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How Kirk Douglas Almost Ruined First Blood (1982)

Just like Sylvester Stallone wasn’t the original choice to play John Rambo, Richard Crenna wasn’t the original choice to play Colonel Trautman either.  That role originally went to Kirk Douglas and character posters were even (officially) drawn up.

The day before filming began, at the 11th hour. Douglas, in a bout of extreme chutzpah, showed up with a revised script.  He had the ending completely changed.  Said Sylvester Stallone earlier a couple of years back:

“The plan to include Kirk Douglas snowballed into something I never expected.  He said to me: ‘Here’s what I want.  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 to the rear view mirror.  The camera turns up and we see me.  It turns up a bit higher and I’m wearing your headband'”.

When Douglas was advised in no uncertain terms that his suggestion was not going to happen, he abandoned the shoot, leaving them in the lurch with one day to go.  And with one day to go, Richard Crenna was drafted in.  His first line was “I made him”, but having just come off a TV show playing a gay doctor, he was told to ditch the gay overtures that were still hanging around from all the hours of being in unmanly character at the hospital.

As for who was to play Rambo?  Quite a few, but funnily enough Burt Reynolds was on that list.  And he invited Stallone over to his house to advise him to turn down this horrible movie, just like he did.  As Stallone said once to Total Film:

“I was at Burt Reynolds’ house having dinner and he said to me ‘… even if the movie dies and you’re good in it, it doesn’t matter’.  I said to him, ‘Burt, that’s about the worst piece of advice anyone has ever given me, but thanks anyway'”.

Okay, Burt…

  • Al Pacino was also considered for Rambo. Also I don’t think Douglas nearly ruined First Blood. That is the ending of the novel after all and they did shoot the Trautman scene were he shot Rambo, you see it briefly in Rambo 2008.

    • TheOldMcClane

      Al Pacino as Rambo? That would have been a trip.

      • David Barber

        That would have been good.

  • Tiger McDrew

    Burt Reynolds was an idiot not to take it. His comedies were pretty much played out at that point and he was already well on his way to where he is now. A role like this could have really helped. On the other hand, Stallone would probably still be known only for Rocky and dramatic roles if that had happened so Reynolds was an idiot, but at least something good came of it.

    • Mucho Macho

      *I’m glad Reynolds turned down Rambo.
      Rambo chewing gum acting uninterested would have not been as memorable.
      * But i do like or love some of his other movies. I always been a fan of ” Stick” for example

      • Tiger McDrew

        I watched Smokey and the Bandit probably a hundred times as a kid. He’s definitely done some great stuff like Deliverance, Navajo Joe, White Lightning, The Longest Yard, etc. But by the time First Blood came around he was pretty much just playing a version of Bandit in every single movie and it was wearing thin.

        He has done some good stuff since when he’s gotten the opportunity, but I think if he’d taken his work a bit more seriously in the late ’70s and early ’80s he’d possibly get the same level of respect as someone like Gene Hackman or Robert Duvall. But he wasted some of his best years.

        • Mucho Macho

          “Cannonball Run” i used to watch too a lot as a kid..haha
          i like Burt..but he became a bit of a diva & there were always stories of him been a pain in the ass on sets too. In “Boggie Nights” he gave Paul Thomas Anderson crap..i think 1 of the reasons he was never cast again in 1 of his movies.
          i liked “City Heat” too with Clint Eastwood & Reynolds

          • jim

            Cannonball Run is a guilty pleasure of mine too…Dean Martin & Sammy Davis are great in it. Have you seen this? A very funny interview with Burt around the time of Striptease in 1996.
            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BVkRP2l3BSQ

          • Mucho Macho

            I used to watch “Cannonball Run” all the time when I was a kid.
            It’s funny because at the time “striptease” was such a heavily hyped movie due to the fact that Demi Moore was gonna show some skin.
            No my friend I dont remember watching this interview.
            * by the way, for over a decade Burt Reynolds owned a dinner theater in Florida. I actually understood what he was trying to do. He always said that he wanted to put some of his friends from the local area to work and that at times it was just meant to be a fun thing and learn but the critics at times treated it as if it was fucking Broadway fiasco and it created some sort of animosity between him and the local press.
            http://www.deseretnews.com/article/66175/END-OF-THE-LINE-FOR-BURTS-STAR-STUDDED-THEATER.html

      • Der

        Shemus and sharkys are great as well love Burt malone is a cheesy pleasure.

