How many actors can say that characters they portrayed on the screen have gone on to become cultural icons? Not many, I’m sure. Sylvester Stallone, however, can claim two: Rocky Balboa and, the subject of this article, John Rambo. As you may already know, The 61-year-old Stallone will reprise his role in the franchise’s fourth installment, “Rambo,” slated to open on January 25, 2008. The first film in the series, “First Blood,” was released 25 year ago, on Friday, October 22, 1982. Here are some interesting facts about “First Blood,” the hit film that introduced the world to the troubled Vietnam-veteran-turned-drifter John Rambo.
Origins of the Character
The movie was adapted from the novel of the same name by award-winning Canadian author David Morrell. The book, however, is quite different from the film adaptation. For instance, in the book the Rambo character ends up killing many of his pursuers, while in the movie, he is not directly responsible for any deaths. It was at the urging of Sylvester Stallone that the character of John Rambo be made more sympathetic. (Interestingly enough, this is contrary to the common perception of Rambo as a cold-blooded killing machine. It may be true in the book, but not in the case of the movie character.) In addition, in the book Colonel Trautman ends up killing Rambo, while in the movie Rambo survives and turns himself in – a very significant departure indeed. Clearly, the decision to spare Rambo’s life was a good one, as it provided the foundation for a wildly successful movie franchise.
Sylvester Stallone was not the first actor considered for the lead role in “First Blood.” Steve McQueen, an icon in his own right, was at one time interested in the role. So was Al Pacino, who subsequently lost interest in the project because he felt that it should have been more faithful to the book. It is for similar reasons that Kirk Douglas, originally cast in the role of Colonel Samuel Trautman, quit the film – namely, he wanted the film to end the same way the book did, with the death of Rambo. Of course, Douglas’ exit turned out to be very good news for Richard Crenna, who was hired as his replacement. Crenna essayed a performance that received rave reviews, and, arguably, became his most famous role.
While “First Blood” is mostly remembered as a quintessential ’80s action film, one cannot ignore its central message: that generally speaking, Vietnam veterans were treated with at best indifference, and oftentimes with contempt by both American citizens and the U.S. government. This shabby treatment has taken its toll, leaving thousands of Vietnam veterans with the deep emotional and psychological scars exemplified by John Rambo in “First Blood.”