Nameless Marine to Cataline: Hey, you’re bleeding, sir!
Cataline: Yeah, I know.
Two seconds later.
Cataline: Wait! Say that again!
Nameless Marine: Say what, sir?
Cataline (disgusted): NEVERMIND!
My only goal for that entire fucking war was now blown.
On April 30th, 1975 Saigon fell to North Vietnam.
The pictures of Americans being evacuated from the roof of the embassy couldn’t have been a clearer image of defeat for the United States of America. This was as close as America ever got to what France must have gone through in the Franco-Prussian war. Disgrace of arms. The men who had been junior officers in World War II had failed the country as old men.
We had been beaten and everyone knew it. There were endless recriminations over how this had happened and who was responsible. There were endless dissections of America’s strategy and tactics. Endless replays of the major events.
Everyone on the Right wanted to know the answer to an unanswerable question. Could there have ever been a way to win?
And then in 1985 we found emotional catharsis:
There is no explaining to Millennials and Zoomers how much this scene electrified the country.
We roared in the theaters as we watched Rambo triumph over the minions of the Evil Empire. We found release in First Blood Part II. Liberals hated it because if they felt the good guys had won in Vietnam, which made everyone else love it even more. The military suddenly developed an odd fascination with oversized cutlery. Hell, even the Battalion commanders were wandering around Lejeunne with swords on their hips.
And Hollywood suddenly had a new template for action movies. It’s hard to believe it, but there hadn’t been much change to that genre since Errol Flynn’s day. But things were changing now. Thanks to Reagan and Rambo, America was feeling powerful again and after 1985 that was very much reflected in the rest of our pop-culture.
Big, boomy and bloody was now the order of the day.
And nobody was bigger than Arnold Schwarzenegger.
There is an aphorism that goes when the student is ready the teacher will appear. Hollywood’s version of that is, when the zeitgeist is ready the star will be discovered. Schwarzenegger couldn’t have become a star in any other decade. I won’t say that he was a terrible actor, he just wasn’t good. But that didn’t matter in the least. No one on Earth ever went to one of Arnold’s movies to enjoy his subtle mastery of the thespian craft.
His strengths were physique and his charisma, and he had plenty of both. And in fairness, he also had some decent comedic timing, that’s not something you can learn.
Conan the Barbarian got his name out there, but it also gave him a bit of an image problem. Sure, he was a good choice for that role but what else could Hollywood do with him? Yes, the guy had drive and ambition but so what? There just weren’t any parts that could use him.
Then came the backdoor hit of Terminator and Hollywood decided to give him a second look. The stunning success of Rambo resulted in a quick and dirty action vehicle for Arnold called, Commando.
Commando made respectable bank against a fairly low budget and so, the unthinkable happened. The foreign bodybuilder with the thick accent and the unspellable name was suddenly in demand in Hollywood.
Big Arnold’s next project was something unusual for him. A science fiction horror film called, Predator.
Film opens with military helicopters flying along a jungle coastline which back then was strongly evocative image of military intrigue.
The choppers land and men who really eat their Wheaties get out. They are wearing “appropriate civilian attire” and military haircuts. At that point in time, Vietnam veteran security contractors were in their mid-thirties to mid-forties and these guys fit that mold perfectly. There is no explanation provided and none needed.
An interesting carry-over from Rambo is that the uniformed military was back in favor in the movies. The Sixties tropes of mad American Generals and troops as war-criminals waiting for a chance to victimize the little brown people of the Earth had been banished. The guys in uniform could be trusted again.
It’s the civilians that are going to screw you. So when we meet the General we know he’s a good guy and when he looks askance at Carl Weathers you know that he’s Company Operative and will be trouble for our team.
There follows one of the most iconic handshakes in history.
Arnold wins the handshake and the audience is then briefed about the upcoming mission. Local diplomats friendly to the US have to be extracted from Marxist rebels. The US can’t be seen to be directly involved in this because they are being held in a hostile country. Thus, Arnold’s team has been called in.
Seems straight forward enough.
After the boots are on the ground, we get our first hint that all is not what it seems. A Special Force Team has been found. Or rather their skinned remains have been found. Which raises the question of why the Green Beanies were there because neither surveillance nor live-extract is their jobs. There was consternation over their having been skinned, although that can be a pretty typical third world touch depending on your location.
Arnold and company press on although they are now convinced that Dillon isn’t telling them everything.
They find the rebel command post with the hostages. A rebel shoots one of the hostages in the head as casually as if he was taking out the garbage.
Time to roll hot.
There follows a great Eighties action scene where the rebel camp is shot up and Arnold’s team emerges completely unscathed… Except for Jesse the Body Ventura who had one of the greatest lines in movie history.
The other hostage had been killed but it turns out they weren’t local diplomats at all but CIA. Arnold is very, very upset Carl Weathers by this revelation.
Combat Carl, says that he knew that he would never have taken the job if he had known the truth, so he did what he had to do.
Not sure why Arnold would have turned the job down. I mean that is a pretty good contract and a lot more straightforward than a lot of jobs those guys do.
Anyway, they’ve shot up the Commies and they are good and deep in Indian country. Time to do the Mogadishu Mile, (or whatever they called hot-footing back then).
At that point a second and all together much different movie begins.
And according to Facebook it’s my wife’s birthday. Facebook is correct and I don’t have long to fix this.
Part II tomorrow.