IF YOU’VE EVER read the David Morell novel that is the inspiration for First Blood by the same name, you know its a much different story. Since the novel is over 40 years old, I think we can proceed to drop spoilers. In the book, Rambo is a much more tortured person, and much more violent if you can believe that.
For a character whose name has become unduly synonymous with over-the-top violence, John Rambo’s introductory movie has a mere body count of one. That’s right, only one person is killed in the entire movie—and it’s the jerk deputy who falls out of a helicopter. Plus three dogs.
Contrarily, in the book, Rambo kills all of the sheriff’s deputies who chase him into the woods and the civilian dog handler instead of just wounding them like he did in the movie. Also, Sheriff Will Teasle (Brian Dennehey) is a more central character in the book—you could even call him the protagonist. He’s a Korean War veteran, which contrasts with Rambo’s Vietnam Vet experience. There is a hint of this in the movie. When we see Teasle at his desk, behind him you can see his service awards in a shadowbox, including what looks like a bronze star.
First Blood was a movie unlike anything anyone had seen to that point. The height of action movies before Rambo came along was something like The Taking of Pelham One Two Three or Deliverance. This movie starts slow enough, with the movie’s elegant score of mournful trumpets and heavy drums evoking the sadness of men destroyed by war.
Tension builds until an abused and arrested Rambo finally loses it and escapes the Sheriff’s station, going through deputies like they’re not even there. Then we get a cool car chase as Teasle gives chase in his squad car as Rambo flees on a stolen dirt bike, leading him into the mountains. Teasle’s car flips just as things get too steep even for the bike. Rambo heads into the trees on foot, and the stage is set.
Then we get an awesome stalking sequence as Teasle’s men attempt to track Rambo down.
Later, when the National Guard seal Rambo in an old mine by destroying the entrance with a rocket launcher, the movie morphs for a while into a claustrophobic horror as Rambo uses his makeshift tunic to create a torch and desperately find his way out of the mine in absolute darkness.
When he emerges, he’s pissed, and proceeds to destroy the downtown of Hope, and hunt down the Sheriff in his own station. It’s a heck of ride.
M60 Machine Gun
We first meet John J Rambo, Vietnam Veteran, Green Beret, and escaped POW as he heads to an idyllic lake-side homestead belonging to his war buddy Delmar Barry.
He inquires about his friend, whom we later learn is the last remaining member of his special forces team, and is told by Delmar’s mother that he recently died of cancer contracted as a result of exposure to the anti-foliage chemical Agent Orange, which was revealed after the war to be highly carcinogenic. You can see any spirit Rambo had in him leave him almost instantly. He leaves a photo of Delmar with his mom, and throws a pocketful of mementos from the war into a rubbish pile as he heads back to the road.
He begins to wander, maybe headed toward Portland, when he’s stopped by small-town Sheriff Will Teasle (Brian Denehey) on the side of the road for looking like a hippie with long hair and a beat-up army jacket, about to walk into his town. Instead of taking him somewhere to get something to eat, the Sheriff drives Rambo through Hope, Washington and leaves him on the highway headed out of town, basically telling him he’s not welcome.
Rambo defies the Sheriff and immediately walks back toward town. This leads to his arrest for vagrancy and subsequent abuse by a sadistic deputy that knocks Rambo back to the torture he endured as a prisoner, triggering his significant PTSD. He assaults a number of officers, escapes from the police station, steals a motorcycle, and leads Teasle on a chase that ends with Rambo scrambling into the mountains in jeans and a tank top with nothing more than his survival knife, which he swiped from the station during his escape.
The sadistic Deputy Sgt. Art Galt (Jack Starrett) attempts to shoot Rambo from a helicopter when he’s clinging to a cliff with a Winchester Model 88 lever action rifle.
Winchester Model 88 Lever Action Rifle
When Rambo hits the helicopter’s windshield with a rock, the pilot jerks and Galt falls from the chopper and is killed on the rocks below.
Rambo retrieves the Model 88 and later uses it off-screen to shoot two dobermans that are pursuing him through the forest. He then runs out of ammunition and has to kill the final dog with his knife.
Other than that, Rambo only gets his hands on two guns in the film. The big daddy of them all is the M60 machine gun. Symbolic of the Vietnam War during which it was introduced and earned the nickname “The Pig,” it’s a crew served weapon that was actually designed to be used the way Rambo does, if necessary, served by one person and fired from the hip.
Normally, when the M60 is supported by a platoon, multiple troops carry belted 7.62 NATO ammunition and replacement barrels. When firing, one soldier was usually responsible for loading and feeding ammunition into the gun to prevent jams or misfeeds.
In the final act of the film, after it’s believed he was killed by a rocket fired into a mine where we was hiding, Rambo hijacks an Army truck and uses it to blow up a gas station, but not before taking the M60 and a few boxes of ammo from the back of the truck.
He strings spare ammo belts across his chest and waist as many soldiers did in Vietnam and uses his left hand to feed ammo into the gun when firing. The gun is equipped with a sling, making it easier for Rambo to operate and carry solo.
He uses the gun to take out the town’s electricity by blasting transformers, and he destroys a number of buildings, including shooting out the police station. He also uses it to wound Teasle, who is waiting in ambush on the roof. Rambo sets a fire at a nearby gun shop, causing several explosions that mask his approach to the police station, and cause Teasle to raise his head on the roof, giving away his position.
