Rambo: First Blood (1982)


Introduction

First Blood is a 1982 American action film directed by Ted Kotcheff, and co-written by Sylvester Stallone, who also stars as Vietnam War veteran John Rambo.

It co-stars Richard Crenna and Brian Dennehy, and is the first instalment in the Rambo franchise, followed by Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985).

The film is based on the 1972 novel of the same name by David Morrell. In the film, Rambo, a troubled and misunderstood veteran, must rely on his combat and survival senses against the abusive law enforcement of the small town of Hope, Washington.

Outline

Seven years after his discharge, Vietnam War veteran John Rambo travels by foot to visit an old comrade, only to learn that his friend had died from cancer the previous year, due to Agent Orange exposure during the war.

Rambo continues to travel, wandering into the small town of Hope, Washington. He is intercepted by the town’s Sheriff, Will Teasle, who considers Rambo an unwanted nuisance. Teasle, however, offers Rambo a lift to make sure he is headed in the right direction. When Rambo, now in Teasle’s police car, asks for directions to a diner, Teasle tells him that there is a diner 30 miles up the highway. He then drives Rambo out of the town and tells him that Portland, where Rambo had initially said he was headed, lies straight ahead. Teasle then drops Rambo off and drives back towards the town. When Rambo tries to return, Teasle intercepts and arrests him on charges of vagrancy, resisting arrest, and possessing a concealed knife.

Led by sadistic chief deputy Art Galt, Teasle’s officers abuse Rambo, triggering flashbacks of the torture he endured as a POW in Vietnam. When they try to dry-shave him with a straight razor, Rambo overwhelms the patrolmen, regains his knife, and fights his way out of the police station before stealing a motorcycle and fleeing into the woods. Teasle organises a search party with automatic weapons, dogs, and a helicopter. Having spotted Rambo attempting to climb down a cliff over a creek, Galt defies orders from Teasle and attempts to shoot Rambo from the helicopter. Rambo, however, leaps from the cliff landing on a tree and injuring himself in the process. With Galt still trying to shoot him, Rambo manages to throw a rock, fracturing the helicopter’s windshield and causing the pilot to briefly lose control resulting in Galt, who had removed his safety harness in order to get a better firing angle, losing his balance and taking a fatal plunge to the jagged rocks below.

With the aid of a pair of binoculars, Teasle identifies Galt’s dead body and swears revenge. Rambo tries to persuade Teasle and his men that Galt’s death was an accident and that he wants no more trouble, but the officers open fire and pursue him into the woods. It is then revealed that Rambo is a former Green Beret and received the Medal of Honour, but Teasle, bent on revenge, refuses to turn the manhunt over to the State Police. One by one, using guerrilla tactics, Rambo non-lethally disables the deputies, using both booby traps and his bare hands, until only Teasle is left. Overpowering Teasle and holding a knife to his throat, Rambo tells him he could have killed them all and he threatens to give him a war he won’t believe if Teasle does not let it go.

The state police and National Guard are called in to assist in the manhunt, while Rambo’s mentor and former commanding officer Colonel Sam Trautman also arrives. Trautman confirms that Rambo is an expert at guerrilla warfare and survival, which he honed in intensive combat in Vietnam; as such, he advises and suggests that Rambo be allowed to slip through the perimeter and escape to the next town – thereby defusing the situation – then be permitted to surrender peacefully later. Confident that Rambo is hopelessly outnumbered, Teasle refuses. Teasle allows Trautman to contact Rambo – on a police radio he stole while escaping – and try to persuade him to surrender peacefully. Rambo recognises Trautman’s voice but refuses to give up, condemning Teasle and his deputies for their abuse and noting “they drew first blood,” before hanging up.

Trying to slip through the cordon, Rambo is surprised by a young boy out hunting; he overpowers but refuses to harm the boy, who alerts the pursuers. A National Guard detachment corners Rambo at the entrance of an abandoned mine. Against orders, they use a rocket, collapsing the entrance and seemingly killing Rambo. He survives and finds another way out, hijacking a supply truck carrying an M60 machine gun and ammunition and returning to town. To distract his pursuers, he blows up a gas station, shoots out most of the town’s power, and destroys a gun store near the police station. Trautman, knowing that the sheriff is no match for Rambo, tries to convince Teasle to escape, but is ignored.

Rambo spots Teasle on the police station’s roof and they engage in a brief gunfight, ending with Teasle shot and falling through a skylight. As Rambo prepares to kill him, Trautman appears and warns Rambo that he will be shot if he does not surrender, reminding him he is the last survivor of his elite unit of Green Berets. Rambo collapses in tears and talks about his experience in Vietnam and after his return. Teasle is transported to a hospital, while Rambo surrenders to Trautman after being comforted and validated.

