Bob Rafelson is a figure of massive pop cultural importance. Together with Steve Blauner and Bert Schneider, he was a founder of BBS, the hugely influential production company behind counterculture classics such as The Last Picture Show. Rafelson was also a highly successful director, helming movies like The King Of Marvin Gardens, the classic Five Easy Pieces and a remake of The Postman Always Rings Twice. As if that wasn't enough, he also created TV pop phenomenon The Monkees.
Rafelson probably wouldn't be so widely celebrated if his reputation rested solely on Stay Hungry. Adapted by Rafelson and Charles Gaines from the latter's novel, it's a fun but fluffy affair that's heavily defined by 1970s kitsch. Although it feels very dated, this does feature lovely work from Jeff Bridges together with an early supporting turn from an Austrian bloke with a long name who looks like a condom stuffed full of walnuts.
In post-Watergate America, a real estate syndicate tries to buy up a rundown neighbourhood for redevelopment. With most of the tenants happy to move, the only thing standing between the suits and the millions they hope to make is Joe Santo (Schwarzenegger), a bodybuilder who's using his gym to train for the Mr Universe contest. Being both evil and pissed-off, the syndicate brings in a jaunty young chap called Craig Blake (Bridges) to purchase the establishment by proxy. But what seems like a straightforward scheme is scuppered when Craig befriends Joe and falls in love with his friend Mary Tate (Field).
Okay, so it sounds harmless enough, but while there are things to like about Rafelson's film, the proceedings are spoilt by the director's desire to make some sort of statement about the small guy sticking it to The Man. Not that this isn't a point worth making, but it loses some of its potency when cloaked with a set-up as goofy as this. Some of the performances are problematic too - even an actress as talented as Field can't help but look out of place. As for the plaudits Schwarzenegger received, they say more about his skills as a politician than his gifts as an actor.
Still, like any film starring Jeff Bridges, Stay Hungry does have one thing very much in its favour. It's impossible not to like a man so lazily charismatic. However, as good as he is here, the combination of Stay Hungry and John Guillermin's disastrous King Kong remake (both made in 1976) put Bridges off acting for three years.