August 15, 2021
Arthur (1981)
Grade: 37/100

Director: Steve Gordon
Stars: Dudley Moore, Liza Minnelli, John Gielgud

What it's about. Set in New York City. Arthur (Dudley Moore) is a forty-something man whose preposterously wealthy mother (Geraldine Fitzgerald) grants him an overly generous allowance. But his drunken, spendthrift, and exhibitionist behavior compels her to cut Arthur off, unless she marries friend-of-the-family Susan (Jill Eikenberry).

But Arthur finds Susan tiresome, and he is afraid of her large and threatening father (Stephen Elliott). He would much rather marry his new find, Linda (Liza Minnelli), a waitress from Queens, and someone his mother wouldn't approve of.

Anyone who has seen a movie before knows that Arthur will eventually dump Susan in favor of Linda. To make the break up more dramatic, it happens in the church minutes before the wedding ceremony would take place. Thus, the break up becomes performance art, complete with a scene of Susan's father beating him up. One can hardly blame him.

Also in this movie are Arthur's two best friends: his butler Hobson (John Gielgud) and chauffeur Bitterman (Ted Ross). They are a study in contrasts: Hobson is white, British, sneering, and old, while Bitterman is black, American, polite, and young. Hobson gets the better lines and therefore sees more screen time.

If writer-director Steve Gordon is obscure to you, it is because Arthur was the only feature film he directed. He died of a heart attack the year after it was released, at the age of 44. He wrote just one other feature, The One and Only (1978), where Henry Winkler improbably becomes a professional wrestler.

How others will see it. Arthur made a mint at the box office and was well received by critics, as well. It was nominated for four Oscars, including Best Actor (Moore) and Best Writing (Steve Gordon). It won Best Song for Burt Bacharach's lame "Arthur's Theme" and gave Gielgud his sole Oscar trophy as Best Supporting Actor.

Today, the movie has a reasonable 27K user votes and an okay-plus user rating of 6.9 out of 10. Most viewers laugh it up with Moore and Gielgud, though there is the expected undercurrent from those who don't find drunks funny, no matter how much cash they are tossing around.

How I felt about it. Arthur asks the question, are drunks funny?, and attempts to answer in the affirmative. At least, if you are a billionaire and remain in good health despite your many vices.

We can't say that no drunks are funny, ever. After all, W.C. Fields was likely drunk on a great many occasions, and was probably funny when he was drunk. But we are not discussing W.C. Fields. We are discussing Dudley Moore, at the time best known (at least in the U.S.) for pursuing a gorgeous woman half his age in 10. That film asked the question, is a middle-aged life crisis funny?

The answer, unfortunately, is that drunks and aging playboys are generally not funny, and specifically not funny if they are named Dudley Moore. It is true that he plays a mean piano. And, he has reasonably good writers. But he laughs at all of his jokes, he's irresponsible, his butler is rude, and he's made more bad movies than Gene Autry. Okay, the last talking point isn't true.

Suppose you were worth a billion dollars. Would you date Liza Minnelli, or a 20-year-old from a model agency. Suppose you were out to shoplift a tie for your father's birthday. Would you wear the most ostentatious outfit in your closet, so that you stand out to the store detective?

The moral of Arthur tries to be that love matters, instead of money. But an unemployed and impoverished drunk isn't as romantic or fun as a jolly drunk with money to burn. So, that's where the film goes.

What character is the most believable here? I would venture it's Susan, who will do anything and put up with anything to marry the uber-wealthy Arthur before he drinks himself to death. She knows what she wants, and it isn't Arthur. It's Arthur's money. But she is desperate, and desperation repels Arthur. She should have laughed at his jokes instead of working Arthur's mother.