Rambo First Blood (1982) Biography, Plot, Development, Filming, Home media, Box office, Fight
First Blood (1982)
First Blood (also known as Rambo: 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 as Rambo’s mentor Sam Trautman and Brian Dennehy as Sheriff Will Teasle. It is the first installment in the Rambo franchise, followed by Rambo: First Blood Part II. The film is based on the 1972 novel First Blood by David Morrell, which many directors and studios had unsuccessfully attempted to adapt in the 1970s. In the film, Rambo is a troubled and misunderstood Vietnam veteran who must rely on his combat and survival skills when a series of brutal events results in him having to survive a massive manhunt by police and government troops near the small town of Hope, Washington.
First Blood was released in the United States on October 22, 1982. Initial reviews were mixed, but the film was a box office success, grossing $156 million at the box office. In 1985, it also became the first Hollywood blockbuster to be released in China, holding the record for the largest number of tickets sold for an American film until 2018. Since its release, it has been reappraised by critics, with many highlighting the roles of Stallone, Dennehy, and Crenna, and recognizing it as an influential film in the action genre. Its success spawned a franchise, consisting of four sequels (co-written by and starring Stallone), an animated television series, a comic books series, a novel series, several video games, and Indian remakes.
Vietnam War veteran John Rambo makes his way to the outskirts of a small town called Hope, Washington, in search of an old comrade, only to learn that his friend had died the previous year of cancer, brought on by exposure to Agent Orange during the war. Entering the town, Rambo is intercepted by the local sheriff, Will Teasle, who immediately takes a disliking to Rambo due to his unkempt hair, army jacket and generally messy appearance. Teasle however, offers Rambo a lift to “make sure he is headed in the right direction”. When Rambo, now in Teasle’s car, asks for directions to a diner, Teasle tells him that there’s a diner 30 miles up the highway. Teasle then drives Rambo to the outskirts of the town before dropping him off and telling him that Portland, where Rambo had initially said he was headed, lies straight ahead. As Teasle drives off headed back into the town, he spots Rambo trying to return. Infuriated, Teasle arrests Rambo on charges of vagrancy, resisting arrest, and possessing a concealed knife before bringing him to the police station.
Led by the 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 snaps. He overwhelms the patrolmen, takes back his knife, fights his way out of the station, steals a motorcycle, and flees into the woods. Teasle organizes a search party with automatic weapons, dogs, and a helicopter. Having spotted Rambo attempting to climb down a cliff over a creek, Galt defies Teasle’s orders and attempts to shoot Rambo from the helicopter. Realizing that he is an open target, Rambo leaps from the cliff and lands on a tree branch, injuring his right arm. With Galt still shooting at him, Rambo throws a rock at the helicopter with his uninjured arm, cracking its windshield and causing the pilot to briefly lose control. Galt, who had removed his safety harness in order to get a better firing angle, loses his balance and falls to his death on the rocks below.
With the aid of a pair of binoculars, Teasle identifies Galt’s dead body at the bottom of the cliff, just beside the creek. 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 hit him with a non-lethal shot, and force him to flee once more. Teasle swears revenge. It is later revealed that Rambo is an ex-Green Beret and recipient of the Medal of Honor, but Teasle, bent on revenge, arrogantly refuses to turn the manhunt over to the State Police. Using guerrilla tactics, Rambo non-lethally subdues the deputies, using improvised booby traps and his bare hands, until only Teasle is left. Overpowering Teasle and holding a knife to his throat, Rambo threatens to “give him a war he won’t believe” if Teasle does not give up the pursuit, before retreating further into the woods.
In 1972, Lawrence Turman at Columbia Pictures bought the film rights to First Blood for $175,000. Richard Brooks was slated to direct, and intended to have the film be an allegory on differing American perceptions of World War II and Vietnam War veterans, with Sheriff Teasle portrayed more sympathetically than in the novel. The film would have ended with Teasle ordering his men to drop their guns to try to reason with Rambo, who would have then been fatally shot by an unknown assailant. Brooks planned to start shooting First Blood in New Mexico in December 1972. The film did not proceed because the Vietnam War was still underway and Brooks left the project. Afterward, John Calley purchased the rights at Warner Bros. Pictures for $125,000 with the thought of casting either Robert De Niro or Clint Eastwood as Rambo. A screenplay was written by Walter Newman with Martin Ritt intended to direct.
The film would have criticized American military culture and portrayed Colonel Trautman as the film’s villain, ending with both Rambo and Teasle dying. Sydney Pollack and Martin Bregman also considered directing the film, with Bregman hiring David Rabe to write a script. After Bregman departed Mike Nichols considered directing Rabe’s script. William Sackheim and Michael Kozoll wrote the screenplay that would be the basis of the final film in 1977, originally intending for John Badham to direct. Producer Carter DeHaven purchased Sackheim and Kozoll’s script from Warner Bros. for $375,000. DeHaven secured the Cinema Group as a financer and hired John Frankenheimer as director with production to begin in Georgia. This was also the first version of the script in which Rambo survived the film. However, the project stalled again after the distributor Filmways was acquired by Orion Pictures.
The film was shot in the Fraser Valley of British Columbia, Canada on a $15 million budget beginning on November 15, 1981, and continuing until April 1982. 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. During the production Buzz Feitshans replaced producer Ed Carlin, who suffered a heart attack. The locations chosen for the film initially experienced unseasonably warm and sunny weather during the filming, which posed challenges since the crew had counted on an overcast setting. However, a period of heavy snowfall beginning in January 1982 delayed the production by two months. Other delays were caused by injuries to the cast during stunts, including Stallone sustaining a serious back injury and several broken ribs,
in particular, due to performing his own stunt of dropping off a cliff and into a tree. Since the production ran over schedule, Crenna’s role in the film was cut in order to avoid having to pay him higher fees as specified in his contract. The firearms used in the film had to be imported into Canada because of the country’s firearms regulation. In January 1982 over $50,000 worth of firearms—including fourteen M16 rifles, three Remington shotguns, two .44 Magnum revolvers, and eleven Colt AR-15 rifles—were stolen from the set. Although the guns had been modified to shoot blanks, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police claimed that they could be easily modified to fire live ammunition. After the incident the set was guarded by the Canadian Army, whose soldiers also served as extras in the film.
Author Morrell recorded an audio commentary track for the First Blood Special Edition DVD released in 2002. Actor Stallone recorded an audio commentary track for the First Blood Ultimate Edition DVD released in 2004. This edition also includes a “never-before-seen” alternate ending in which Rambo commits suicide— a fate more in line with the original novel’s ending— and a “humorous” ending tacked on afterwards. A brief snippet of the suicide ending appears in a flashback in the fourth movie. Lionsgate also released this version on Blu-ray. Both commentary tracks are on the Blu-ray release. Momentum Pictures released an HD DVD version of First Blood in the United Kingdom in April 2007. Lionsgate also released First Blood as a double feature on February 13, 2007, along with 2004’s The Punisher. The film was re-released as part of a 6-disc box set, which contains all four films in the series, on May 27, 2008. First Blood was released on 4K UHD Blu-ray on November 9, 2018.
The film’s three lead actors received praise for their performances. In his review, Roger Ebert wrote that he did not like the film’s ending, but that it was “a very good movie, w ell-paced, and well-acted not only by Stallone … but also by Crenna and Brian Dennehy”. He commented, “although almost all of First Blood is implausible, because it’s Stallone on the screen, we’ll buy it”, and rated the film three out of four stars. The New York Times film critic Janet Maslin described Rambo as a “fierce, agile, hollow-eyed hero”, who is portrayed as a “tormented, misunderstood, amazingly resourceful victim of the Vietnam War, rather than as a sadist or a villain”. Maslin also praised the film’s story for its “energy and ingenuity”. Conversely, Variety called the film “a mess” and criticized its ending for not providing a proper resolution for the main character. Film.com and Filmsite regard First Blood as one of the best films of 1982, and in 2008 it was named the 253rd greatest film ever by Empire magazine on its 2008 list of The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time.