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Review: Arthur (when the moon and NYC met Dudley Moore)

Arthur DVD Cover Art
Arthur DVD Cover Art
Photos Courtesy of Yahoo Images

Arthur (1981)


In 2011, it will be thirty years since Arthur starring Dudley Moore graced the screen as the titular and irrepressable lout Arthur Bach to rave reviews and many award show nominations (including an Academy Award). Sadly the remake starring Russell Brand dimmed in comparison (but that's another article unto itself), but let's look at how the original holds up.

The story is fairly simple. Arthur (Moore) is his family's black sheep and heir apparent to a vast fortune, but there's a catch. Arthur will only inherit the money in full if he marries the business savy and upper class elitist Susan (Jill Eickenberry), whom his father (Thomas Barbour) believes will force his son to grow up for once. Arthur rebels against the idea, but eventually agrees upon realizing he is trained to do nothing. This is of course when he meets the delightful and horribly poor Linda (Liza Minelli), whom Arthur takes a distinct fancy towards. The only person he can really share his feelings with is his valet, Hobson (Academy Award winner John Gielgud). The remainder of the film escalates, cutting between wedding preparations and the growing relationship between Arthur and Linda that comes to a head in a hysterical and poignant fashion on the big day.

This is required viewing for any fan of Moore, Minelli, and New York. Moore manages to convey just how bumbling and mean-spirited alcohol has made Arthur without losing his charms. There is a reason other than money that makes Linda and the audience fall in love with him. It's also by far his most nimble performance as a physical comedian. Minelli manages to rise above the trappings of the ditzy love interest stereotype (and lets face it, the stereotype of who she is according to the media) to develop a character with heart, a sense of humor, and an actual point of view. She is generally the straight woman next to the over-the-top Moore, but manages to eek out more than a few zingers. There is a reason Gielgud won his Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role as Hobson; he is the rock of the movie. Somehow Gielgud manages to balance the humor with the more dramatic tone that dominates a section of the film without making the audience feel like they are watching two completely different movies at once. This is a hard task for any performer, but he really is a force in pulling it off to make Arthur work.

So how does it hold up thirty years later? There are some jokes that are very much lost in translation from the early eighties. Yet, the overall story arc and timeless themes of love, societal clashes, and family honor are still present, and make the movie palatable. Plus, this is a lesson for comedy fans of how to write strong bits, sight gags, and physical humor. It doesn't matter how old you are, you are still going to laugh while enjoying the story. In a world where socialites have become media darlings for their debauchery, it may be hard for younger audiences to accept just how horrified the Bach family is over their son and the strictures they try to place on him. Some may roll their eyes at how cheesy the soundtrack now plays. Yet, the film's theme song, the tactfully titled "Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do)" still holds up as a decent pop tune. The song sung by Chistopher Cross, and co-written by Minelli's first husband Peter Allen (although they were divorced well before the movie's release), asks us to wonder what the best thing to do in New York City is. Of course its to fall in love. It's wistful and charming, and had many cover versions (notably there is one from Hugh Jackman, who played Allen in the autobiographical musical The Boy From Oz, which briefly touches on making this movie).

Finally a seriously appealing factor to revisiting this comedy classic is seeing how New York was captured by writer-director Steve Gordon. Many landmarks of the city are featured, its a movie that actually was shot in New York (and not Vancouver or somewhere else in Canada pretending to be New York), go figure. In particular it is the final scenes in Central Park that may have a lasting mark on your mind. This park has been shot from many angles and perspectives, but there is something celebratory when it is shown in all its glory in a wide pan shot. In a film about seemingly impossible love we are left with the image of this giant lush park waiting to be discovered, which is lost amongst the skyscrapers that define the New York skyline. It's a really cool idea if you think about it a minute and I hope you do.

Arthur captures the 80s, both in terms of style and culture on many levels. It is recommended for fans of comedy, romance, and New York. An excellent pick for those interested in looking at expanding their horizons past just what is currently in the movie theatre.