Before he was Rambo, before he was Rocky, even before he was a lord of Flatbush, Sylvester Stallone was Savage in a film called "Rebel."
The movie was made in 1973 under the title "No Place to Hide," and though it is not even mentioned in his biographies in film reference books, it was the first movie--not counting the soft-porn "A Party at Kitty and Stud's"--in which Stallone both spoke and starred.
"Rebel," directed and produced by Robert Schnitzer, had two spotty releases in the United States: first, when it was completed 13 years ago, and again in 1981.
Now, because of the international success of two "Rambos" and four "Rockys," "Rebel" is selling briskly overseas and may soon get an airing on U. S. television.
Schnitzer, who has made only one movie ("Premonition" for Embassy Pictures) since "Rebel," said this week that he is about to close a deal with an American distributor for TV syndication and acknowledged that even though Stallone's Savage is a comparative kitten, "Rebel" owes its resurrection mostly to "Rambo."
" 'Rambo' has created a fresh market for 'Rebel,' no question," said Schnitzer. "It's being sold all over the world. It's playing (in theaters) now in France and Portugal. We just sold it to Greece. Whenever a license expires, it's renewed."
This is one of those commercial ironies. Stallone fans who buy tickets for "Rebel," or pay the price of a videotape rental (some local video stores stock it), are almost certain to be disappointed. Despite his ominous name, Jerry Savage is Stallone's most nonviolent character.
"Rebel," which baby boomer Schnitzer says is based partly on his own experiences as a '60s radical, is about a group of Vietnam protesters who are plotting a demonstration bombing of a government building in New York City. Savage is one of the activists ("Rambo" would kick his hippie backside all the way down to Greenwich Village), torn between his dedication to the subversives and his emotional attachment to a passive flower child (Rebecca Grimes).
The movie, laced with domestic protest scenes and Vietnam newsreel footage, features the baby-faced Stallone in his pre-Nautilus honed condition. Schnitzer said Stallone was one of 800 people tested for the part, and though the inexperienced young actor (he was 26 at the time) wanted to "assist" with the writing and directing, he was not a problem during production.
"We did let him do a little writing," Schnitzer said. "The thing I remember is that he always wanted to take his shirt off (during scenes)."
Schnitzer said Stallone deferred all of his salary on "Rebel," which was made for less than $500,000, and is still a profit participant. The odds on Stallone's share matching his current up-front fee of $12 million to $15 million, however, are slim.
"It would take every die-hard Stallone fan to see the movie five times for that to happen," Schnitzer said.
After its limited release in 1973, Schnitzer said "Rebel" was tied up by the tax-shelter company that had licensed it. By 1981, it was back in his hands, and he immediately recut it and gave it both a new score and a new title.
As a favor to Stallone, and to get a PG rating for the re-release, Schnitzer said he eliminated the film's lone nude scene.
"I may have made a mistake there," he said.
Beyond its curiosity value to Stallone fans, "Rebel" does not have much to commend it. It is interesting to see Stallone work in the role of a real character, before he developed all those self-conscious mannerisms and heroic postures. The kid did have some talent.
But it is in a labored idealistic effort, and one that is badly dated. Like most of the early attempts to dramatize the protest movement, "Rebel" portrays the activists as moral guerrillas and nearly everyone else as envoys of the devil.
Nevertheless, Schnitzer thinks the world is now riper for "Rebel" than "Rambo."
"What it has done, amazingly, is vindicate Stallone and the U.S.," he said. "To a small extent, it shows Europe that we are sensitive to the need for international peace and that it's not against our interest to have our folk heroes portray proponents of peace."
OK. But how about those people who just want to see Stallone on a killing spree?
"They will be disappointed at this time in their lives," said Schnitzer, "but as they grow and mature, they will find that Jerry Savage is more essential than John Rambo to the best interests of their survival."
TITLE FIGHT: Arnold Schwarzenegger, the only action star who is both stronger than Sylvester Stallone and harder to understand, joins the summer box-office fray with "Raw Deal," which Hollywood's newest studio--De Laurentiis Entertainment Group--is opening today in more than 1,700 theaters. (See review on Page 1).
"Raw Deal" has a long way to go to catch "Cobra," Stallone's vigilante cop movie that has grossed more than $30 million in its first two weeks in release. "Cobra" is playing in more than 2,000 theaters.