Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Affluenza of Arthur

Arthur (Dudley Moore): Have you ever been on a yacht?

Linda (Liza Minnelli): No. Is it wonderful?

Arthur: It doesn't suck.

I enjoyed "Arthur," the Dudley Moore–Liza Minnelli–Sir John Gielgud comedy that premiered on this day in 1981 — even though my favorite journalism professor, in his own words, "didn't like it worth a damn." That was a bit of a disappointment to me — but not enough to make me change my mind. I still liked the movie.

I've seen it several times since that first time, and I still like it.

It was an unusual tale — yet familiar in its way. Moore played Arthur, a not–so–young heir to his family's fortune, a playboy who got drunk every day, enabled (in a fashion) by Gielgud, who played Arthur's valet Hobson. Minnelli played Arthur's working–class love interest.

Arthur's family wanted him to marry the daughter of one of his father's business associates. When the family learned that Arthur had been seeing this working–class girl and might want to marry her, a campaign against their marriage began. Arthur was told he would lose his inheritance if he married her. His family wanted him to grow up and assume his rightful place in the world. But the childlike Arthur resisted.

Now, at some point in most of our lives, we have been around people who had had too much to drink. Some of us, at some times in our lives, have been that person who had had too much to drink. Whether you are that person or you are in the company of that person, it seems that person truly believes he/she is the wittiest and sexiest person in the room. Anyone who is reasonably sober will be able to tell you that the person is far from being the wittiest or sexiest person in the room.

But somehow, even though he had probably been drinking for decades, Arthur was. I guess it helps when you have a lot of money — and a professional writer creating your dialogue. And, as I say, he was enabled by Hobson, who served him martinis in the bathtub.

I guess that was part of Hobson's job description, but it almost certainly wasn't part of his job description to be sarcastic about nearly every aspect of Arthur's life. Still one suspected that Hobson was fond of Arthur and vice versa. Arthur's family was more interested in wealth and status than Arthur — and Hobson was clearly something of a surrogate father to Arthur.

"Only someone with a heart of stone could fail to love a drunk like Arthur," critic Roger Ebert wrote, and he was right. You had to appreciate Arthur's directness — and he had a profound sense of things.

"Everyone who drinks is not a poet," he said at one point. "Maybe some of us drink because we're not poets."

Arthur's family, as I say, wanted him to marry the daughter of his father's business associate, but Arthur didn't love her. His grandmother advised him to go ahead with the marriage and see his working–class girlfriend on the side. But most evidence to the contrary, Arthur had his principles, one of which was to wed only for love.

And he didn't love Susan (Jill Eikenberry). He loved Linda (Minnelli).

Hobson apparently knew that Arthur would need someone who truly cared for him to look after him. Hobson was dying. I don't think the audience ever knew what was killing him. I don't think the audience ever knew — definitely — that he was dying until he was hospitalized late in the movie. But he had a conversation with Linda in which the fact was more or less confirmed.

Hobson coughed, and Linda said to him, "That sounds bad. Have you seen a doctor?"

"Yes," Hobson replied in his understated that hinted that he knew so much more and added, "and he has seen me."

Later, as I say, Hobson went to the hospital, and Arthur came to visit him. He wanted to cheer Hobson up, but he wanted to do more than that.

He wanted to care for Hobson, the man who had cared for him all his life. It was a craving the audience learned about from what he told Linda at one point.

"I've never taken care of anybody," Arthur told Linda. "Everybody's always taken care of me. But if you got sick, or anything, I'd take care of you."

That was one of Arthur's genuinely introspective moments, and Linda seemed to realize it.

"Then I'll get sick," she told him.

Lately I have been wondering if Arthur was an early victim of affluenza. Perhaps his character drank not because he wasn't a poet but because he didn't know how to care for people as he had been cared for — and it was something he desperately desired.

In hindsight it seems odd to me how relatively unknown Moore was at the time. He had been making movies for 15 years when he made "Arthur," but it had only been his fairly recent parts in "Foul Play" and "10" that made him into something of a household name. In "Foul Play," he played second fiddle to Goldie Hawn and Chevy Chase. In "10," the star was the voluptuous Bo Derek.

Moore was the star of "Arthur" and received an Oscar nomination for Best Actor (he lost to Henry Fonda in "On Golden Pond"). Steve Gordon was nominated for Best Original Screenplay but lost to "Chariots of Fire." There were a lot of good movies in 1981.

Gielgud was nominated for — and won — Best Supporting Actor. And "Arthur's Theme" won Best Original Song.

Two out of four isn't bad.

Sadly, Gordon, who directed the movie, died of a heart attack the following year. My guess is that the sequel to "Arthur," which was made in 1988, would have benefited from having Gordon around to direct and write. As it was the sequel was such a washout that Moore disowned the franchise, and no other sequels were made — thankfully.