From the opening strains of its title song to the first taste of Dudley Moore's infectious drunken laughter, you know that the original 1981 "Arthur" is going to be something special. Subsequently, the abysmal music and the obnoxious character of the scene opening 1988's "Arthur 2: On the Rocks" immediately signal doom for the unfortunate sequel. Both are available at home on Roanoke Cox Cable's Encore On DEMAND and you should definitely revisit the first.
Thirty-three years later, writer-director Steve Gordon's rich-boy-meets-poor-girl romantic-comedy remains a timelessly delightful perfection. Moore's signature and equally perfect performance as the perpetually tipsy and joyfully immature millionaire playboy, Arthur Bach, gives us Hollywood's all-time greatest screen drunk. His laughter is inimitable. His exuberance in his childish pranks, jokes and observations is ever charming and very funny. He wishes he could be exactly who he is and correctly assumes that the rest of us do as well. And beneath it all, he has real heart, particularly in his relationship with his valet and father figure Hobson (John Gielgud).
The tough love they share is as touching as it is hilarious. Gielgud is the ultimate decorous and humorless yet iconically funny servant, dryly delivering caustic quips and chastising smacks on Arthur's head with his hat. Arthur constantly frustrates him but knows his companionship is indispensable.
He also knows an arranged marriage to the syrupy Susan Johnson (Jill Eikenberry) is all wrong for him. He much prefers the bowling alley charm of compulsive shoplifter Linda Marolla (Liza Minelli) and risks losing his fortune to be with her. Minelli matches Moore's brash exuberance and tempers it with working class toughness. Together, this seemingly mismatched pair make a classic screen couple.
The sequel fails to recapture the original's charm or humor in a grim tale that finds them impoverished. Still trying to force a union with Susan (now played by Cynthia Sikes), the nasty Burt Johnson (Stephen Elliott) shrewdly swindles Arthur out of his fortune and squelches all of his job prospects. There's a nice bit at the end with Arthur and his new servant (Paul Benedict), but it's way too little way too late.