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USA 1976
Directed by
Bob Rafelson
103 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

Stay Hungry

American independent film-making of the 1970s is marked by a ludic, freewheeling spirit that favoured loosely compounded stories of “outsider” characters and their unconventional adventures. Bob Rafelson’s Stay Hungry certainly fits with that remit.

Jeff Bridges plays Craig Blake, the aimless young scion of once wealthy Alabama landed gentry. He has fallen in with a group of shifty business types who are trying to buy up a city block. Blake is given the task of buying a small gym. Blake’s strategy is to wheedle his way into the trust of the owner (R.G. Armstrong) but in so doing he becomes close to its feisty receptionist Mary Tate (Sally Field) and Joe (Arnold Schwarzenegger), a body builder who is in training for an upcoming Mr Universe contest.

Opening nicely with a scene that economically captures the gentlemanly South culture that Blake is the inheritor of but has no desire to perpetuate, the film, moves quickly to its main concern, the testing of Blake’s mettle by the two people he has grown to admire - the straight-shooting Mary Tate with whom he starts relationship and the fiddle-playing Joe who introduces him to some “authentics” (an occasion which recalls the famous “Duellin Banjos” scene in John Boorman’s iconic Deliverance (1972)

Working from a novel by Charles Gaines, Rafelson charts Blake’s moral odyssey through a series of episodes that are vibrantly cheerful and refreshingly non-linear. Well that is until the film’s end when in a scene which would have been out of place in Altman's Nashville (1975) or Rafelson’s first film Head (1968), a fight which destroys the gym ends up with a gaggle of unclothed Mr Universe contestants running through downtown Birmingham. It's a bit of wilful silliness that the film could have done without. . 

Bridges give a characteristically cocky performance but Field who up to that time was best known for her Gidget-like television work impressively breaks the mold as a forthright working class gal and in his first dramatic role Schwarzenegger is surprisingly effective.




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