Thursday, February 17, 2011

Arnold Schwarzenegger Career Retrospective Part I

How have I not done this yet?

I've already done a retrospective on the greatest action film star of all time, so it's about time I got around to doing one for the second greatest. And if you have any doubts about those rankings, rest assured that I already settled that argument definitively.

Anyway, Schwarzenegger is definitely one of my all time favorite film stars, so here is my rundown of the man's entire career. Well, his film career, anyway. Whatever he did in politics is for some other blogger to chronicle.

Hercules in New York (1969)
This isn't a very good film, but I don't blame Arnold for starring in it. You wouldn't have turned it down either.

The premise is that... I don't really remember, but it had something to do with Arnold playing Herclues, who was transported to present day New York. Like I said, it's not a very good movie, but it's worth watching for a few laughs, especially for the unlikely pairing of Schwarzenegger and the nebbishy character actor Arnold Stang.

This was the former bodybuilder's first feature film, but he went on to bigger and better things to be sure. I'm sure he has no regrets. I bet he got laid a lot on the set and did tons of drugs.

After this one he did some TV appearances and bit parts in movies that nobody remembers, so we'll skip ahead about ten years or so...

Stay Hungry (1976)
I've actually never seen this one, but I remember seeing a commercial for it when it aired on HBO (or Showtime, or wherever) when I was a kid. Jeff Bridges and Sally Field co-star, so maybe it's worth watching. But I doubt it.

Pumping Iron (1977)
This movie is an absolute masterpiece. It's a documentary on the Mr Olympia competition centering around the reigning champion Arnold Schwarzenegger and the up and coming challenger Lou Ferrigno. This movie is fascinating for the look into the world of professional bodybuilding, but it is incredibly entertaining for Schwarzenegger, who is a total douche bag, but he's so damn charming and likable at the same time. This is the movie that really made Arnold a star and sold his persona to the world, which is interesting because he appeared as himself.

Poor Lou Ferrigno is the butt of most of Arnold's jokes and pranks, but he went on to win multiple Mr Olympia titles and became a famous actor in his own right as well.

Anyway, if you've never seen this movie, go watch it today because it's brilliant.

The Villain (1979)
I have no idea what this is, but I need to see it.

It's also called Cactus Jack, and has Arnold acting opposite an absolutely amazing cast, including Kirk Douglas, Ann Margaret, Paul Lynde, Foster Brooks, Ruth Buzzi, Jack Elam, and Mel Tillis. It's directed by Hal Needham, who also did Smokey and the Bandit and Cannonball. How have I never even heard of this? I just added it to my Netflix queue, so I will update this entry when I know more.

Conan the Barbarian (1982)
For all intents and purposes, this is Arnold Schwarzenegger's first real movie. It's certainly his first great movie, anyway. This is one of those movies that was made by serendipity as much as anything else, since the studio owned the rights to the Conan character at the same time that somebody decided Arnold needed to be a movie star. Long story short, history was made.

A great movie was also made, of course. This is one of Arnold's best, and one of my all time favorites. I've probably seen this movie about fifty times over the course of my life, and I imagine I'll watch it a few hundred more before I shuffle off this mortal coil. Life is simply too short not to spend most of it watching Conan the Barbarian. It's just a great movie featuring a star making performance by the future movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger.

It's also a great adaptation of Robert E. Howard's Conan stories... for the most part. They changed a lot and took a lot of liberties with the characters (not the least of which being taking the very intelligent, well spoken character from the novels and stories and replacing him with the mostly silent, unintelligible Arnold Schwarzenegger), but the tone feels right, and the visuals of the main character and the world in which he lives are pretty spot on.

Great movie. Go watch it.

Conan the Destroyer (1984)
I'm not going to lie to you and say that this is a good film. In fact, it's a terrible, terrible film. However... it's also awesome. I'm not ashamed to admit that I love Conan the Destroyer. By any real, substantial measure, Barbarian is a vastly superior film, but Destroyer is probably the one I rewatch even more often, if only because it's just so much fun. The first Conan film is actually a thoughtful, intelligent, coming of age story set against a mythical landscape, while this one is just an all out epic action movie with giant monsters, evil sorceresses, and lots of campy, over the top humor. It's awesome.

Sure, the Barbarian had Max Von Sydow and James Earl Jones in the cast while this one had Grace Jones and NBC star Wilt Chamberlain, but it also had that awesome scene where Conan fought that lizard-faced monster in that room full of mirrors. As a kid I always thought that was the coolest fight scene ever, and as an adult I still do. Also, while the score Basil Poledouris wrote for Barbarian was amazing, his score for Destroyer was even better, and remains my favorite film score of all time. Seriously, listen to this and tell me it isn't completely bad ass:

The Terminator (1984)
And then we have a little movie called The Terminator. Perhaps you've heard of it?

This is, as we all know, an all time classic of the action/sci-fi genre. It's a great movie and Arnold's performance as the titular villain is iconic. This is where he first said "I'll be back," which went on to become his signature catch phrase, although I always found his "fuck you, asshole" line to be way more quotable. This was also the first time Arnold teamed-up with long-time collaborator James Cameron. Perhaps you've heard of him too?

Anyway, great film that's only real flaw is that it was overshadowed by having such an epic sequel, but we'll talk about that later.

Red Sonja (1985)
I haven't seen this one. I was a big Conan film when it came out, but I remember thinking it looked dumb, and this is coming from the guy who just admitted that he loved the profoundly dumb Conan the Destroyer. I think this film flopped at the box office because most people were like me: Why would I go see a Conan movie where Conan just has little more than a cameo while the star is some chick? And it's not even like it's a cool chick like Lucy Lawless. It was Brigitte Nielsen, who nobody ever liked.

I think Arnold himself said it best in this quote I found on the IMDB:

Arnold Schwarzenegger himself eschews this movie as one of his worst, yet he (laughingly) claims that it's an excellent disciplinary tool for his children: "I tell them, if they get on my bad side, they'll be forced to watch 'Red Sonja' ten times in a row. Consequently, none of my kids has ever given me much trouble."

Commando (1985)
Oh man. All time action classic.

Arnold's daughter gets kidnapped by some guy who looks like Freddy Mercury, so Arnold has to kill everybody to get her back. There's a little more to it than that, but not much. This was the first movie where Arnold was really allowed to talk. In Hercules his dialogue was dubbed over, while in both Conans and the the first Terminator he was mostly silent throughout. This movie established Arnold as the king of the one liners, always saying something funny after killing each of the villains henchmen.

Awesome movie. Go watch it if you haven't already, since it's just as much fun now as it was when it first came out. This was also the second time Arnold said "I'll be back." I'll try to keep a running total.

Raw Deal (1986)
You probably forgot about this one, right? I can't blame you, since it's not one of Arnold's best. It's a perfectly fine film that features Arnold in his prime, killing lots of people and delivering tons of jokes, but after the masterpiece that was Commando, it just doesn't hold up. It's worth watching if you're an Arnold completest, but it isn't one of his classics, so feel free to skip it. He doesn't even say "I'll be back." He actually says, "I'll be right back," so this movie didn't even get that right.

Predator (1987)
Another action/sci-fi classic. Great story, great cast (Jesse the Body, Carl Weathers, Bill Duke, etc), awesome action, iconic villain add up to one of Arnold's all time best.

They went on to turn this into a franchise, but all of the later movies sucked. The Predator is a very cool villain with a great visual design and neat powers, but the first Predator movie rocked because of Arnold. Why they thought they could make a series of movies without Dutch is beyond me, but lord knows they keep on trying. I did enjoy the latest Predators movie, but it was still just a pale imitation of the original. For my money, there's only one Predator movie, and it's the one starring my boy Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The Running Man (1987)
Based on the novella by Stephen King, The Running Man predicted the reality show phenomenon by about decade or so. The novella and film are very, very different, but they both tell a story about a reality TV game show where the contestants fight to stay alive. The book was gritty and raw and thrilling, but the movie was just straight up fun and awesome. It's a typical 80s Arnold film, full of great deaths, awesome characters, and hilarious one-liners. This is one of his best.

The host of The Running Man game show was played by Richard Dawson, who most people knew as the host of Family Feud. Dawson's performance was so good and so much fun he nearly stole the movie from Arnold. The chemistry between these two was probably the best dynamic between hero and villain in any of Arnold's films. We also have another appearance by Jesse the Body, who is always fun, especially opposite Arnold. "I'll be back," makes a return appearance as well. Richard Dawson's character replies with, "only in a rerun," which probably stands out as the best retort to Arnold's most famous line.

Red Heat (1988)

I'm going to go ahead and call this Arnold's first bad film since his spectacular run that started with the first Conan in 1982. Raw Deal wasn't all that great, but it wasn't nearly as boring and forgettable as this one. It's a buddy cop film featuring Arnold opposite Jim Belushi. Sounds good on paper (I mean, for the 80s, which was the decade of the buddy cop film), but it just didn't work because, frankly, Arnold needs no buddy. Arnold is a movie star that outshines anybody that stands next to him, so having somebody like Belushi around is just a distraction.

Skip it.

Twins (1988)
Arnold is the king of one-liners, so it seemed like a pretty good idea to put him in a comedy. So I can't blame the studio for putting this film together, and I certainly can't blame Arnold for agreeing to star. This attempt at starring in a comedy film was certainly more successful and funny than Stallone's attempts, but this still doesn't rank as one of Arnold's best or most memorable.

It is kind of funny, however, and maybe even worth watching for the chemistry between Arnold and co-star (and twin brother!) Danny DeVito. The two leads are the kind of actors who are effortlessly charming and always fun to watch no matter what, even if their scripts aren't all that great. This script isn't all that great. But it's ok.

And he does say "I'll be back."

That film closes out the 80s, and it seems as good a place as any to take a break. Come back next time for part II of my career retrospective on Arnold Schwarzenegger, where I'll take an in depth look at the films he made during the 90s and beyond.


madamsvito said...

Arnold movies kept my father and I in hysterics while I was growing up. Tim Lambesis from As I Lay Dying has a side project called Austrian Death Machine that has an Ahhnold impersonator singing trash metal songs using only movie quotes from EVERY Ahhnold movie. It's really quite amazing. Check it out. I have both albums... They're a must for any true Schwarzenegger fan.

madamsvito said...

Oh and Pumping Iron is one of my ALL TIME favorite films. It's in the top ten for sure. I've been trying to get Anna to watch it but it's a documentary. She's TOO GOOD for documentaries.

Justin Garrett Blum said...

You know, thinking back on it, I probably rewatched more Arnold films in the 80s than films by any other actor. Predator, Commando, The Running Man, even Twins. I've seen all of these movies about a million times.