Fact File – No.5 – First Blood (1982)

In this regular Film ‘89 feature we put a classic film or TV show under the microscope to unveil some juicy trivia. Some of these facts you may already know but hopefully you’ll find something new to enrich your experience and understanding of an important work of popular culture. Next up we have a taut action film that’s equal parts war film and drama in its depiction of the struggles of a well meaning Vietnam veteran. This iconic film would go on to spawn three action packed sequels, the Sylvester Stallone star vehicle, First Blood.

First Blood (1982)

Director: Ted Kotcheff

1. Rambo, John J.

The movie is adapted from writer David Morrell’s 1972 novel of the same name. The author named the character ‘Rambo’ after a type of apple cultivated by a 17th century Swedish settler named Peter Gunnarson Rambo. In the book the character didn’t have a first name. Whilst writing the book, the author was struggling with what to name his main character when one day he had an apple as a snack. According to Morrell, “I took a bite of the apple and discovered that it was in fact delicious. ‘What’s it called?’ I asked [my wife]. ‘Rambo,’ she replied.

2. It’s a long road….

The film rights to Morrell’s book were optioned by Columbia Pictures in the early 1970s, then passed to Warner Bros. and continued through the studio system for 10 years. It became the most optioned project in Hollywood between 1972 and 1982, until the rights were bought by independent producers Mario Kassar and Andrew Vajna. More than 26 drafts of the story were written during the decade of development and dozens of actors signed on and dropped out of the role of Rambo including Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, Clint Eastwood, Robert De Niro, Nick Nolte, John Travolta and Dustin Hoffman. Al Pacino was considered for the role but turned it down when his request that Rambo be more of a madman was rejected.

3. Stallone originally turned down the role.

In the belief that the project had been through too many hands already, Sly was hesitant to commit to the role when it was initially offered to him. He later took the role when he was offered the opportunity to rewrite the screenplay in order to make Rambo more sympathetic as opposed to the PTSD-crazed madman the character resembled in the novel.

4. Saved by the bell.

First Blood was Sylvester Stallone’s first non-Rocky movie which didn’t bomb. In fact, it could be argued that it saved his career.

5. Deleted scene.

A scene was filmed but never used where Rambo, whilst in the cave after dispatching Teasle and his men, has another flashback. He and his buddies are in a bar in Vietnam, being entertained by the local women. Rambo takes one to a back room and they make love. The scene then flashes to the present, and Rambo begins to cry.

6. Whoops!

During the filming of the movie a truck used to store fifty odd firearms imported into Canada for filming was stolen along with the contents.

7. We ‘Hope’ you find this interesting.

The movie takes place in the fictitious town of Hope, Washington. However much of the movie was filmed in the real town of Hope, British Columbia. The much lesser known movie Recoil (2011), starring Steve Austin, takes place in the same fictional town.

8. Stallone choses an odd memento.

The large piece of rotten canvas that Rambo finds in the woods and cuts into a makeshift coat was in fact not a movie prop but a real piece of rotten canvas found by the film crew during the movie’s production. Since there was only one piece, Sylvester Stallone joked about how the canvas became a treasured prop on the set. After filming ended, Stallone kept the rotten canvas and still has it in his possession to this very day.

9. Suffering for your art (1/3).

Sylvester Stallone accidentally broke the nose of Alf Humphreys (Lester) during the jail escape scene by elbowing him in the face, which is why he is seen wearing a band-aid throughout the rest of the film. Coincidentally, this is what Rambo does to a policeman in the novel during the same scene.

10. What’s in a name?

With the exception of the National Guardsman leader Lieutenant Clinton Morgen (Patrick Stack), all of the other guardsmen who pursue Rambo into the mineshaft are referred to by the same names as the actors who portray them. According to Sylvester Stallone in the DVD audio commentary track, the names of the people on Rambo’s team in Vietnam (as read by Col. Trautman) are the names of various members of the film’s crew, including make-up artist Michael Westmore and costume designer Tom Bronson.

11. Over budget.

Originally budgeted at $11 million, the film ultimately cost closer to $17 million, as the production ran over by several months. The extended production time also pushed back the filming of Rocky III.

12. Rambo killings.

Rambo doesn’t actually kill anyone in First Blood — he only wounds the people trying to hunt and harm him. This was a conscious effort on Stallone’s part in his script to change the character to an underdog from the character in the book who, due to his PTSD, goes on a wild killing rampage which Stallone felt would alienate the audience. The one character who does die is Deputy Galt, who tracks Rambo through the mountains in a helicopter. Galt, who attempts to shoot Rambo with a rifle, loses his balance and falls from the helicopter.

