Friday, 29 April 2011

The Arnold Project, part I: Arnold Strong, Mr. Universe!

Everyone's favorite action star, Arnold Schwarzenegger recently left his office as the governor of California. No one is quite sure of what he'll do next. Many would like him to return to films. I, however am not one of them. The biggest reason is to watch Arnold's films from the time just before he chose to quit. No, we have plenty of good Arnold moments from the past as well. I hereby start a new series here in this blog, in which I will watch every one of Arnold's feature films (some TV movies and documentaries may be too hard to find so they'll have to be excused). They run mostly according to a certain subject, each representing a phase in Arnold's career. At this first part we look at Arnold's first steps on the silver screen. It was a time in which he was mostly cast as a body builder. This sort of exploitation is understandable, as Arnold was Mr. Universe multiple times, and more known from that than from his films. Arnold wasn't yet a fully grown into his later bad-ass persona. Many films used him as just an extra. I'll take a look at them later on. Here, I look at his first starring roles.

Hercules in New York (1969)
Director: Arthur Allan Seidelman

I'll be helpful and put a link here to the only part in Hercules in New York worth watching. Hilarious, isn't it? But don't get fooled by this premise. The rest of the film is as much fun as sticking pins under your fingernails. I would especially warn everyone from watching the film while hungover. The Greek elevator music that goes in a seemingly never-ending loop in the background makes anyone feel nauseous and the horrible "comedy" this film offers won't help things one bit.

The ancient Greek god Zeus sends Hercules (Schwarzenegger using an alias of Arnold Strong) to modern New York, as he wishes to have adventures on Earth. After a few unfunny fish out of water scenes Hercules meets a little weasel called Pretzie (Arnold Stang) who starts posing as his friend. He then starts promoting Herc as an unbeatable wrestler. Hercules also has a romantic interest on Earth. Zeus starts to get irritated on Hercules' adventures and orders one by one different ancient Greek gods to bring him home. They all fail. That isn't the only thing that fails in the film.

Arnold himself has expressed regret in making this film. I find it a fitting link to the bodybuilders of yesteryears who often got to making cheap sword and sandal (or peplum) flicks in Italy or Spain. But Arnold would of course deserve better. As a 22-year-old his accent was so incomprihensible that all his lines were redubbed by another actor for the film.

Hercules: Ha, ha, ha. You have strucked Hercules.

Stay Hungry (1976)
Director: Bob Rafaelson

Stay Hungry boasts of "introducing" Arnold Schwarzenegger, and won a Golden Globe for that to boot. In theory this is true, as Arnold did use a fake name in Hercules in New York. Most would want to forget that movie anyway. This is at least the first time Arnold's real voice is heard on screen, and his accent is still really thick. Although sadly Stay Hungry isn't much better, it is at least more entertaining.

This film is a real mess as well, with a stupid and clichéd story told unnecessarily confusingly. Jeff Bridges plays a rich young wannabe businessman Craig Blake that helps a big corporation take over a city block, estate by estate. The only one left is the gym Olympic that boasts of being the one that Mr. Universe wannabe Joe Santo (guess who) trains in. True to his name, Santo likes to wear luchador masks while pumping iron, although everyone clearly knows who he is. Blake infiltrates the gym as a new customer and soon becomes friends with Santo. Things get even further complicated as he falls for the gym's receptionist Marie-Tate (Sally Field). The simple way of life of the gym users (which consists of partying) turns Blake's head and he realizes how rotten the yuppie way of life is. He still has to stop the evil grinders of the syndicate before they force the gym out of business.

