Author David Morrell decided to write the book First Blood after
seeing two back-to-back news stories: one was about the war in Vietnam, and the other focused in rioting in an American city. He combined the
two to tell a story about Vietnam coming to America.
Published in 1972, Hollywood soon became interested in adapting "
First Blood" to film.
At the time, however, Vietnam was not an acceptable topic for mainstream movie fare. By the late Seventies, films like The Deer Hunter
and Apocalypse Now began to address the Vietnam War and its effect on those coming home from it. Morrell was hopeful the film project had
a new chance.
A script circulated throughout Hollywood with stars such as Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Nick Nolte and Gene Hackman being
attached to the film. Still, the project never left the ground.
In 1980, producers Mario Kassar and Andrew Vaijna acquired the rights to the
story. The two veteran producers believed that the film would be more powerful if the main character of John Rambo was more sympathetic. They also
decided that actor Sylvester Stallone would be their first choice for the lead role.
Sylvester Stallone, eager to prove that he could do more
than play Rocky, saw First Blood as an opportunity to break out of the mold. After negotiating a salary of $3.5 million
- a whooping sum for any actor of the time - Stallone agreed to star in the film. Stallone began to rewrite the script to make
John Rambo a more sympathetic character as well as to build on his strength as an actor.
Stallone tried to
keep the character balanced between being an outlaw and being part of the mainstream. He kept the spirit of the book's
character alive, but made him less psychotic. Stallone believed that by making the character of Rambo more human, audiences
would understand his plight instead of hating him.
The character never strikes back until he himself has been hurt first.
The key piece of dialogue is: " They drew first blood. Not me!" Stallone wanted the character to revert back to being a warrior
when he is hurt and pushed into a corner by those he believes he fought to protect in the war.
Ted Kotcheff - director of
North Dallas Forty and,later Uncommon Valor- signed on to direct First Blood. Actor Brian Dennehy- who had worked
with Sylvester Stallone before in the 1978 film F.I.S.T. - was cast in the role of Rambo's nemesis, Sheriff Will Teasle.
Kotcheff had originally cast Kirk Douglas for the role of Colonel Trautman, but Douglas, unsatisfied with the script,
abandoned the film in mid-production and was replaced by Richard Crenna.
Production of the film began on location in Hope, Canada. The crew shot the scenes which took place in the town first, then moved
out into the surrounding mountains. Unseasonable weather conditions plagued the crew from the start. With most of the action of the film taking
place outdoors, the crew was forced to brave the cold weather. Snowstorms and freezing rain often caused delays in the production.
Kotcheff believed that all the suffering actually helped to capture the mood and atmosphere of the film. Yet the adverse weather created
problems for all the intricate stunts, which had to be performed in dangerous conditions.
Despite the extra precautions
taken by the crew while shooting in the wilderness, accidents occurred. Stallone cracked several ribs and burned his hand. Dennehy also broke
some ribs and was cut by a prop. Despite their injuries, both actors soon got back in front of the camera again.
The crew faced another problem involving the exotic weapons used in production that had been imported into Canada. Midway through
principal photography, all the weapons were stolen. Both the FBI and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police suspected that the
theft was the work of professional gunrunners.
Released in the fall of 1982, First Blood proved to be a huge boxoffice
success and began what would be lucrative action vehicle for Sylvester Stallone. Sparse as the dialogue is throughout the film, Stallone felt
that his performance in First Blood is one of the best of his career. The actor would later reprise his role of Rambo in two sequels -
Rambo: First Blood Part II and Rambo III.