Tuesday, January 8, 2013

I don't like being too comfortable

Stay Hungry (1976)
I appear to be having a real problem working up the courage to watch Batman & Robin.  I like to think I just didn't have time over the holidays to watch any Arnold movies, but there's this palpable sense of B&R lurking in the shadows ready to pounce at any moment and destroy anew my appreciation of Arnold's movies.  So without further ado, let's pretend it doesn't exist and go back and catch up on a couple of his oldest movies.

I've never seen this one, and about all I knew about it coming in was that Arnold portrays a bodybuilder (!!), won a Golden Globe for best acting debut (in his 2nd film, apparently no one else wants to acknowledge the existence of Hercules in New York either) and that it somehow had Jeff Bridges and Sally Field in it.  Granted, this is pre-Tron Jeff (which we all know is where he really became a legend), and pre-Smokey & the Bandit Sally, but that's still some decent talent to put with an unknown like Arnold.  While Pumping Iron was filmed before Stay Hungry, this one was released first due to the delays in getting PI completed.  I admit I'd judged the movie by the DVD cover and was prepared for another Hercules-type exploitation movie and I couldn't have been more wrong.

Not only does this actually have a plot, some quality acting by a surprising ensemble cast (R.G. Armstrong, Scatman Crothers, Robert Englund (!?), Roger E Mosley, and even a young Joanna Cassidy and Ed Bagely Jr), but Arnold is fully clothed for 90% of the movie.  Not kidding.  He doesn't take his shirt off until... the Mr Universe competition at the end of the movie.  As if that weren't enough, the crazy bastards that made this film gave him dialogue!  Like probably 20x as many spoken words as Conan (it would be fun to do that count sometime), and I'll be damned, he actually handles himself very well.  I don't know if I'd agree it was a GG-winning performance, as I'd have given that to the kid from The Omen, but I completely understand his being nominated.  

Sure, there's the occasional stumbling through lines, but there's also that wonderful genuine nature that Arnold shows so well over the next 2 decades, and some quality emotion.  There's a great scene near the end where he's paraded as the fiddle-playing Mr Universe contestent in front of Jeff's snooty country club friends (you have to watch for that to make sense) and when they start heckling him, he gives a completely awesome expression and a great delivery of a polite "F* you, wer'e done here" comment to the crowd.  Vulnerability, angst, humor...  Acting! 

I would be remiss if I didn't comment on the completely wacky ending:  As the Mr Universe contest is reaching it's conclusion and they're just about to announce the winner, Arnold naturally has to tear out of there barefoot and run over to his nearby gym to stop the owner from drugging and raping Sally Field before trying to kill Jeff with any piece of gym equipment he can get his hands on.  The usual sort of stuff.  What moves the ending into "WTF?" land is the rest of the Mr Universe contestents tearing out after him and then proceeding to run aimlessly through the streets.  Complete with posing for the crowd, initially at their request, including 4 guys flexing as they go by on the top of a bus.  Typical Hollywood ending.  I'd love to have sat in on that planning session.

Ahnold Quotient - 4
Pretty much no nod & wink or one-liners to be had, but that's not surprising with this early of a film.  We do get to see him in his '75-76 form flexing and posing, but it's legitimately for a contest and that contest even serves the story.

Rewatchability - Perhaps
If you'd asked me part-way through, I'd have said no thanks because the film is very heavily rooted in the 70s and pretty dated, but as the movie progresses it did actually grab me and started entertaining.  Jeff is very solid, and showing some impressive physical stuntwork during the gym fight sequence.  Hell, I'd watch it again just to see his crazy parkour move in the stairwell when the gym owner tosses a barbell down at him.  I don't think I need to do it again anytime soon, but I'll return to this one at least once more.

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