It's weird to notice, that as Hercules in New York resembles Thor a little, this film's plot is basically the same one than in Avatar. That alone tells how original this film is. It is supposed to be a comedy yet all the laughs come at inappropriate places. The hillbilly hoedown scene where Arnold plays the fiddle and Bridges dances is worth the admission price alone. There are also other irrational scenes that seem to fit poorly with the rest of the film, yet are a miracle to behold. These include every one of the bodybuilders participating in the Mr. Universe competition running down the streets of Birmingham, the drug- and alcohol-filled masseus's date with a hooker that goes awry, Scatman Crothers losing his shit from Bridges and Filed's antics in an antique house, and of course the fight between Bridges and the bug-ugly gym owner, where they throw weights and poles at each other in a gym. Best to see it drunk, you won't understand anything if sober.

★ or ★★★★★

Joe Santo (on why he doesn't go on another date with a girl he likes): I don't like being too comfrotable. Once you get used to it, it's hard to give up. I'd rather stay hungry.

Pumping Iron (1977)
Director: George Butler, Robert Fiore

Pumping Iron is such a big cult classic that it must be included in every list featuring Arnold's movies even if one would wish to focus on fictional films. The documentary follows Schwarzenegger as well as some other notable bodybuilders on the route to becoming Mr. Universe. At this point in his career, Arnold had been awarded the titles of Mr. Olympia and Mr. Universe multiple times and seemed to be unbeatable in the game. Steel worker's son Lou Ferrigno seems like an underdog conventional movie plots would have would beat the champion. However, Arnold went on to become the biggest star in the world whereas Ferrigno later became TV's Incredible Hulk. That may give a hint how things work out in real life.

For any Arnold fan, Pumping Iron is an essential part in forming an image of the idol. Arnold seems mostly a good sport, but he does have a more mischievous side to him. He admits to give his competitors false advice and feels a bit cocky about his art of posing. Arnold compares body pumping and posing to sexual release and it seems like he really means it. The film ends in him announcing his retiring from bodybuilding contests. He probably sook to improve his film resumeé. He still was a long way from being a big star, as anoter documentary, The Comeback documents his return to the sport he masters.

Arnold Is Numero Uno!


Arnold Schwarzenegger: I was always dreaming about very powerful people, dictators and things like that. I was just always impressed by people who could be remembered for hundreds of years, or even, like Jesus, be for thousands of years remembered.

The Jayne Mansfield Story (1980)
Director: Dick Lowry

Make no mistake about it, The Jayne Mansfield Story is a clear TV movie. It looks cheap, it feels cheap and it acts cheap. In some circles, however, this is a real cult classic in bad filmmaking. I myself didn't find it interesting enough to worship, but I can see what tickles the funny ribs of some jokers in this.

In case you didn't know, Jayne Mansfield was Hollywood's biggest blonde bombshell, who took it upon herself to be bigger than Marilyn Monroe. She married (and later divorced) the body builder Mickey Hargitay. Her career took a big bump from the death of Marilyn that caused a decline in demand for blonde actresses in Hollywood. She resorted to being a Playboy model. She was killed in a car crash that decapitated her.

The movie itself starts with the car crash so it doesn't have anything interesting to build up to. Interestingly, after Pumping Iron it's the first fictional film that takes Arnold's role into the square centre of the film. He works as a narrator and you can probably guess how good it will work out. For one, he never even manages to pronounce his supposed wife's first name correctly, calling her "Chayne". Other than Arnold's ridiculous voiceovers, there's very little to like here. Mansfield (as portrayed by Loni Anderson) isn't really anyone you could relate to, and comes across the movie as a demanding and prissy little glamour princess. Hargitay, on the other hand, comes across as a dim-witted but well-meaning boy toy, doing sit ups by the swimming pool. And the movie doesn't really delve into Mansfield's other affairs or even the other marriages. The film is really way too clean cut, with hardly even references to drugs or sex, nevermind the depravities Mansfield sunk to careerless. On a better story this wouldn't be a problem, but really, the sinning is really the only thing worth any interest in the blonde actress. The death scene itself is a little moody but hopes for seeing a decapitated head are diminished both times the same sequence is shown.


Mickey Hargitay: Ass Chayne always sayed apout her caweer...

Next Time on The Arnold Project: Arnold the Barbarian!

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