Arthur (1981)
Arthur (1981)

Genre: Romantic Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 37 min.

Release Date: July 17th, 1981 MPAA Rating: PG

Director: Steve Gordon Actors: Dudley Moore, Liza Minnelli, John Gielgud, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Jill Eikenberry, Stephen Elliott, Ted Ross, Barney Martin, Anne De Salvo

 


 

“W

ould the more attractive of you please step forward,” drunkenly slurs Arthur Bach (Dudley Moore) as he propositions two prostitutes on a New York curb. His chauffeur, Bitterman (Ted Ross), is somewhat reluctant, but soon Arthur and his date are dropped off at The Plaza – a ritzy hotel at which Arthur can’t even enter without falling down inebriated. “Grow up, Arthur,” suggests his uncle, whom they meet at the restaurant, causing a bit of a scene as Arthur’s companion is very clearly a hooker. But Bach’s extreme wealth affords him a great many liberties with the elites and the establishment that he embarrasses.

“I wish I had a dime for every dime I have.” The following morning, after waking up late, saying goodbye to his companion, and then reclining on a throne in his massive apartment – where a noisy train set buzzes around a lengthy track – Arthur announcing to his elderly butler Hobson (John Gielgud) that he’ll have a bath. Of course, the spoiled millionaire also requires a tray of martinis, as he’s supposed to see his father later in the day, and he wouldn’t dare converse with him sober.

Their talk involves the Bach family insisting that Arthur marry the respectable Susan Johnson (Jill Eikenberry), or else he’ll be cut off from the money – something that would greatly interfere with his hobbies of racing cars, playing tennis, and fondling women. Although Arthur initially plays hardball, the thought of losing access to $750 million is enough to make him reconsider, giving in to a marriage scheduled one month out. Disgruntled and vengeful, Arthur visits Bergdorf Goodman to spend an excessive amount of money on shirts and sweaters that he’ll never wear – to be pettily charged to his father’s account, as if it would make some sort of a dent. While there, he spies a woman – Linda Marolla (Liza Minnelli) – stealing a tie, and decides to intervene to hilarious effect.

Excellently cast and perfectly scripted, Minnelli quickly steals her scenes, exchanging witty remarks with an impromptu feel, keeping up with Gielgud and Moore alike, whose lines are simply sublime (Gielgud has never been better than here as a loving yet acerbic guardian). Arthur may be a childish, impetuous brat, incapable of embracing responsibilities or thinking of anyone but himself, but he’s still sympathetic thanks to Linda; with her introduction, he’s finally found an equal in spirit and sarcasm. The entire supporting cast is exceptional as well – from Susan’s skeletal doorman (Jerome Collamore) to Linda’s father (Barney Martin) to Arthur’s grandmother (Geraldine Fitzgerald) to a shrieking neighbor with only a couple of lines; it’s rare for so many minor parts to contribute so superbly to the laughs, even when they’re serious – which, of course, only amplifies Moore’s plastered disruptiveness.

“You are too old to be poor. You don’t know how.” As funny as the picture is, with characters cracking jokes and devising clever insults, it’s also exceptionally sweet. The love story may not be the most original, but it’s genuine and heartfelt, nicely complemented by Burt Bacharach’s music; and Arthur’s relationship with Hobson is sensationally cinematic. All it takes is a hint of tragedy and someone to take care of to get the reckless rascal to finally grow up – and to gain some perspective. “You can do anything with your life that you want to.” Unexpectedly, the somewhat messy finale (one of those classic comedy conundrums that seems unthinkably inextricable) manages to be spectacularly fitting – something that lighthearted films with grave predicaments largely fail to accomplish. It’s actually one of the best endings of all time.

– Mike Massie

  • 10/10