Arnold Schwarzenegger won a Golden Globe for Best Acting Debut in a Motion Picture for this movie, except that if you’ve been following Arnold Week here on the site, you know that this wasn’t his true debut. As Arnold Strong, he played Hercules in Hercules in New York, a henchman in The Long Goodbye and a masseur who Lucille Ball enjoys in Happy Anniversary and Goodbye.
Directed by Bob Rafelson (Five East Pieces, one of the creators of The Monkees and the director of the movie that ended their initial fame Head) who wrote the movie with Charles Gaines (who wrote Pumping Iron and invented paintball), the film is about Craig Blake (Jeff Bridges), a rich and young man who doesn’t really work and finds himself forced to handle the purchase of a small gym to clear the way for a high rise.
Yet when he meets the owner, Thor Erickson (R. G. Armstrong) and his employees Franklin (Robert Englund) and Newton (Roger E. Mosley), he finds himself drawn to the world of bodybuilders who use the gym to become sculptured works of art. He also falls for the receptionist, Mary Tate Farnsworth (Sally Field), and becomes friends with Mr. Universe hopeful Joe Santo (Schwarzenegger).
Craig’s old country club friends — like Ed Begley Jr. — can’t deal with the new people in his life and attempt to destroy his relationship with Mary Tate and embarrass Joe as he plays with a country band. Things come to a boil as the Mr. Universe competition finds Blake’s boss Jabo (Joe Spinell!) giving booze, drugs and hookers to Thor and Newton, who go on an amyl-nitrate assisted rage, assaulting Mary Tate and stealing the prize money, which leads to a chase throughout the streets of bodybuilders and the police.
Beyond the goldmine cast of pop culture standouts — Fanny Farmer, Woodrow Parfrey (Maximus in Planet of the Apes), Scatman Crothers, Helena Kallianiotes (whose appearances in movies like Head, The Passover Plot, Kansas City Bomber and Catchfire point to a career that I can truly appreciate), Joanna Cassidy (always great; Who Framed Roger Rabbit? is a movie she elevates just by being in it), Richard Gilliland (J.D. on Designing Women), Dennis Fimple, F.T.A. and the Committee member Garry Goodrow, Dennis Burkley (Cal from Sanford), there are also plenty of famous bodybuilders in this movie, like Roger Callard, two-time Mr. Universe Ed Corney, “Mr. Lifestyle” Robby Robinson, Ken Waller and Arnold’s best friend, best man and training partner Franco Columbu.
Arnold lost weight so he wouldn’t look bigger than his competitor in the film Ken Waller. After filming ended, Arnold went nuts, working hard to gain weight for the Mr. Olympia contest, which ended up being a lot of the footage that ends up in Pumping Iron. Arnold won, retired and then after getting back into shape for Conan the Barbarian ending up entering and winning the 1980 Mr. Olympia.
This is a goofy movie, but at least you can see a glimmer of who Arnold would become.
You can watch this on Tubi.