I’ve just reminded myself of another under-valued ’70s film — Bob Rafelson‘s Stay Hungry (1977). An eccentric Southern-style comedy about family wealth, corruption and the body-building world, it starred Jeff Bridges, Sally Field, R.G. Armstrong and — in his first significant acting role — Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Charmingly oddball comedies of this sort, the socially observant kind about values and growth arcs that began with Preston Sturges in the ’40s, have all but disappeared from the landscape. Robert Zemeckis‘ Used Cars is another comedy of this type. What do we have today? Big corporate CG comedies directed by guys like Shawn Levy. How many comic directors with a semblance of edge and attitude and social conscience are working today besides David O. Russell?
“Quirky is the keyword here — but quirky in a highly entertaining way,” critic Marshall Fine wrote about Stay Hungry. “Bridges is a not-so-good ol’ boy. Wealthy and aimless and involved in a real estate deal with a group of high-powered partners, his only responsibility is to evict the tenants of one building that needs to be torn down and has a gym filled with body builders.
“Disconnected from everything in his life, he feels a bond to these outsiders, particularly the surprisingly articulate, fiddle-playing Schwarzenegger. He also finds himself attracted to the blue-collar gym employee played by Field and in so doing becomes an impediment to his own business partners.
“Oddly funny and affecting — a sleeper that never had much of a release.”