The poster of Stallone holding the M60 became the iconic representation of the Rambo character and was plastered on everything from lunch boxes to pajamas. The moment was recreated in the sequel, but we’ll get there.
Rambo also briefly uses an M16A1 rifle, which he takes from a downed sheriff’s deputy from the forest stalking sequence, though he doesn’t pick up any spare ammo, leaving him only with the 20-round magazine in the rifle.
He expends this rather quickly, spraying full-auto suppressive fire at a group of National Guardsmen, who corner him in the mine he’d been using as shelter.
Other than that, Rambo uses his knife, a spear, and an array of booby traps, but no other firearms.
The movie famously had a different ending that more closely followed the ending of the novel in which Col. Trautman (Richard Crenna), Rambo’s former commander and mentor, kills the tortured soldier, believing him too far gone mentally. To be fair, in the book Rambo kills a whole bunch of cops and National Guardsman, instead of wounding them like in the movie, so Trautman was a bit more justified.
In the alternate movie ending, when he’s finally cornered in the shot-out police station by an army of state police and Guardsmen, Rambo asks Trautman to kill him with his 1911A1 sidearm. After much hesitation, Rambo forces him to do it, basically firing one shot into his own abdomen. Rambo crumbles to the floor of the police station against a filing cabinet, and dies.
Needless to say, the ending tested horribly with audiences, and it was changed to one where Trautman talks Rambo into surrendering, saving his life—though a grainy version of the grim ending was included in DVD and Blu Ray releases of First Blood.
SHERIFF WILL TEASLE
Smith & Wesson Model 66
There are few antagonists in film better than Sheriff Will Teasle, thanks mostly to a great performance from the late Dennehey. As Sheriff, he carries a duty weapon appropriate for the times: a stainless S&W Model 66 revolver, an updated version of the .357 Magnum Model 19, also referred to as the Combat Magnum.
Teasle carries the gun through the whole movie and draws it as he climbs up onto the police station roof near the end of the movie, but he never actually fires it.
Heckler & Koch HK93A2 Rifle
When Teasle and his deputies head into the woods in an attempt to hunt Rambo down (did they really think the white hats were a good idea?) most of the deputies are carrying M16A1 rifles, but Teasle has a different gun. He’s carrying an HK93A2, a descendent of the HK43, which would have been fairly state of the art at the time.
Teasle drops the rifle when Rambo pounces on him and puts his knife to the Sheriff’s throat.
After he hears about Rambo’s stolen army truck blowing up a gas station on the edge of town, he gears up by pulling an AR-15/SP1 rifle from the gun cabinet in his office and stuffing a few 20-round mags in his pockets. The gun doesn’t do him much good. He takes a few shots at Rambo with the rifle through a skylight just before several rounds from Rambo’s M60 tear through the roof and wound him severely.
When the deputies head into the woods to hunt Rambo down with dogs, they’re all carrying M16A1 rifles with 20-round magazines—along with their white hats that blend so well with the dark woods.
Rambo proceeds to wound every deputy with a combination of booby traps and ambushes. He then takes one of the rifles from a downed deputy but it only has the ammo in its magazine and doesn’t help him much when he uses it later.
M72 LAWS Rocket
When the National Guardsmen corner Rambo in an abandoned mine, the Lieutenant becomes impatient after Rambo lays down some suppressing fire with his M16 and orders one of his men to blow up the mine where he’s hiding with a single-use LAWS rocket launcher. The entrance of the mine collapses in the explosion, effectively sealing Rambo inside.
The OG Rambo Knife
While the M60 became Rambo’s signature firearm, the character really wouldn’t be the same without the weapon that never left his hip, unless he happened to be captured.
Teasle first finds Rambo’s custom survival knife and sheath tucked into the back of his belt and takes it from him before he is arrested. The blade was designed for the movie at Stallone’s request by the late master Arkansas knife maker Jimmy Lile. Lile had been making knives full time since 1970 and had become a respected custom knife maker and remained so until his death in 1991.
Lile’s innovative design incorporated features that he felt would make it a more all around tool for survival than just a knife. It featured a 9-inch blade with 14 split saw teeth along the spine, Phillips and flat-head screwdrivers incorporated into the guard which also include holes so the knife could more easily be lashed to a pole to make a spear. The watertight hollow handle had a compass in the non-magnetic aluminum pommel cap. The original design has a small holding knife in the hollow handle, but the final version included a survival kit with fish hooks, line, needle and thread, and matches. Rambo famously uses the needle and thread to sew up a gash in his own arm after falling through a tree in the film.
For everything you’d ever want to know about Rambo’s movie knives, head to cartertown.com.
Token Gruesome Scene
The first three Rambo movies all include some rough injury that Rambo has to endure, which was a pretty prominent president considering the firs tone.
After Rambo is forced to leap from a cliff face into a gigantic pine tree, he hits the ground and finds that he has a pretty serious gash across his right arm. Once Gault falls from the chopper and he has a moment to rest, he opens up the handle on his survival knife, pulls out a needle and thread, and proceeds to sew up the blood-spewing gash.
I don’t care when you watch it or when it was made, that scene looks absolutely real, even on Blu Ray, and makes you shiver a little at the thought of having to do such a thing.