Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Arthur (1981)

I've never understood why Dudley Moore was such a famous actor.  I get it, I get it, he was in 10, which I still haven't seen.  Aside from that, though, his filmography looks pretty weak.  The two that I immediately recognized (Like Father Like Son and Blame It On the Bellboy) were vehicles for television stars who never deserved a movie career.  The Russell Brand remake of Arthur reminded me of my puzzlement with Moore, so I decided to check this film out.  Fun fact: this comedy was nominated for four Oscars and won two!  That doesn't happen any more.

Arthur is the story of a fabulously rich man-child whose height and irreverence definitely emphasize the "child."
That's not perspective at work; Dudley Moore is tiny
Arthur (Dudley Moore) is the spoiled rotten son of a very rich man; when his daddy dies, Arthur will inherit $750 million.  In the meantime, Arthur is content to be a happy drunk from the time of his morning bath (complete with bubbles and a martini) until his driver takes him home after a day of cruising Central Park. 
He's had more to drink by 9AM than most men have all day
The fun won't last forever, though; the only way Arthur will inherit his millions is if he agrees to an arranged marriage with the stuffy Susan (Jill Eikenberry).  The family assumes Arthur will clean up, sober up and start acting like an adult (Moore was 46 when this was released) once he is forced to be married to a boring upper-crust dame.  In other words, Arthur was going to hate his life, for the sake of being rich.  There is just one small hitch in his family's plan --- he met someone he actually cares about.  While carelessly throwing his money around in a department store, Arthur happened to notice Linda (Liza Minnelli).
Hint: she's the horse wearing a hat
Linda was busy being an obvious shoplifter while wearing a red cowboy hat and bright yellow jacket; she was stealing while dressed as the bastard child of a cab and a fire truck.  Not surprisingly, someone at the store realized what she was up to and confronted her.  That's when Arthur stepped in and gallantly pretended that she was helping him shop.  From here, for reasons I can't explain, the two fall in love.  But is that enough to sway Arthur from the only life he has ever known and the obscene riches it provides?
You'd cry if you fell for Liza Minnelli, too

If absolutely nothing else, I can say that Arthur has finally helped me understand why anyone ever cared about Dudley Moore.  While I found his drunken cackle to be ridiculously over the top, Moore handled the role of this perpetual drunken child pretty well.  He was likable, rarely annoying, and occasionally very funny; while I did like his recommendation for a total stranger to divorce his wife, his best line was given to a hooker who had just explained that her mother died when she was six and she was raped at age twelve --- he asked "So you had six good years then?"  Liza Minnelli wasn't too bad as Arthur's love interest, but her looks genuinely make me uncomfortable.  She reminds me of some weird Doctor Moreau-type genetic experiment that blends human with a rat that has a comical fashion sense.  John Gielgud was pretty excellent as the uptight (but loving) father figure to Arthur, and his snide remarks provide most of the film's humor.
Jill Eikenberry and the rest of the cast were inoffensive, but fairly dull.

The best and the worst thing about Arthur was Arthur himself.  While Moore was pretty charming, his stupid drunk laugh grated on my nerves after a while.  And his character had so many missed opportunities; for being such a childish man, he didn't seem to own anything terribly ridiculous or extravagant, or just plain goofy.  All this movie really needed to put it over the top were the props Moore used in Foul Play (like the faux-tiger fur piano/wet bar).  Put them (or anything silly, really) in Arthur's bedroom and you have some inexpensive chuckles that don't add any running time to the movie.  Basically, for all the fun Arthur was having, very little of it was shown in his material belongings, which I thought was a big miss.

Arthur was writer/director Steve Gordon's only feature film; he died in 1982.  He did a pretty good job here and showed promise as a director.  It can be difficult to balance the humor of a comedy with character development, but I thought Gordon did a solid job with Arthur's character.  I would have liked Gordon to imagine Arthur's life as a little more impulsive --- if there was ever a movie that could have benefited from some Wes Anderson-style development/art direction, it's this one --- but the important thing is that Arthur was likable.  Gordon avoids the typical comedy problem of uneven pacing by never going fully slapstick.  That's a double-edged sword, though; Arthur is decently entertaining, but there is no succession of truly funny moments in the film.
Yes, yes, yes.  You're drunk.  I get it.

While I didn't exactly love Arthur, I will admit that it was entertaining.  While watching, I was underwhelmed by the lack of big jokes.  In retrospect, I am disappointed by how boring Arthur is as a character.  Still, this is a film that manages to overcome co-starring Liza Minnelli and put a unique stamp on the movie drunk and the snide butler characters.  It's worth a watch.

No comments:

Post a Comment