Cast

  • Sylvester Stallone as John J. Rambo.
  • Richard Crenna as Colonel Samuel “Sam” R. Trautman.
  • Brian Dennehy as Sheriff William “Will” Teasle.
  • Bill McKinney as Captain Dave Kern.
  • Jack Starrett as Deputy Sergeant Arthur “Art” Galt.
  • Michael Talbott as Deputy Balford.
  • Chris Mulkey as Deputy Ward.
  • John McLiam as Orval Kellerman.
  • Alf Humphreys as Deputy Lester.
  • David Caruso as Deputy Mitch Rogers.
  • David L. Crowley as Deputy Shingleton.
  • Don MacKay as Deputy Preston.
  • Patrick Stack as Lieutenant Clinton Morgen.

Trivia

  • Ted Kotcheff had been approached with the project in 1976. He only returned to work on First Blood after Mario Kassar and Andrew G. Vajna of Anabasis Investments offered to finance one of his projects. Kotcheff offered the role of John Rambo to Sylvester Stallone, and the actor accepted after reading the script through a weekend.
    • Various scripts adapted from Morrell’s book had been pitched to studios in the years since its publication, but it was only when Stallone decided to become involved with the project that it was finally brought into production.
    • Stallone’s star power after the success of the Rocky films enabled him to rewrite the script to make the character of John Rambo more sympathetic.
    • While Morrell’s book has the Rambo character kill many of his pursuers, and Kozoll and Sackheim’s draft had him killing sixteen people, in the movie Rambo does not directly cause the death of any police or national guardsmen.
    • Stallone also decided to let Rambo survive the film instead of keeping the book’s ending where he dies.
    • A suicide scene was filmed but Kotcheff and Stallone opted to have Rambo turn himself in at Trautman’s urging.
    • Stallone did an estimated seven revisions of the script. Kotcheff requested further work be done on the script, which was performed by Larry Gross and David Giler.
  • When David Morrell wrote the novel, which was published in 1972, the producers first considered Steve McQueen but then rejected him because they considered him too old to play a Vietnam veteran from 1975.
    • For the role of Sheriff Teasle, the producers approached Academy Award winners Gene Hackman and Robert Duvall but both turned the part down.
    • Lee Marvin, another Oscar winner, turned down the part of Colonel Trautman. Kirk Douglas was eventually hired, but just before shooting began, Douglas quit the role of Colonel Trautman over a script dispute; Douglas wanted the film to end as the book did (Rambo and Teasle fatally wound each other, Trautman finishes Rambo with a kill shot then sits with the dying Teasle for the sheriff’s final moments).
    • Rock Hudson was approached but was soon to undergo heart surgery and had to pass up the chance to work with Stallone.
    • Richard Crenna was quickly hired as a replacement; the role of Trautman became the veteran character actor’s most famous role, his performance of which received much critical praise.
  • The film was shot in British Columbia, Canada in the winter of 1981.
    • The town scenes in the movie were shot in Hope and the nearby Othello Tunnels, called Chapman Gorge in the film, while the rest of the movie was shot in Capilano Canyon, Golden Ears Provincial Park and Pitt Lake in Pitt Meadows.
    • The weaponry used in the film had to be imported into Canada.
    • Over 50 of the imported firearms were stolen midway through the filming.
  • The first rough cut was over three hours, possibly three and a half hours long and according to Sylvester Stallone, it was so bad that it made him and his agent sick.
    • Stallone wanted to buy the movie and destroy it thinking that it was a career killer.
    • After heavy re-editing, the film was cut down to 93 minutes; this version was ultimately released in theatres.
    • The ending used in the finished film was shot in March 1982, after the original one was deemed unsatisfactory.
  • Despite initial mixed reviews, the film was a box office success, topping the US box officer for three weeks in a row, and grossing $125.2 million against a $14 million budget.
  • Since its release, First Blood has received reappraisal from critics, with many praising the roles of Stallone, Dennehy, and Crenna, and recognising it as an influential film in the action genre.
  • The film’s success spawned a franchise, consisting of four sequels (all of which were co-written by and starred Stallone), an animated television series and a series of comic books, novels, video games and a Bollywood remake.

Rambo Series

Production & Filming Details

  • Director(s): Red Kotcheff.
  • Producer(s): Buzz Feitshans.
  • Writer(s): Michael Kozoll, William Sackheim, and Sylvester Stallone.
  • Music: Jerry Goldsmith.
  • Cinematography: Andrew Laszlo.
  • Editor(s): Joan Chapman.
  • Production: Anabasis Investments N.V.
  • Distributor(s): Orion Pictures.
  • Release Date: 22 October 1982 (US).
  • Running time: 93 minutes.
  • Country: US.
  • Language: English.

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