Tom Jolliffe dives back to a potential action classic that never got rolling. Sylvester Stallone as directed by William Friedkin, with Cynthia Rothrock also attached at one point…
Let’s talks action. Let’s throw the name of an icon into the mix…Sylvester Stallone. The man who gave the world Rambo and Rocky. At a time during the 80’s he was regularly pulling in huge box office numbers. In 1982 he had First Blood and Rocky III out, pulling in big bucks. In 1985, Rambo: First Blood Part II and Rocky IV pretty much made Sly the dominating box office force of the year. By the close of the decade he was an action icon. In the 90’s there would be a gradual regression as Stallone increasingly struggled to find hits, albeit with some iconic gems along the way like Demolition Man and Cliffhanger.
Then let’s take a director who came out of the 1970’s alongside the likes of Scorsese and Coppola, as one of a new breed of visionary auteurs. He’d made The French Connection (often deemed a landmark in the action genre), The Exorcist (one of the most iconic horror films ever made) and then his underrated masterpiece, Sorcerer which bombed spectacularly upon release, in part thanks to a little film called Star Wars (and indeed in comparison to Friedkin’s big budget and pessimistic adventure film, Star Wars was considered quite small, costing roughly half of what Sorcerer cost). Friedkin continued making good films and cult films like To Live and Die in L.A. In more recent times he proved he still had the gift when he hit a return to form with Killer Joe (a beginning of the McConaughaissance). So the prospect of a film that seemed to hover close to production from 1987 until the early 90’s, with Stallone in his prime and Friedkin with his creativity in tact was quite enticing.
The film in question, The Executioner was to be based on Don Pendleton’s novels, with Stallone set to play Mack Bolan. To an extent this wouldn’t be alien to Stallone. Bolan was an ex-Vietnam vet who’d seen too much. He ends up tied in with covert government operations in taking down nefarious targets. All off record. There were a lot of elements in this absolutely primed for someone like Stallone. Likewise too, Friedkin who could offer a sense of tense gritty realism to his action would have suited (or could have gone with the stylish excess of Die in L.A for example). Through the course of development it would seem Friedkin never quite had a script he was happy with. Stallone over the years has crossed creative swords with people, so whether they both had diverging ideas about the direction the film could take, I guess we’ll never full know for sure.
Some way into the development a certain emerging lady of action, Cynthia Rothrock gets a call from William Friedkin. Rothrock discusses her part in the film’s development span in the latest episode of Scott Adkins’ must watch Youtube series, The Art of Action (Unmissable for fans of Martial Arts cinema, featuring interviews with Mark Dacascos, Cynthia Rothrock, Richard Norton, Chad Stahelski and more). At the time Rothrock had just finished a run of highly successful and very impressive Hong Kong films. She showed a kind of physicality and power that had never been seen by a female star, and was catching the eye. She’d just begun her new career stage in the US, working on China O’Brien 1 and 2 (back to back). Stallone and Friedkin wanted her, and she signed on (forgoing sequels to China O’Brien in the process). It was set to be the big American break she deserved.
The life of The Executioner then sadly petered out. The inclusion of Rothrock would suggest the film was going to be action heavy. Alongside Stallone, in a film that could have attracted audiences, and under the vision of Friedkin, we can only imagine how impressive the film might have been (though indeed, conversely, potentially disappointing). Perhaps the fact that Friedkin and Stallone have never worked together might suggest something, or maybe their paths never had the opportunity to cross again. For a rising star like Rothrock it’s bittersweet, because in waiting for the big project, she missed out on potentially interesting smaller ones, and was advised not to return to making films in Hong Kong. Additionally of course, coming from a literary source with a whole array of stories, the continued adventures of Mack Bolan could have been a potential franchise for Stallone in a time he was in need of the next hit. The property has been brought back intermittently to development (minus Sly et al) but still never managed to get in front of cameras.
Would you have liked to see The Executioner with Stallone, Friedkin and Rothrock? Let us know your thoughts on our social channels @flickeringmyth…
Tom Jolliffe is an award winning screenwriter and passionate cinephile. He has a number of films out on DVD/VOD around the world and several releases due in 2020/21, including The Witches Of Amityville (starring Emmy winner, Kira Reed Lorsch), War of The Worlds: The Attack and the star studded action films, Renegades (Lee Majors, Billy Murray) and Crackdown. Find more info at the best personal site you’ll ever see…https://www.instagram.com/jolliffeproductions/