Usually, when discussing movies of the 1970s, even the bad ones, there are some films that continue to get lost in the shuffle, and that includes director Bob Rafelson’s 1976 bizarre comedy drama, Stay Hungry, adapted from a novel by Charles Gaines, who co-wrote the screenplay with Rafelson. I guess because of its weird story, a movie like this doesn’t come around too often, and that is unfortunate, since the film is actually pretty good, once you get past its almost laughable premise.
Future Oscar-winner Jeff Bridges stars as Craig Blake, the sole-surviving part of an affluent Birmingham, Alabama family. Pondering what he needs to do with his life (and his riches) after his parents are slaughtered in a plane accident, Craig gets tied up with a land bargain, which is entangled by a gym manager hesitant to offer his property.
Craig visits the gym center, only to become friends with an unconventional circle of weightlifters, health specialists and, um, “grease men.” One of them is Joe Santo, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, whom at this time was a relative newcomer, just known as a strictly a bodybuilder, and not an actor. Along the way, Craig falls for and a has very rocky romance with a perky gymnast named Mary Tate Farnsworth, played by future two-time Oscar winner Sally Field. Eventually, Craig loses his way and becomes too big for his own good, but with the help of both Joe and Mary Tate, he realizes that money should always come second to love and respect. He also has to save the gym from being turned into another unnecessary high rise.
A few viewers will be turned off by a percentage of the more cartoonish components, for example, Robert Englund playing a Brit with a somewhat credible Alabamian accent. One moment that is really memorable, comprises of Joe and his fellow bodybuildering friends running out into the streets and posing for the public. It’s scenes like this that make the film shockingly justified.
Going back to main members of the cast, Bridges gives an amazing performance as the young man who needs a wake up call to life. Field is nothing short of a relevation as she holds her own as the woman being loved by both Craig and Joe. If you’re a huge fan of Field’s, you”ll probably be a little uncomfortable, judging by a few nude scenes, where she really sheds her “Flying Nun” image, but that really shouldn’t be the case. The real standout is Schwarzenegger, who gives a touching performance as Joe, the Olympic hopeful with his heart on his sleeve. For this role, he would score a Golden Globe for Best Film Debut by a Male. This was when he was actually capable of being a real human being, with emotions and feelings; and simply not all body and no substance, which is too bad, because later in his career, he became just that. Because of this, you really wish you could turn back the hands of time.
The limited edition comes with some vintage featues, such as an audio commentary with Rafelson, Bridges, and Field. She comments on the fact that this is her very first commentary, but she does share some valuable bits about how she came onto the project. There are some gaps in the commentary, but that doesn’t take away from the great information shared about the film and its cult status. Rounding out the bonuses is a video introduction by Rafelson, and the film’s original theatrical trailer.
When it comes to plot, Stay Hungry is at best when it concentrates on the societies of weightlifting and Birmingham. It is a special peculiarity as sports films go, and not just in light of weight training’s remarkable and odd status as a sport.
The bodybuilders in Stay Hungry take their lifting and gamesmanship genuinely, yet are never anything short of mindful that a lot of what they do and how they do it is a demonstration. Let’s just say that if you’re a bodybuilder, you’ll probably walk away from the film with not just your muscles, but also your mind, because it is not the kind of movie that gives the sport a bad name.