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Stay Hungry (1976)

November 15th, 2007 · No Comments

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Synopsis
Craig Blake (Jeff Bridges) – a trust fund brat who’s spent his life climbing mountains and hunting – finds himself forced into adulthood following the death of his wealthy parents. He’s joined some of his country club buddies in a real estate scheme, buying up property in downtown Birmingham to develop a highrise. Craig is sent to buy out the last business that hasn’t sold: a gym called Olympic Spa.

He meets a gymnast named Mary Tate Farnsworth (Sally Field) who runs the gym, a crusty bodybuilder (R.G. Armstrong) who owns it, a ladies karate instructor (Helena Kallianiotes) and the sensitive Joe Santo (Arnold Schwarzenegger), who’s training for the Mr. Universe tournament. Like everything else in his life, Craig takes his time getting around to business, getting romantically involved with Mary Tate and befriending Joe instead.

Craig attempts to ingratiate Mary Tate and Joe into his country club social circle, but only ends up alienating them. The longtime family butler (Scatman Crothers) quits in disgust for how lazily Craig is conducting his affairs. To speed the deal along, Craig’s buddies hire some goons to smash the gym up. Joe tries to get through to Craig that he “can’t grow without burning.” On the day of the tournament, Craig tries to find Mary Tate and get her to take him back.

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Production history
Bob Rafelson had spent eight years making small, independent films through his BBS Productions, directing Five Easy Pieces and The King of Marvin Gardens, and producing Easy Rider and The Last Picture Show – among others – with Bert Schneider and Steve Blauner. Once BBS disbanded, Rafelson was unsure what he wanted to do next.

He hitchhiked from Texas to North Carolina, and when he returned, was sent a 1972 novel by Charles Gaines titled Stay Hungry. Rafelson liked the title and that it took place in the South. He took a few months to tour with various bodybuilding tournaments, where he met Arnold Schwarzenegger. Mr. Olympia assured Rafelson that he could search all over the world, but would ultimately turn to him to play Joe Santo.

Rafelson agreed to adapt Stay Hungry with Gaines. In addition to Schwarzenegger – playing his first speaking part in a movie – Rafelson also cast Sally Field in her first significant film role. Robert Englund, Roger Mosley, Joe Spinell, Ed Begley Jr. and Joanna Cassidy were also cast. United Artists mounted a decent ad campaign, but audiences did not respond to the idiosyncratic film when it was released in April 1976.

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Schwarzenegger was given a Golden Globe for Best Acting Debut in a Motion Picture, but even after he became an action superstar in the 1980s, Stay Hungry remained a little seen movie. It wasn’t even released on DVD until 2004. On the surface, the film is an offbeat ensemble – comedy, drama, wacky independent film – much like those Jeff Bridges has made a career out of starring in.

Opinion
If there was a good movie in Stay Hungry, it never made it out of the cutting room. This is a scruffy film, but not in a lovable sense. What it most resembles is a feature length rehearsal, and despite its outstanding cast, it just never gels. Rafelson was working on the script throughout filming, and that definitely shows. There’s barely any continuity to the picture at all.

Jeff Bridges is as awkward and goofy as ever, while Sally Field is cute as a bug’s ear. She pulls off one of the boldest nude scenes an actress has probably ever done. Stay Hungry also boasts a brutal fight between Bridges and R.G. Armstrong, but it’s completely out of place in what feels like a romantic comedy. Rafelson cuts into scenes too late, exits too early, never seems to know what type of movie he wants to make, or how to go about it.

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George Hatch at DVD Verdict writes, “Stay Hungry is a typically eccentric film from an unconventional director, and the rambling, but realistically played out, string of events may not be to everyone’s taste. Characterization takes precedence over a slim plotline that is, at times, barely detectable.”

“All told this is a capable effort, though now dated and ultimately a bit baffling,” writes Christopher Null at Filmcritic.com.

David Nusair at Reel Film Reviews writes, “There’s no mistaking Stay Hungry for anything other than a Bob Rafelson film. Like his most famous work, Five Easy Pieces, Stay Hungry‘s aimless structure emphasizes characters over plot – and for a while, it’s undeniably quite effective.”

© Joe Valdez

Tags: Based on novel · Unconventional romance

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