Thursday, April 12, 2012

45 years earlier, it would have been a screwball comedy

TCM is devoting tonight's prime time lineup to actress Liza Minnelli, starting off with a movie in which, despite being the leading lady, she's really only playing in support of the leading man: Arthur, at 8:00 PM.

Arthur, of course, is played by Dudley Moore. Arthur, as we see at the beginning of the film, is incredibly wealthy, but also incredibly spoiled. He doesn't seem to do any work (presumably, he's expected to take over the family business at some point), instead spending his time spending money and having a wild time. His family doesn't like this. Grandma (Geraldine Fitzgerald), who controls the money, and Dad (Thomas Barbour), who control the business, want Arthur to settle down, and marry the stuffy Susan (Jill Eikenberry), who comes from respectable money. If Arthur doesn't, well, the family will just have to cut him off.

Matters get complicated, of course. Although Arthur reluctantly agrees to the wedding, one day when he's out shopping he comes across Linda (Minnelli), who is struggling financially and living with her father (Barney Martin). In fact, Linda is struggling enough that she has to engage in shoplifting to get what she wants. Arthur is immediately smitten with her and pays for the things she shoplifts in order to keep her out of trouble, and then the two fall in love. I think we've all seen this plot line before....

In fact, the plot line of Arthur is something that has echoes of Gold Diggers of 1933 and My Man Godfrey, but the details place it very squarely in the early 1980s. Tha language is much coarser, Arthur is clearly cavorting with prostitutes, and New York is decidedly less glamorous than it would have been portrayed in the 1930s.

The movie succeeds, however, and that's largely down to the two male leads. Moore is outstanding as Arthur, playing a realistic boor but also making the character sympathetic. Even more credit, however, should be given to the one cast member I haven't mentioned yet: Sir John Gielgud as Arthur's butler, Hobson. It's difficult to imagine a Shakespearean actor like Gielgud playing opposite a character as coarse and bawdy as Moore's Arthur, but Gielgud is great, deadpanning his way through, and guiding Arthur, down a narrow path of action. Hobson clearly likes his boss, but also understands reality in a way that Arthur doesn't. In fact, the interaction between Arthur and Hobson is eminently more watchable than the predictable love affair between Arthur and Linda.

Arthur got a sequel several years later, and was remade a few years back. But watch the original.

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