Rambo was a killing machine with an ‘anti-war message’, says First Blood author | Films | Entertainment


Sylvester Stallone in Rambo: First Blood Part II

Sylvester Stallone in Rambo: First Blood Part II (Image: GETTY)

With a sweat-stained bandana circling his shaggy mane, muscles bulging and a lethal knife in hand, it has been 50 years since former US Special Forces killing machine John Rambo exploded onto the pages of the bestselling novel First Blood.

The smash hit film arriving ten years later launched a billion dollar franchise with five blockbuster films, transforming Sylvester Stallone into an international action hero.

A cultural phenomenon, Rambo spawned a series of novels, comic books, video games and an animated television series, inspiring pro-democracy protesters in Poland and warring tribesmen in Papua New Guinea.

Half a century later a prequel TV series is in the works.

Such longevity comes as a surprise to his creator, author David Morrell, who reveals how Rambo has dramatically changed from his original vision, betraying the anti-war message he envisaged in the original book.

“I’m astonished by Rambo’s continued success,” says Canadian-born Morrell, 79, a retired American literature professor, from his mountainside home in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

“Any writer who creates a character thinking they’ll still be relevant in 50 years has a warped sense of reality.”

Sylvester Stallone on the set of Rambo: First Blood Part II

Sylvester Stallone on the set of Rambo: First Blood Part II (Image: GETTY)

At book signings Morrell inscribes title pages as the “Father of Rambo”.

But Rambo has become a runaway child, barely recognisable from his creation, Morrell admits. “Rambo has taken on a life of his own. In my novel he is a really angry disaffected war veteran, waging his own anti-war campaign. He just wants to be left alone, and hates himself for being really good at killing people.

“Hollywood changed Rambo. He is a different character in the second and third films, becoming a poster child for military recruitment.

“When Sly was planning Rambo 4, he told me he wanted to return to the original character in a soulful journey. But in the end, they threw all that out and made a film about human trafficking: nothing we’d discussed.

“The fifth movie, Rambo – Last Blood, was worse. The producers weren’t speaking to me at the end. I was embarrassed to have my name associated with the fifth movie,” he says of the 2019 thriller. “I felt degraded and dehumanised after I left the theatre. He wasn’t the character I created who said: ‘The mind is the best weapon.’ It turned him into an imbecile.”

Sylvester Stallone

Sylvester Stallone (Image: GETTY)

Morrell’s debut novel First Blood was a global bestseller, translated into 30 languages and never out of print. It tells the story of the troubled Vietnam War veteran who returns to America seeking solitude, but is hounded and hunted by police until forced to retaliate with deadly proficiency.

Rambo has become a cultural touchstone, embraced by both war hawks and doves alike.

“First Blood was written as an allegory of what was happening in America in the late 1960s, with soldiers returning from an unwanted war in Vietnam and being scorned, while racial divisions deepened,” Morrell explains. “Rambo has become a litmus test. Some people see the novel and first film as anti-war – which is how I see them. But others see the book and second and third films as supporting gung-ho military.”

Teaching at Pennsylvania State University in the late ‘Sixties, Morrell met many Vietnam veterans-turned-students, helping him shape Rambo.

“We talked about what it felt like to come back: the nightmares, the drinking, difficulty in relationships, feelings of paranoia – all those things we now know as PTSD. It was through these experiences that I was able to internalise what Rambo had gone through.”

First Blood author David Morrell

First Blood author David Morrell (Image: Wikipedia)

Though Stallone had made his name in Rocky six years earlier, he was fortunate to get Rambo’s role.

“Steve McQueen was scheduled to star in First Blood,” reveals Morrell. “But as filming approached it was realised that McQueen was in his mid-40s, while the average age of soldiers in Vietnam was 19. It wouldn’t work.”

But Morrell has nothing but praise for the Italian Stallion: “Sly is one of the great movie actors, with so much of Rambo’s pain and inner conflict in his eyes.”

Stallone also co-wrote all five Rambo movies.

First Blood highlighted the problems faced by Viet veterans returning to an ungrateful America, very different from today’s widespread support for those who serve their country.

“I have the sense that the film, inspired by my book, made a big difference in the way civilians viewed veterans returning from combat,” says the author. “Rambo became a model for disturbed returned veterans.”

Yet Rambo was created out of Morrell’s life-long fears, following a traumatic childhood, he reveals. He was only 13 months old when his father, British Navy flying ace George Morrell, was shot down during D-Day over Nazi-occupied Normandy.

“My mother was a seamstress who struggled to support me, and at the age of four she dropped me at a Catholic orphanage and drove away.”

He was raised by nuns until his mother remarried more than a year later, and took Morrell back home.

“My step-father didn’t like children, and hit me a couple of times, bloodying my lips. He and my mother quarrelled a lot. There was a lot of emotional violence. I’d hide under my bed and sleep there.”

Morrell’s success as an author was followed by greater personal tragedy when his son died at the age of 15, in 1987.

“Matthew had a rare bone cancer, which affects only around 200 in the US each year. He had a grapefruit-sized tumour removed from inside his ribs, and a bone marrow transplant, but died of infection.

“TV and self-help books talk about closure, but in my experience there is no closure: harrowing experiences become a permanent part of you, and the way you view the world.

“Then our granddaughter Natalie acquired the same disease, and died at 14 in 2009. I slipped into depression and suffered panic attacks, sometimes five a day, for two to three years. I was emotionally adrift. It was a very chaotic period.”

Morrell saved himself by immersing in his work, writing a trilogy of murder mysteries set in Victorian England. “It gave me a way to escape,” he says. He never served in the military, but in 2010 joined a USO tour to entertain troops during the Iraq war.

“I visited hospitals where soldiers had lost an arm, a leg, maybe all their limbs, and many of them said they had been inspired to join the military by Rambo 2 and 3. I felt in some way responsible for what happened to them. But many told me: ‘No – I’d do it all again.’”

Morrell couldn’t escape the irony of writing 50 years ago about a divided America, only to find the country recently polarised under a divisive President Trump.

“I’m not at all supportive of Trump,” says Morrell, adding a surprising note: “People assume I’m a Republican, but I’m a registered Democrat.”

Morrell consulted on the Rambo prequel television series under development, and has penned 33 novels in varying genres: spy fiction, action adventures, mysteries, horror – the movie of his 2005 thriller Creepers will be released this year – and recently completed an epic Western set in the 1880s.

Yet despite his many successes, Morrell remains haunted by his personal tragedies.

“I wake up every morning and ask: ‘What fresh hell will happen today?’ Contentedness and happiness are not the normal way of things. As life continues, bad stuff happens.

“I’m basically an optimist, but a main theme in my novels is having heightened awareness, so that when bad stuff happens you aren’t a victim, but can triumph over adversity.”


Check Also

Kathleen Turner brutal 30-year feud with Burt Reynolds | Films | Entertainment

[ad_1] Burt Reynolds, is back on our screens today in the iconic Smokey and the …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *