Every year the two main bodybuilding contests are held: the Mr Universe, which is open to amateurs, and the Mr Olympia, in which the professionals compete. Austrian-born American Arnold Schwarzenegger has won both many times, and plans to succeed in the Mr Olympia 1975 one last time before his retirement, but the competition is tough this year, with his main rival being the American Lou Ferrigno, a promising young newcomer with a small number of wins under his belt. Can Schwarzenegger retire as a champion, or will he have to accept defeat gracefully?
No he will not, as this documentary demonstrates. Before this film was released, bodybuilding was a niche of the more eccentric line of sporting acheivement, if you can call it a sport. But after its release, bodybuilding became a minor craze, and there was barely an action movie in the eighties that didn't feature a muslebound leading man who would frequently take off his shirt for us to admire his physique. Yet the king of these actors wasn't Sylvester Stallone or Dolph Lundgren, much as they'd hate to admit it perhaps, he was Arnold Schwarzenegger, and it's here you see him show off not only his body, but his undeniable charisma as well.
Apparently sincerely, the film makers follow a small selection of competitors around as they prepare for the Mr Olympia championship in Pretoria, South Africa (there's no mention of apartheid, so this is a resolutely non-political film). The first time we get a look at Schwarzenegger is in the introduction, where he is honing his posing down to a fine art by practicing ballet moves, as if to say, yes, these men are artists, see the care and attention they put into their craft; Arnold's later comments about sculpture underline this. There's a diversion with bodybuilder Mike Katz, who enters Mr Universe and loses, which attempts psychology to explain the motivation (Katz was bullied at school) but it's the Olympia contest that the main emphasis is on.
The towering Ferrigno, we learn, has been trained by his father for some time, and the effort has paid off. Being deaf hasn't held Lou back, actually it seems to have made him more determined to succeed, but there's something missing in his makeup, in fact in the personality of most of the competitors, which is, well, personality. This is where Schwarzenegger comes in, and his star quality is apparent for everyone to see (he's announced onstage as "the one and only", so he's obviously a favourite) . And that's not all that's apparent for all to see after watching the interviews he gives, the man not only has an ego to match his size, but a ruthless streak that ensures he is a winner, too.
First we learn from Arnold that lifting weights is an almost sexual experience for him, and makes him feel like he's coming "day and night", making certain to mention that the more conventional coming he does is with women. The strong overtones of homosexuality that fetishising the male form can lend are downplayed, with photo shoots of Schwarzenegger with bikini-clad young ladies (poor Ferrigno gets to pose with a leopard). The training seqences prove the work that these men put in, but make for unexciting viewing, far more entertaining is seeing Arnold wage psychological warfare on the other contestants, and boast about it in addition. "What did you say Louis?" he asks Ferrigno as his grunting rival works out, but his insults are always tempered with a broad grin. It's no great shock who wins, as Schwarzenegger is launched to superstardom. Music by Michael Small.