holds up well as a film, I watched it not long ago and really enjoyed it even though I have seen it a bunch of times. For some reason, and I don’t remember why, I looked it up and like many films it is based on a book so I downloaded the book via the magic of torrent file sharing and read it over the weekend.
The book follows the basic story although the setting is different, taking place in a small town in Kentucky instead of a small town in Washington state. The plot is similar, Rambo comes into town, gets hassled by the small town sheriff named Teasle, gets arrested and then freaks out about being shaved from an incident in Vietnam where he was tortured. He escapes custody and flees into the mountains where he wages a guerrilla war before the climactic finale with Teasle in town.
*** Spoiler Warning ***
The big differences between the book and film are:
- The body count. In the movie, despite all of the shooting Rambo only kills one guy, the cruel deputy named Galt that he knocks out of a helicopter with a rock. In the book, he kills Galt right away at the jail by cutting him open with his own razor. After that he ends up killing dozens of people, not so much because he has to but because he wants to. The movie makes a big deal out of Rambo not killing the deputies searching for him, in the book he just kills them all.
- The character of Teasle. In the film we don’t learn much about him but the book fleshes him out, with lots of conversations with Rambo, Rambo’s mentor Trautman (in the book Rambo doesn’t really know him) and his own internal dialogue. As is usually the case we learn a lot more about him and his motivations rather than just “he is a bad guy” from the film, although Brian Dennehy as Teasle is quite good.
- The ending. In the end of the film, Rambo allows himself to be arrested so he can appear in later films. In the book he and Teasle shoot each other and while Rambo is dying, Trautman shoots him in the head. Both Ramno and Teasle die, where in the film both of them live.
It’s a pretty good read even if you have seen the film and know the basics. You learn a lot about what makes Teasle tick and why Rambo didn’t want to get pushed. I give it an unqualified recommendation for a good action read.