Pic of the Day: First Blood (1982)
(Above) Sylvester Stallone in the midst of an action scene during the making of First Blood (1982). Stallone followed up this first Rambo outing – the actor’s biggest non-Rocky hit at the time – by turning down Romancing the Stone to appear in 1984’s Rhinestone.
The role of Rambo’s former commanding officer – ultimately played by Richard Crenna – was initially filled by Kirk Douglas. That did not go so well. Here’s director Ted Kotcheff on Douglas’ exit from the project, via an interview with Filmmaker Magazine.
Kotcheff: Kirk Douglas was doing a play with Burt Lancaster up in San Francisco about Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn later in life. I sent him the script for First Blood and he liked it a lot. I watched the play and we had dinner together and he went on and on about how terrific the script was. I thought, “Great!” Sylvester was all for it because Kirk Douglas’ film Champion was a great source of inspiration for him when he was playing Rocky. Kirk came to British Columbia the third week of shooting and we put him up in this lovely lakeside cottage, and immediately he began quarreling with the lines. He had a very disagreeable habit of talking about himself in the third person, and he’d say “Kirk doesn’t say these lines. Kirk doesn’t like these lines.” Or he’d want somebody else’s line and I would say, “That’s a feeling the sheriff would have, not you.” He’d say, “Doesn’t matter. It’s a great line. The sheriff doesn’t say it. Kirk Douglas says it. Kirk Douglas should have this line.” Also, any suggestions he made were like something out of a 1940s B-war film, this kind of bad military talk…now, Sylvester and I agreed that Kirk Douglas was a big star and would help our film, so we did everything we could to try to please him. We would shoot in the freezing cold all day and then work late into the night rewriting his scenes. But he was never happy with any of our changes, and I kept thinking, “Why the hell did he accept this part?” Finally, I went to Andy and Mario and said, “Boys, I know you want this guy. But he’s going to wreck our film, not only artistically but monetarily, because he’s going to slow production down. I’m telling you, he’s going to put two weeks on the schedule arguing about the lines.” So I went to see Kirk and his wife in the cottage and said, “Kirk, here’s the situation. I gave you a script and you accepted it and told me you loved it. We’re shooting the script that you loved. If you wish to act in that script, I’d love to have you, but if you don’t, you may leave.” He said, “Kirk’s leaving.” [laughs]
And here’s Stallone’s recollection of his experience with Douglas, from an Empire Magazine interview:
“[The plan for Kirk Douglas to appear in First Blood] snowballed into something I didn’t expect. He said, ‘Okay, I’d be happy to play Colonel Trautman.’ And on the first day of the set he comes out and says, ‘I can’t do the script.’ I go, ‘It’s the same script that we’ve been doing.’ He goes, ‘We agreed on some changes.’ I said, ‘We can’t [make any more changes] – we’re into the film… but anyway what were the changes?’ He said, ‘Here’s what I’d do: at the very end of the movie I should kill you. The audience sees a cop car driving away and as it disappears into the fog a hand reaches up in the rear view mirror. The camera turns up and we see me. Then it turns a bit higher and I am wearing your headband.’”