A Lack Of Planning On Rambo: First Blood Put A Stuntman In Serious Danger

The action film genre is far from my favorite. Although they make for good popcorn theater, I've always felt the machine gun fireworks, high-speed chases in rush hour traffic where the protagonist swerves out of the way from the oncoming 18-wheeler just in the nick of time to avoid certain death, and the unnecessary explosions that come with these movies take precedence over authentic storytelling and character development that truly humanizes the folks we're supposed to be pulling for. However, 1982's "First Blood" is an exception.

Yes, the film introduced us to pop-culture icon and machine gun-blasting John Rambo and solidified Sylvester Stallone, who was already known for his "Rocky" movies, as an action film star. But it's also a heart-wrenching tale that exposes how scarred Vietnam War soldiers were outcast by society upon returning home to the United States. This is shown through the decorated Vietnam vet Rambo (Sylvester Stallone), who appears to suffer from an undiagnosed case of post-traumatic stress disorder and single-handedly goes to all-out war with the peaceful town of Hope, Washington, after being harassed and tormented by local authorities. Don't get me wrong, "First Blood" had all the high-velocity action sequences expected of the genre. In fact, shooting "First Blood" was just as dangerous for the performers as it appeared onscreen.

They just really let it fly

In the "First Blood" commentary, Sylvester Stallone revealed that the directors weren't committed to the script, noting that some scenes were rewritten at the last minute, and sequences were added during filming. The spontaneity and lack of prep, in turn, created a dangerous environment for the real-life professionals performing the stunts, including Stallone, who recalled the sequence where Rambo leaped off the cliff to avoid a rifle-wielding helicopter and fell through a series of tree branches. He said he was asked to reshoot the stunt three times, but he couldn't after the second — he had broken his rib on one of the branches.

Earlier in the film, there's the scene when Rambo breaks out of jail and escapes on a motorcycle. Hope Sheriff Will Teasle (Brian Dennehy) gives chase in his squad car. Sylvester called the pursuit "horrifically unchoreographed." "They just really let it fly," he said. He noted that the part where the patrol car slides down the hill on its side and flips over was unplanned. The sequence looked so good it was kept in the movie; Dennehy got into the overturned vehicle, and shooting the scene resumed.

Stuntman nearly slides off rocky slope

In another interview, an ambulance paramedic who worked on set during the cliff jump scene told a story of how two stunts were needed to complete the sequence. The paramedic, whose IMDb username is Choatelodge, said a backhoe was used to plant the tree Rambo fell through at the base of the cliff. The area was padded with cushion bags. He said a stuntman climbed the tree as high as he possibly could, and as the cameras rolled, he slid down the tree until he reached the cushion bags. "The climber had been made up with superficial cuts and wounds before the shot and by the end of it he had supplemented this makeup with several real cuts of his own," Choatelodge said.

After that, Choatelodge explained that the stuntman, Don Charles McGovern, leaped off and landed back-first on the airbag that was placed on top of some empty cardboard boxes. He said the stuntman landed on the unsupervised side near the river. "There was a momentary panic as he could not be found for several minutes until he emerged unharmed, having nearly slid off onto the rocky slope," he said. This further proves that stunt acting is a dangerous job. Luckily, McGovern didn't get seriously injured. Unfortunately, a stuntman working on the 1985 sequel, "Rambo: First Blood II," wasn't as fortunate. Stunt actor Clifford Weger was killed on set while performing a stunt at the edge of a waterfall near Mexico City. He slipped and fell off the edge.