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First Blood (1982)

Sylvester Stallone gained international attention as John Rambo, an itinerant former Green Beret who was tortured in Vietnam and must now defend himself against a small-town redneck cop (Brian Dennehy) in the Pacific North-West forest – his new ‘Nam.

Protected only by the rugged terrain and aided only by survival skills picked up in the Army, Sly wages a one-man war against his hostile oppressors, accidentally killing one of them in self-defence.

The hunted becomes the hunter and the rest is all chases, explosions, car crashes, and gallons of blood spurting all over the camera as Sly wreaks havoc on the town for revenge.

First Blood is jingoistic and highly improbable, but if you can suspend disbelief for 96 minutes it is an absolute must-see for fans of slick action adventures. And while it is often touted as a violent movie, only four people buy the farm in the course of the entire film.

The lasting image of John Rambo is of a muscle-bound man in full militia-style battledress, complete with blood-red headband and M-16 strapped to his side, doing his best impression of a mumbling Rocky Balboa.

You can say what you like about Sly, but he does this kind of thing so well.

Before shooting began in and around the town of Hope, British Columbia, (a mill town where everyone had been laid off, it didn’t live up to its name – the locals often fought with the crew), Stallone revised the script, He toned down the violence and changed the ending.

The day before shooting, Kirk Douglas (who was cast as Trautman) turned up with his own copious edits, a set of notes that reportedly re-envisioned the colonel as someone who morphs into Rambo 2.0 and finishes the movie with his own headband in place.

Advised that this overhaul was not about to happen, he exited the project to be replaced by Richard Crenna at a day’s notice.

The six-week shoot was a nightmare. Fog frequently interrupted filming while daylight leaked away at 2.30pm. Both Stallone and Dennehy suffered broken ribs from doing their own stunts, and – in these pre-CGI days – the residents of Hope witnessed the filmmakers actually blow up a gas station.

First Blood took more than $6.5m in its opening weekend – an October record at the time – and went on to net $125m from a $15m budget to become the 13th highest grossing film of 1982.

NB: Author David Morrell got the inspiration for John Rambo’s now-infamous surname from his favourite brand of apples.

John Rambo
Sylvester Stallone
Colonel Trautman
Richard Crenna
Sheriff Teasle
Brian Dennehy
Bill McKinney
Jack Starrett
Michael Talbott
Chris Mulkey
John McLiam
Alf Humphreys
David Caruso
David Crowley
Don Mackay

Ted Kotcheff