Although it's not quite a done deal, Governator Schwarzenegger should be signing a real shite-bomb of a budget this morning. Since I’ve given you blogs on the lamentation of my salary and my guide to Arnold-free action flicks, I figure it’s time to make my Arnold Budget Bash-O-Rama a true trilogy. They love trilogies in the sci-fi/fantasy/action genre. But not only is this the third installment of the series, it’s also a prequel! We’re going all the way back to 1977 for Arnold’s appearance in a later season episode of Streets of San Francisco where he plays a crazed Austrian bodybuilder with a major case of ‘roid rage. Somewhat disturbingly, it’s also Schwarzenegger’s most autobiographical work this side of Pumping Iron. We can call this trip down memory lane a reboot and blame it all on time traveling Romulans. Hey Romulans, can you reboot the California Constitution while you’re at it? Just a thought.
The kinetic and jazzy opening theme starts. We’re treated to a credit sequence that leans heavily on the zoom lens. The voiceover almost becomes the song’s lyrics: “The Streets of San Francisco/A Quinn Martin Production/ Starring Karl Malden.” For original Battlestar Galactica fans, this episode also stars Richard Hatch as Inspector Dan Robbins. Michael Douglas, Malden’s original co-star, had already left the series in order to produce One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975). The split must have been amicable because Steve Keller (Douglas’ character) didn’t die in an exploding helicopter or anything. Keller did leave the force to teach at something called the “Berkeley College.” I bet he’s getting furloughed right about now. Tonight’s episode is called “DEAD LIFT.” You’ve gotta’ love those Quinn Martin titles.
There’s a quirk to the construction of 70s crime dramas. They usually begin by following the antagonist as he/she/they commit a criminal act, with our main characters only joining the story once they are called in to investigate. If an episode of Streets or Starsky and Hutch begins by focusing on the show’s leads, it usually means that one of them is going to be taken hostage by the middle of act two. This episode follows the standard form however. Arnold as Josef Schmidt is jogging around the lake in Golden Gate Park. An out of breath but still aloof liberal chick catches up to him and persuades Arnie to go back to her off-campus apartment. Once at her pad, she gets him to take off his shirt, rub baby oil on his pecks and give her an impromptu pose-down. She giggles at Arnie uncontrollably while he’s flexing. “I am not a freak! I am not ugly! It’s what a body is supposed to look like!” he rages as he violently shakes that cultural elitist to death before hightailing it out of the apartment.
Stone (Malden) and Robbins arrive on the scene of the crime. The murdered woman’s doormat of a boyfriend is on hand to fill the investigators in on the details. She had just graduated from SF State which means she at least avoided CSU’s 20% tuition hike before our Governor squeezed the life out of her. The boyfriend also tells us that she “had this thing for sociology” which led her to bring home construction workers, firemen, and trash collectors to “see what they were thinking.” Stone and Robbins find a cassette tape that she had made of Arnold yelling “I am not a freak” before she died. They also find traces of baby oil.
The day starts out crappy and just keeps getting worse for Arnold. After committing accidental homicide, he shows up to his job lifting empty beer kegs at the Anchor Steam brewery to find out that he’s going to be fired because he works too hard. He’s putting too much pressure on those bearded and lazy union types by being too good. Something called “efficiency experts” are also to blame for this. “I’m here to work!” Arnie rages as he tosses around more empty beer kegs and cases of beer. It’s worth noting that this scene seems to have shaped Arnold’s political views as if this really happened to him. Since becoming governor, he’s launched several ballot initiatives to bust the unions. During Reagan’s second term as president, the early effects of Alzheimer’s disease led him to recount scenes from his movies as if they were real. If Arnold follows in the footsteps of the Gipper and starts to suffer from some kind of human growth hormone induced dementia later in his political career, this is the sequence that he will mistake for reality.
Stone and Robbins find a witness who saw Arnold and the victim leaving Golden Gate Park together. The wit also shows the inspectors that Arnold lumbers around like some kind of constipated robot. Stone asks the SFPD judo instructor about guys who walk around like constipated robots. The judoka tells him that he’s looking for someone with “over-developed lats.” Stone and Robbins then question a cigar chomping carnie at a pro wrestling gym. “Good lookin’ strong guys can make a fortune in the rasslin game,” he informs Stone. Stone then asks if any of his grapplers use baby oil. “Baby oil,” the wrestling promoter sneers, “You know you’re looking for a pretty boy. One of those Mr. America types. They rub the oil on, you know, to show off their meat.”
