The original FIRST BLOOD is a really, really outstanding film. It's tightly constructed, suspenseful, and not only well-written but strongly performed by Stallone, Brian Dennehy and Richard Crenna. It also, unlike the comic-booky sequels that followed (the terrific, belated 4th entry excepted), believably renders its central conflict between Rambo and Dennehy's sheriff in a compelling way that sees it in shades of grey instead of stark black and white. Dennehy is truly excellent here -- yes he's the heavy, but he's also not the worst "bad guy" who appears, and comes across as a big fish in a little pond trying to do what he thinks is right. He pushes Rambo too far, but Rambo also takes it too far, and that element of the film adds a real layer to the drama absent in most films of this kind. In fact, Rambo comes off as a bit of a damaged creep once he's unhinged -- a far cry from the super-hero of II and III (in David Morrell's original book, Rambo is a legitimate bad guy who kills over 200 people!). You do root for Rambo, but you also come away with the understanding that if everyone had behaved differently, the situation could've been avoided entirely.
That leads to Crenna, who substituted for Kirk Douglas -- and it's probably a good thing he did. One could see Douglas chewing up the scenery as Colonel Trautman, but Crenna underplays for the most part, and he's tremendous. The sequence where he holds back his emotion while Rambo hugs him at the end is truly heartbreaking and effective. His scene with Dennehy where the sheriff is able to admit, roughly, that he was wrong is also perfectly played.
Beyond that, this 93-minute, well-oiled film is one of those films you can't stop coming back to -- it's effectively shot in scope and brilliantly scored by Jerry Goldsmith. The moment when Rambo breaks out of the police barricade at the climax while driving the stolen truck -- are you kidding me? Brilliant, effective, bravura film scoring that nobody does today.
I watched the film in the overseas Remastered Special Edition which has a superior transfer to the U.S. Blu-Ray, plus some extras (trailers, the discarded ending) that weren't included on it. The two commentaries recorded for the film are two of my favorites: David Morrell's is one of the most listenable of all commentary tracks, as he discusses the endless journey his book took to get to the screen, and is hugely insightful about his writing and the process of making the film. It's a track I often come back to. Stallone's separate commentary is likewise compelling and adds much to the piece as well.
In all, what a great movie. A real classic that not only stands up, but looks even better in light of the junk we have out there today.