Having seen this film at the dawning of my teenage years during it’s first release to movie theaters in 1982 was needless to say a testosterone fueled night at the movies with some high school friends. If my memory is correct we came out of that movie house ready to take on the world and all comers who might “push us a little too far.” While I don’t recall if I saw it on opening night I do remember reading up on the film well in advance of it’s release. That’s because it was filmed in western Canada so it was garnering some press in our local Ontario newspaper.
One of those articles that stood out at the time was Kirk Douglas supposedly walking off the picture. Stallone’s casting was one thing but Kirk Douglas was one of my real movie hero’s by this time while Sly was a newcomer who I hadn’t bought into as of yet. I’d come around as the years passed by and have to give him his due which I believe is sometimes withheld by his harshest of critics. So as a youngster I always had the Kirk Douglas fallout in the back of my mind. Little did I know that the Rambo story had passed thru an untold number of producers and actors linked to the role since the original novel from writer David Morrell was published in 1972. Some of those names include Steve McQueen, Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro, Kris Kristofferson, Nick Nolte and pretty much anyone else’s name you care to bring up from the 1970’s.
What’s also quite interesting are the names bandied about to play the hot headed sheriff that Brian Dennehy would make his own and the part of Col. Trautman that ultimately went to Richard Crenna by default. Heavyweights like Robert Mitchum for the Sheriff and Lee Marvin as the Colonel.
There’s another reason that First Blood was the film every student was talking about at St. Jerome’s High School that I attended in Kitchener, Ontario. The fact that one of our own had made good on the world stage. Author David Morrell was born in my hometown and attended the same school as my friends and I were enrolled at. No we never once met Mr. Morrell though I think he may have been at the school on one of those annual career days that were held. I just can’t swear to it. Either way when you’re a young teenager and Sly Stallone is starring in the action film everyone wants to see, you do walk with a certain swagger knowing the story was created by a someone from your own hometown let alone your own high school.
All of this brings us to a recent viewing of the film that was directed by Ted Kotcheff. A movie that for me is one of those great examples that if I were to come across it while channel surfing, I’m hooked and will gently set the remote down till the film comes to it’s inevitable conclusion. I say this knowing full well I haven’t really channel surfed in years unless I’m flipping between the hockey and baseball game when the seasons overlap. I want a movie to watch than I hit the movie room where there are way to many to choose from. It’s the others in my home that do the surfing and on occasion I get roped into whatever they settle on.
The story? Surely most of us know it by now. Stallone has returned from Vietnam and is hiking about the country and finds himself in a small town overseen by a hard assed sheriff, Brian Dennehy. Things quickly escalate to the point of violence when his deputies, mainly Jack Starrett, get a little too rough on the ex-Green Beret. Sly busts out of jail and heads for the forested areas of British Columbia subbing in for Washington. Countless armed guards and law enforcement officials take off after him. The problem is they’re now on his jungle like turf and have become the hunted. etc. etc. etc.
Let’s not forget Rambo’s one time commanding officer Richard Crenna who turns up and is immediately at odds with Dennehy who’s ego has gotten the best of him. For the most part Crenna gets to look in the camera, warn everyone that they are about to take heavy casualties and of course say I told you so. Now he doesn’t really say it but we KNOW that’s what he’s thinking. Does Stallone get killed? Well considering there were three sequels and a fourth on the way in the fall of 2019, I should say not. Still if you watch the outtakes from the film you do get to see him shot down by the hand of Crenna as it was originally staged in the book. On Dennehy, this was really my introduction to him and he’s been a favorite ever since whether playing a nasty S.O.B. or a gentle big bear of a guy.
Unlike the world of Vulcans, killing off Rambo probably would have put an end to a possible franchise. It might not have been all that easy to bring him back to life as it was everyone’s favorite First Science Officer, Spock, thanks to the Project Genesis.
Did I mention Bill McKinney is in this movie? Now let’s think this through. It’s a violent movie, it’s got hills and mountains and a river. But incredibly he’s not wearing overalls and eyeing up any Ned Beatty lookalikes as one might expect. Usually Bill is playing a bad dude in movies but this time he’s a higher up then Dennehy and isn’t exactly enamored of the situation Brian and his crew have got the state into. One would think he’d have been cast in the Starrett role. The bully who triggers the Vietnam flashbacks that set the raging plot in motion. Cult fans may know Starrett from old biker flicks and even some directing efforts including one of my 70’s drive-in favorites, Race With the Devil, that he also appeared in opposite Peter Fonda and Warren Oates.
Lastly I want to mention that the basic plot isn’t exactly a new idea. While I’m not sure how many times it’s been done I do know that my favorite of all screen tough guys, Charles Bronson, led an all-star posse to their deaths in the mean spirited western, Chato’s Land, way back in 1972, and would again lead a ragtag group of bounty hunters and Mounties led by Lee Marvin to a similar fate in the outstanding Death Hunt released to theaters just one year prior to First Blood without the fanfare I think it deserved.
So that about does it for my ramblings on First Blood aside from I did watch the first sequel directly after this revisit and it’s a far weaker film that served to enlarge the ego of the leading actor if I’m allowed to share that opinion. It’s purely comic book. But the first film is a good one featuring a top notch score from Jerry Goldsmith and is worth a look if you’ve ignored it or just haven’t seen it in a number of years.
This revisit did get me digging in the vault to locate this original one sheet that I do believe I bought before I even finished high school. Yes I’ve been collecting that long.