Stay Hungry (1976) - Plot Summary Poster



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  • So-called 'special agent' infiltrates into the gym, which is targeted by a dirty business fraud.

  • A syndicate wants to buy a whole district to rebuild it. They've bought every house except the small gym "Olympic", where Mr. Austria Joe Santo prepares for the Mr. Universum championships a month ahead. The rich sunny-boy Craig Blake is brought in by the syndicate as a dummy to buy the gym. But then he starts to like the people and falls in love with Joe's friend Mary Tate.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • Craig Blake (Jeff Bridges) is a young Southern man born of a wealthy family in Birmingham, Alabama, but left lonely and idle after his parents died in a plane crash. He is content to spend his time fishing, hunting and puttering around his large family mansion, inhabited only by himself and an elderly butler named William (Scatman Crothers). Craig's "job" is a sinecure working at a shady investment firm run by a slick con artist named Jabo (Joe Spinell) and he does very little actual work. But since Craig has to have his name "on paper" somehow as an employee, he is asked by Jabo to personally transact the purchasing of a small gym that the real estate firm is buying in order to clear space for an office high-rise.

    Craig initially approaches the gym, called Olympic Spa, representing himself as a businessman looking to buy it, and acts relatively impersonal with its staff, one of whom includes trainer Franklin (Robert Englund), although he is strangely fascinated with the world he discovers there (reflecting the expansion of physical exercise to the mainstream which occurred in the 1970s). But Craig's primary social life is centered around the upscale country club he attends.

    Later, the audience is introduced to the ritzy country club crowd, including the WASP-y Lester (Ed Begley, Jr.) and the roguish rake Halsey (John David Carson). Craig Blake spends his time at this club with his friends playing tennis and shooting poker dice, and flirting with the upper-class women of all ages - one of whom asks Craig to find an "authentic" musical guest for an upcoming party at the club.

    As Craig moves forward with his business deal, he falls in love with the gym after visiting it several times - he is immediately taken by the pretty receptionist Mary Tate Farnsworth (Sally Field) and the free-spirited, friendly Austrian bodybuilder Joe Santo (Arnold Schwarzenegger), who aspires to win the Mr. Universe title. He cannot bring himself to sell out his newfound friends at the gym for the sake of his job, and so he evades the inquiries of his friend and co-worker Hal Foss as to his progress in the purchasing deal. All the while, he grows closer to Mary Tate and Joe Santo - who initially appear to be a couple. However, Mary Tate latches onto Craig romantically - and Santo gives Craig his blessing for this unorthodox relationship, claiming that he needs to keep himself challenged both in the gym and in his romantic life in order to succeed.

    Mary Tate and Craig begin a passionate and exciting relationship. But trouble erupts when he tries to integrate Mary Tate into his country-club scene. This tension comes to a head at a party at the country club, which features Joe Santo as a musical guest, performing bluegrass songs on the violin with a small country group. Craig, with Mary Tate as his guest (dressed inappropriately in a garish and revealing pink dress), is enthusiastic about Joe Santo's upcoming musical performance for the night. But Craig's friends, particularly Halsey, mock Santo as a "freak" and an outcast. When Halsey suggest that Santo disrobe and show the crowd his "tits," Craig throws a glass of Scotch in his face and tells Halsey that Santo could "crush him like an eggshell." A fight nearly breaks out between the two, but is broken up. Meanwhile a bitter Halsey and his friend Packman formulate a plan to embarrass Santo.

    When Santo's musical act is finally put on stage, the crowd seems enthusiastic about the music, though the hostess of the party dismisses it as a "racket." However, Halsey and Packman drunkenly bellow at Santo and heckle the band. Santo notices it, but stoically continues playing. However, when Halsey screams "let's hear it for Muscle Beach symphony orchestra!" Santo is unable to continue playing, puts down his violin and leaves the party. Meanwhile a frustrated Craig tries to convince Mary Tate to see him for who he really is, and not for his snobbish friends and ritzy surroundings.

    The Mr. Universe contest is approaching fast and Santo is training hard. But Jabo attempts to bribe the owner of the gym, Thor Eriksen (R.G. Armstrong), when he realizes that Craig will not purchase the building as he was supposed to. He plies Eriksen and his assistant Newton with drugs, booze and hookers, and on the day of the contest, they are busy with acts of debauchery as Santo is readying to take the stage - hoping to beat his rival Dougie Stewart (played by fellow bodybuilder Ken Waller in a memorable cameo). While Thor is drunk and distracted with the prostitutes, Newton secretly stashes the prize money inside his handbag, and then leaves the gym with the prostitutes when they are finished - stealing the money and fleeing. Meanwhile, Joe Santo and Dougie Stewart pose together on stage, to the theme song from the film 'Exodus' and the enthusiastic applause of the crowd.

    Meanwhile, Craig visits at the gym and engages in an intense physical fight, dodging weights and gym equipment thrown by the drunken and drug-crazed Eriksen. He finds Mary Tate at the gym, who had just moments earlier been assaulted by Eriksen in an amyl nitrite fueled rage.

    When the contestants at the Mr. Universe show discover that the prize money has been stolen, they run after Joe Santo, who himself is actually running to try to meet Mary Tate. The chase results in the wave of bodybuilders pouring out into the streets of Birmingham, to the amazed crowd of onlookers which sees them. The bodybuilders take advantage of this unexpected attention to put on an impromptu posing routine for the crowd, and the members of the crowd join in, imitating the athletes' poses and enjoying themselves - an embracing of the bodybuilding lifestyle by 'normal' people which arguably represents the real-life 1970s boom of personal fitness.

    The film ends with Craig sarcastically deriding Jabo and his former bosses at the real-estate firm, and deciding to go into the gym business with Joe Santo. A voice-over by his uncle Albert says, "you may not have been the Blake that we anticipated, but you are definitely Craig Blake - an identity that no one will dare challenge." Craig has finally "found himself" and discovered a true place in the sun, and true friendships, and he mocks his former boss Jabo with an exaggerated bodybuilding pose - acting as a final burning of the bridge between his old life and his new one. The final shot of the film shows Craig moving out of his family's mansion, passing on all of his old family memorabilia to his loyal butler William, and leaving behind his old self once and for all... on the way to a new and exciting future.

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