The World According to Arnie – Stay Hungry (1976)
What the fuck is this movie about? It’s an absolute meandering mess with violent lurches in tone, baffling stand alone scenes and characters that are confusingly unfocused. I suspect it must have been trying for some kind of free wheeling Altman-esque storytelling, but the actual “story” is barely set up, immediately forgotten, then kind of touched on at the end. In between we have Arnie lifting weights while dressed as something resembling Batman, Jeff Bridges learning to waterski, Sally Field getting randomly assaulted by a main character and Arnie playing fucking bluegrass on the violin in a hillbilly music group.
Clarke Blake (Bridges) has too much time and too much money on his hands, and no will or ambition to do anything other than ride his horse while some bloke with an irritating, stilted southern accent calling himself “Uncle Albert” annoys us with his voiceover, and some wistful music plays on the soundtrack. This is the first minute of the film, and my first impression was that “Uncle Albert” was the Uncle Bulgaria type who bounced a young Clarke on his lap a little bit longer than people were comfortable with. But apparently he’s not a kiddie fiddler, just some old bloke who likes to read aloud really fucking slowly. Remember that kid in the wheelchair from ‘Malcom in the Middle’ that has to take a breath every third word? He sounds like that. It’s weird and very creepy way to start the movie.
Anyway, Clarke is involved in a real estate venture with a bunch of “slick types”, who each purchase a property on a city block with the intention of tearing them down and building a high rise. Apparantly these guys are slick salesmen, but they come off as semi-retarded used car salesmen. Of course the building that Clarke needs to purchase is a gym which is the home to Mr Universe contender Joe Santo (Arnie). After somehow ingratiating himself into the gym’s patrons by merely showing up and watching Arnie train, he meets the no nonsense country gal Mary Tate Farnsworth (Field). From this point on (about 10 minutes into the film) scene after scene goes nowhere until the film lurches in to dark territory when the unhinged gym owner Thor Erikson (R.G. Armstrong) tries to rape Mary Tate, and half the gym gets destroyed in a fight with Bridges that involves Thor throwing large weights around. And then there’s the obligatory “two blokes grappling at each other crash through window on to street” moment. And not to forget the Mr Universe competition itself, which involves all the competitors flooding onto the street and posing for curious black people to the tune of duelling banjo’s. This fucking movie is all over the shop.
Arnies performance really isn’t that bad. It’s a million times better than ‘Hercules in New York’. It’s just that the Joe Santo character barely registers. I have no idea what they intended for the character, but he’s a total contradiction. To work out is one thing, but to be a huge bastard that’s built like a brick shithouse, which is what you must be to even think about being Mr Universe, it takes ridiculous dedication to eating and lifting shit. There are only two scenes where we see Santo working out (if memory serves). To put that in perspective, this is the same amount of scenes where we see Santo butchering the violin with a bunch of rednecks. He’s supposed to be some sort of free living, spiritual guru, but in my humble opinion, to become Mr Universe you have to have one hell of a work ethic (or know a guy that can hook you up with some really good roids). You basically need to spend your life in the gym, not hanging out with the cast of Deliverance or taking off with some society broad three days before the competition.
The Bridges character is incredibly unlikable. Which really means the characters a complete douchebag because Bridges is one of the most likable actors around. Clarke’s a rich guy through inheritance who’s aimlessly wandering around without a purpose. There is no clear indication of who Clarke Blake is, what he wants or why he wants it. He’s just a rich loser who’s sick of his life and wants to rebel. It’s clearly a case of “What are you rebelling against? What have you got?”, because no one who made this film seems to know. I guess he’s supposed to be refreshed by the honesty and directness of Mary Tate, and the freedom of Santo, but we never really get to see any of that on screen. And Mary Tate isn’t really that direct or honest. I think Blake likes her because she’s not from “society”, and that she’s fucking tiny. Honestly, I never realised how small Sally Field is. In this movie she looks about 4” 9′ and 43kg. I never once believed that either of them even liked each other that much.
‘Stay Hungry’ is based on the book by Charles Gaines, and adapted by Gaines and director Bob Rafelson. According to the ever reliable Wikipedia, the film differs quite a bit from the book. The real estate subplot wasn’t in it, and the Santo character was much more fleshed out (and a Native American). A real character in other words. The only real enjoyment I got out of the film was seeing some familiar faces in supporting roles. Actors like Robert Englund and Ed Begley Jr, as well as musician Scatman Crothers show up to make it mildly interesting. Other than that, this continues the inauspicious start to The Governators film career.