Saturday 16 July 2011

Movie Review: Arthur (1981)

A perpetually drunk ultra rich playboy who never grew up has to decide, through the fog of alcohol, whether to follow love or money. Arthur is funny and poignant, with memorable performances by Dudley Moore and John Gielgud, and it makes no apologies for a central message promoting drunken oblivion as an alternative that is just a bit better than stuffy conformity.

New York-based playboy Arthur Bach (Moore) has all the money in the world, but his only friend is his butler Hobson (Gielgud). Arthur squanders his time on continuous drinking and picking up prostitutes, as he escapes from the inevitable demands of his family: his father and grandmother insist that he marry the sweet, rich but uninteresting Susan (Jill Eikenberry), otherwise they will cut him off from his fortune.

While shopping for clothes at a ritzy store, Arthur notices a shoplifter: Linda Marolla (Liza Minnelli) is a poor waitress who lives with her Dad, and Arthur is immediately attracted to her, saving her from being prosecuted. Arthur's marriage plans to Susan are proceeding as he is falling in love with Linda, while Hobson is serving his master while battling an increasingly serious illness. Choosing Linda over Susan means that Arthur will alienate his family and be forever poor, but with alcohol fuelling his decision making, everything will surely work out.

Dudley Moore had a few good years of stardom in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and Arthur was his defining role, and certainly his most celebrated. He goes though most of the movie acting intoxicated, speech slurred, walk askew, laughing hysterically and spewing jokes that are funny only to him. Arthur is an endearing character in a way that a helpless, lost pet evokes sympathy, and it is to Moore's credit that both Susan and Linda's attraction to Arthur is believable.

John Gielgud, at 77 years old, won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Hobson, the butler who is quite certain that he in fact runs the life of his master. As stiff and proper as Arthur is lubricated, the prickly friendship between Arthur and Hobson is at the core of the film. That Hobson is the only person in the world that Arthur can communicate with summarizes Arthur's sad state, and as illness takes Hobson away, it is only natural that Arthur is attracted to the down-to-earth Linda (a waitress) to fill the vacuum.

Liza Minnelli as Linda gets somewhat lost in the acting shuffle, unable to move too far away from just being a slightly subdued Liza Minnelli.

Arthur contributed a terrific song to the cultural landscape, Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do) by Christopher Cross easily entering the hall of classic movie contributions to music, with it's catch line "when you get caught between the Moon and New York City" perfectly capturing Arthur's dilemma.

Arthur may not be a practically helpful guide for how to go about achieving success in life, but if being in the company of a drunk is necessary, he may as well be lovable.


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