The battle of best Christmas movies rages without fail every yuletide season, and I’m often baffled as to why some films are regarded as Christmas classics (with only the most tenuous of links), while others that are clearly set at Christmastime are never mentioned.
First Blood is one such oversight. I might say it is because running around killing people doesn’t seem very Christmassy. But the popularity of Die Hard as a festive favourite (as well it should be) would disprove that theory.
Of course for many people, the number one heartwarming Christmas flick is It’s a Wonderful Life. Which is, obviously, an amazing film that always gets me properly teared up (‘no no, I’m not crying, I just got half a mince pie stuck in my eye’). However… most of it doesn’t even take place at Christmas. It is about a guy who is so unhappy he wants to die, thinks his life has been entirely meaningless, and that the people he loves would be better off if he’d never even existed. This is grim stuff people!
So why does poor Rambo keep being overlooked? The film is set at Christmas, with trees, lights, and jolly decorations all about town. Like Jimmy Stewart, Stallone is a tormented but essentially good man who is battling with his inner demons. Jimmy and Stallone even have similarly droopy faces.
Let’s examine the parallels between First Blood and Wonderful Life:
James Stewart stars as George Bailey and Sylvester Stallone stars as John Rambo. Both men are pulled down with a sense of failure and helplessness, and are struggling to survive, literally and metaphorically. Each has dedicated their life to serving others – George Bailey his community and John Rambo his country, and each feels that they have lost the best part of their own life due to this sacrifice.
Lionel Barrymore plays the mean Mr Potter and Brian Dennehy plays the nasty Sheriff Teasle. The baddies are both figures of authority who abuse their positions of power, taking malicious pleasure in tormenting the protagonists and pushing them into positions of respective crisis.
The guiding angels
Henry Travers plays Clarence the angel, sent to earth to save George, and Richard Crenna plays Colonel Trautman, sent to Hope, Washington to save Rambo. The ‘helpers’ watch, wait, and give wise counsel (“You’re the last of an elite group, don’t end it like this”), while Bailey and Rambo go through their struggles.
At the end, both characters survive, and find their version of redemption. Jimmy realises his sacrifices have given him far more than he ever gave up. John Rambo faces up to his painful past and releases long suppressed emotions, thereby freeing himself.
The villains are defeated, the angel/colonel has done their job and ‘saved’ their protegee, and our heroes have achieved catharsis.
George Bailey, step aside for John Rambo; the new Christmas hero.