Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 25, 2011)
At the “ripe old age” of 44, Dudley Moore became a major US movie star with 1979’s ”10”. No, Moore wasn’t unknown prior to ”10”, but that film made him a viable “A”-list actor, and 1981’s Arthur reinforced this stature.
Briefly, at least. Moore never again capitalized on his success, so the rest of his filmography provides a string of flops and missed opportunities.
Still, at least Moore enjoyed a brief heyday, and Arthur clearly acted as his peak. Not only did the movie do quite well at the box office, but also it earned Moore his one and only Oscar nomination. (Moore lost to Henry Fonda for On Golden Pond.)
Super-wealthy Arthur Bach (Moore) lives life like a child – a drunken child, that is. He drinks to excess and spends his time with hookers because he hates to be alone and disdains the women his family chooses for him.
Push comes to shove, however, when his father (Thomas Barbour) pressures him to enter into a “society marriage” with Susan Johnson (Jill Eikenberry). Arthur can’t stand her but agrees to wed Susan when his pop threatens to cut him off from all the money.
Arthur’s life changes he meets Linda Marolla (Liza Minnelli) at an upscale clothing store. She shoplifts a tie and Arthur admires her no-nonsense attitude. He helps her get away with her crime and then asks her out on a date.
A relationship with Linda excites Arthur, and he enjoys his time with her. However, family pressures continue to frown on this and push him toward a loveless – but “proper” - marriage with Susan. What will Arthur choose: his money or his love?
Here’s a more important question: I waited 30 years for this? I looked forward to finally seeing Arthur and expected to enjoy it. Unfortunately, that didn’t occur, as I found little to provoke mirth or entertainment here.
When the film introduces characters, it does so with a capital “C”. Arthur? Loud, boisterous, allegedly funny. Linda? Brash, aggressive and in your face. Hobson? Snide, cynical and sarcastic.
And so it goes. Each character becomes humanized as the film progresses, but each one starts out as so unlikable that the movie can’t rebound. Arthur isn’t a lovable drunk; he’s an obnoxious boob. Linda isn’t a take charge dolly; she’s an annoying thief. Hobson isn’t an understated but incisive servant; he’s a mean-spirited snot.
If these roles appeared in a plot-based tale, Arthur might survive, but as part of a character-based comedy, they’re a disaster, especially since so much of the flick depends on the love affair between Arthur and Linda. In a logical movie, Linda would be a charmer and Susan would be a shrew. Oddly, Arthur does it backwards. Susan seems uptight and dull, but she’s pretty and nice.
Linda, on the other hand – well, she’s Liza, and I can’t get past that. Maybe another actress could overcome the role’s drawbacks, but Minnelli compounds them. While not untalented, she’s one of the more actively irritating performers ever to become a star. We don’t root for Arthur to end up with Linda; we hope he’ll come to his senses.
If you hope to find some clever humor among all the obnoxious characters, you’ll only encounter disappointment. While Arthur throws out a couple of mildly amusing lines, it suffers from a poor ratio of winners to clunkers. The film’s attempts to grow a heart don’t succeed either; they feel gratuitous and out of place, as they add false sentiment and nothing more.
Rather than come with a real story, Arthur usually feels like a loose collection of skits based around its odd characters. That’s not enough to sustain a feature film, so even at a mere 97 minutes, the movie feels padded and long. Add to that Christopher Cross’s execrable title song – arguably the worst tune to ever win an Oscar – and Arthur ends up as a consistent dud.