      • David Barber

        Sharky’s Machine was another classic, a very violent cop thriller with some amazing stunts.

        • Mucho Macho

          Yes sir.👍
          Thats a very cool movie.
          You know, I haven’t seen it in a while. I got to put it on my list of movies I need to watch again.

          • David Barber

            Used to be up on youtube a few years ago but was deleted. Shame really. It’s available on blu-ray but not over here in the UK. Same with Stallone’s cop thriller of 1980 Nighthawks. In the US, Shout! Factory have released a special edition of it but in the UK, we only have the bare bones DVD version which doesn’t feature the original disco tracks.

          • Mucho Macho

            I saw “Sharky’s Machine” not long ago for sale at a Walmart for a relatively low price and I didn’t buy it and that was my mistake. Nighthawks is a very cool movie that is underrated and unfortunately I believe it was cut down due to the violence in it.
            It would be great if we can get the director’s cuts of that film one day.

          • David Barber

            I used to own Sharky’s Machine on video in the late ’90s and early ’00s before I sold it due to money problems. At first, I didn’t like it but 2nd time I watched it, I thought it was a really good action thriller film that was at least realistic in terms of its police procedure and violence, especially at the end when Henry Silva is shot so many times. I was always hacked off that they could never release a director’s cut of Nighthawks as Stallone was apparently really proud of that movie in its original form thinking it was the best thing he ever did. I still wouldn’t mind getting the special edition blu-ray as I’ve heard the extras are very good.

          • Mucho Macho

            I got the “Nighthawks” DVD but now you got me convinced I need an upgrade so thank you for making me think I need to spend more money..lol.

            There are plenty of movies like “Sharky’s Machine” that might have come out of when we were younger that we didn’t fully appreciate at first but then as we got older we came to appreciate them.

          • David Barber

            You’re welcome. Glad I could contribute.

            I remember seeing the opening of Sharky’s Machine on TV in May 1990 on a Bank Holiday Monday night when I was 11 but soon after that, my folks turned the set off. Never knew that 8 years later I would be able to watch it in full, uncut.

          • Mucho Macho

            8 years..Better late than never..lol👍
            On a side note I was such a hyperactive kid that for the most part my mother let me watch anything as long as I sat still & that’s why I watched so many R rated movies growing up.

          • David Barber

            The first R rated movie I ever saw was Enter The Dragon in January or February 1985 when I was 5 or 6 but it was recorded from TV so it would have had numerous edits although the scene of Han getting impaled was intact. I also saw First Blood, Rambo : First Blood Part II, Rambo 3 and 48 HRS as well as Bloodsport, Kickboxer and bits of The Terminator. When I was in my teens, I began to watch more of this sort of stuff uncut such as RoboCop, Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout, etc.

          • Mucho Macho

            The classics!

  • Kirk Douglas almost made this film great. His “suggested” ending is the actual ending of the much superior book. A book that is so manly in comparison that it makes the film look like a giant pussy.

    • Jacob Phillips

      The book is manlier than the film, but I don’t remember Trautman putting on Rambo’s headband at the end!!

  • jim

    As some have already pointed out, Douglas’ suggested ending is from the book…which is terrific…All manly men should read it.
    Had to laugh at this bit:
    “…… having just come off a TV show playing a gay doctor, he was told to ditch the gay overtures that were still hanging around from all the hours of being in unmanly character at the hospital.”
    LOL!!…Method acting can go too far sometimes…but Crenna turned out great.. no gay vibes there at all.

  • David Barber

    In another era and life, Kirk Douglas would have been a great Rambo himself. No kidding. Watch Lonely And The Brave and you’ll see why. Stallone was born to play Rambo. Forget Burt, his best films were Deliverance, Mean Machine and Sharky’s Machine. I’ll never forget watching First Blood when I was 9. It was the first Rambo film I ever saw and I remember thinking it was going to be like Part II with him fighting a war.