Arnold goes home to have a have a heart-to-heart with his alcoholic landlord who tells him that guzzling bourbon sure beats pumping iron. “Don’t you know that your body’s a temple?” Arnold asks the old codger in frustration. The landlord says that he’s “worshipping the spirits” and that the rent’s still due. Arnie is forced to earn some scratch as an artist’s model, posing in strange, tan-colored man panties. Another liberal woman (Diana Muldaur), this one older and more desperate takes him home to her apartment where she tells Arnold that he is an artist who “uses his own body as clay.” Arnold gets lucky this time.
Stone and Robbins’ investigation leads them to a claustrophobic body builder gym where grimy muscle heads with bad hair pump iron and are hustled by a skinny grifter in an old school jogging suit. The huckster running the gym (Bert Freed) is a Joe Weider type who is only slightly more trustworthy than the wrestling promoter. Still, he helps Stone and Robbins narrow down their leads and once they pull some military records, they’re hot on the trail of the Governator. They go to an old address of Arnie’s and question his previous drunken landlord. She tells them that she had to throw him out because of all the “clangin’ and bangin.’” Remember when San Francisco was filled with cranky, boozehound landlords instead of the yuppie property speculators the city is plagued by today? Ah, the good ol’ days.
Arnold’s new lady friend (man she moves fast) convinces him to sign up for the “Mr. San Francisco” contest that is conveniently being held later that afternoon in order to boost his confidence. If there’s one thing Arnold lacks, I guess, it’s confidence. She mistakenly brings some college-educated, wine drinking, Nancy Pelosi loving, Gavin Newsom hugging pals of hers to the tournament to meet her new man. One of the libs refers to Arnold as “ferocious, jungle-like.” He then chortles loudly as Arnie strikes a pose and quips, “I can see why you didn’t want me to have that fourth cocktail. You were afraid I would throw up.” Arnold catches wind of this but manages to take second place anyway.
Arnold makes it back to the lady friend’s pad before totally losing it. “What good is it being best at something if nobody understands what you’re best at?” he emotes before shattering a bunch of vases and punching holes in paintings. “It is progressive resistance! In progressive resistance you go from something light to something heavy like this!” he says as he busts up a coffee table. Some uniformed police officers arrive but the sight of public employees only sends Arnold into more of a rage. He easily bats one away and subdues the other.
Robbins and Stone show up on the scene with their guns drawn. There is mild disappointment that we don’t get to see Karl Malden go one-on-one with the Austrian Oak, but it isn’t to be. If it were an episode of Cannon, you know we’d be seeing William Conrad opening up a can of blubbery whup-ass all over Schwarzenegger. Instead, Stone/Malden gets a handle on the situation by asking: “How many times are you going to hurt people?”
“Until they stop laughing!” Arnold answers while clutching a middle aged cop in his vice-like grip. And there’s the problem. We laugh at Arnold’s accent, his muscles and his gap-toothed grin. We laugh at his movies when we’re supposed to as he delivers one liners in Kindergarten Cop (1990) and when we’re not as he’s badly dubbed in Hercules Goes Bananas (1970). We laugh at his commentary track on the Conan DVD (thanks Holzfeuer) and we laugh at Dead Lift. We just can’t stop laughing at Arnold. But until we do, he's going to keep on cutting with that big fucking knife of his and hurting the elderly, poor kids without medical care, students at all levels, cities, counties and everyone who works for them. And as Streets of San Francisco brings me insight into one of the most captivating figures of my lifetime, I realize that ArnoCorps, a punk metal band devoted to ruthlessly mocking Arnold at every turn has a new EP ready to drop. Arnold’s gonna’ slash and burn no matter how much Malden lays into him with a stern talking to.
In the San Francisco Bay Area, Streets of San Francisco airs weekdays at 11am on KOFY TV-20 (cable channel 13). They’ll show Dead Lift sooner or later. Watch for it.
Bob Calhoun AKA Count Dante was an untrained grappler and master of ceremonies for the punk rock/lucha promotion Incredibly Strange Wrestling. His memoir of those years, "Beer, Blood and Cornmeal: Seven Years of Incredibly Strange Wrestling" (ECW Press) is currently available through Amazon.com and bookstores everywhere. www.beerbloodandcornmeal.com