13. It was almost a stand-alone movie.

Like the book, Rambo was to die at the end of the movie at the hands of Colonel Trautman. The scene where Rambo is killed was filmed but was scrapped after test audiences hated the fact that it seemed to imply the only way for veterans returning home to cope was by dying. Incidentally, Kirk Douglas was originally supposed play Trautman. He actually made it to set and appeared in early advertisements for First Blood, but left the production when he demanded the right to rewrite the script. Douglas favored the ending of the book, and felt that Rambo should die in the end. Lee Marvin had already turned down the role of Colonel Trautman because he didn’t want to play a Colonel.

14. Short notice.

After Douglas’ departure, Richard Crenna was then cast with a single day’s notice to fill in as Rambo’s mentor and father figure, Colonel Trautman.

15. That’s not a knife… This is a knife!

Stallone personally selected famed knifemaker Jim Lile to design and create the iconic knife used by Rambo in First Blood. The goal was to create a knife that would be reliable in extreme survival situations, which meant being long and sharp enough to slice food or cut wood, waterproof and able to hold necessities like matches and medicine, able to carry a nylon string for fishing or snaring and have an alternate blade of sawteeth for defense and in order to cut poles for shelter.

16. Suffering for your art (2/3).

Sylvester Stallone suffered several potentially serious injuries during filming of First Blood. For the scene where Rambo jumps off the cliff and injures himself on some tree branches on the way down, Stallone performed the stunt himself during the bottom third of the fall, and in the process, broke one of his ribs when he landed on the tree branch. Stallone remarks on the DVD audio commentary track that it was easy to play the landing when Rambo screams in pain since he was not acting and was really in pain. Also for the scene where Rambo first runs into the abandoned mine shaft to elude the guardsmen firing at him, Stallone placed his hand on top of a piece of wood, not realizing that his hand was right on top of a gunfire squib that went off a second later, injuring his hand in the process. Stallone mentions that the pain he felt was so intense, he was afraid to look at his hand, fearing the squib had completely blown his thumb off.

17. Extra, extra!

Many of the extras who appeared throughout the film were local townsfolk who had recently been left unemployed when a nearby mill had ceased operations. They were more than happy to have the cast and crew of the film there to provide them with work opportunities.

18. Too long a road.

The first rough-cut was over three hours long, possibly three and a half hours 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, the version that was ultimately released in theatres.

19. Weapons check.

It is the only film in the Rambo franchise that doesn’t feature an AK-47 machine gun or the lead character firing a bow and arrow.

20. Suffering for your art (3\3).

During the scene where Rambo, on the stolen motorcycle, is being chased by the police, the stuntman playing Sheriff Teasel, who was driving the patrol car (Bernie E. Dobbins) suffered a broken back (a compression lumbar fracture) as a result of a 70mph first take that launched the car to a remarkable height on the ramp assisted steep approach to the railway crossing. The vehicle slammed down flat on its chassis, causing the injury to Dobbins, and it rolled several hundred feet further up the road before coming to a stop. When Dobbins opened the door to exit he found himself unable to walk and fell to the ground. This original high jump and landing was re-shot and replaced in the final cut with a more modest and believable car jump and landing using a different car (and stunt driver).

21. Casualty of war.

When Rambo is believed to have been killed in the mine attack by the National Guardsmen, Sheriff Teasle returns to his office. Behind him you can clearly see a case that displays three medals. The three medals from right to left, are: the Silver Star, The Purple Heart, and the Army Distinguished Service Cross medals. These indicate Teasle was a highly decorated Korean War hero as both the Silver Star and ADSC are awarded for extreme valor and bravery in enemy combat. A plot point that was present in the novel but absent from the film was the primary reason behind Teasle’s resentment and contempt towards Rambo, which was that Rambo was a veteran of the Vietnam War, which gained a lot of attention, whereas Teasle was a veteran of the Korean War, a war which most people had all-but-completely-forgotten by this point in time.

22. Stallone’s No.1 fan.

In the DVD audio commentary track, Sylvester Stallone recalls an incident during filming where a girl in the town bar pretended to be a fan of his in order to try and wheedle a free round of drinks out of him. He later includes just such a scene in his film Rocky Balboa (2006). Stallone also refers to himself as “Expendable” in the second Rambo film.

23. Stallone’s favourite.

When Slyvester Stallone ranked his preference of the Rambo films on the UK chat show Graham Norton, he ranked this one first, his favorite and said he “wouldn’t change a thing about it”.

24. Baby it’s cold outside.

In spite of the fact that the air and water temperatures during filming were extremely cold, and he wore only a tank top during most of the movie, Sylvester Stallone did not get sick until someone offered him a shot of brandy. Stallone said the fluid in his eyes was beginning to freeze over during the motorcycle chase scene.

25. Rat problem.

In the book, the cave Rambo enters was filled with bats. But in the film, instead of bats, the cave is filled with rats. The “rats” are actually white lab mice dyed brown.

Sources; Mental Floss, IMDB, Rambo.wikia.com