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  • Writer's pictureJeff South

THE 28: #3, ARTHUR (1981)

Dudley Moore: Arthur Bach

Liza Minnelli: Linda Marolla

John Gielgud: Hobson

Geraldine Fitzgerald: Martha Bach

Jill Eikenberry: Susan Johnson

Stephen Elliott: Burt Johnson

Barney Martin: Ralph Marolla

Ted Ross: Bitterman

Thomas Barbour: Stanford Bach

Written & Directed by Steve Gordon

"I race car, play tennis, fondle women. But, I have weekends off and I am my own boss."

-Arthur Bach

My brothers moved out of our family home in the Spring of 1982. That summer, I spent quite a bit of time at the bachelor pad. I rode around town on my bike and watched cable television because we didn't have that at our house in the country. HBO opened up a new world for me. I watched movies throughout the day and most of the evening. One movie that played nearly every day that summer was ARTHUR, the 1981 screwball romantic comedy starring Dudley Moore as a millionaire playboy who must choose between an arranged marriage and the woman he loves. If Arthur Bach (Moore) marries the perfectly bland Susan Johnson, per the wishes of his father and Susan's, he will inherit an empire valued at $750 million. He prefers to marry someone he loves and finds that person in the Linda Marolla (Liza Minelli). Linda is not from a society family, though. She is an aspiring actress and coffees shop waitress.

Also, Arthur is an alcoholic man-child who can't seem to function as an adult. He is looked after by his faithful butler, Hopson (John Gielgud, in an Oscar-winning performance). Linda refers to Hopson as "the British Tonto." Much of the film's comedy comes from Arthur's incessant need to mix alcohol with his other coping mechanism: jokes. He refuses to take anything seriously and his family is desperate for him to grow up.

I had seen ARTHUR twice in the theater the previous and loved it. It's theme song was, and still is, one of my favorites. My friends and I quoted it and often imitated Dudley Moore's voice cadence from his drunk scenes. That summer in '82, though, was transformative for me as a movie lover. ARTHUR became the first movie I devoured, studied. I was particularly enraptured by Moore with each subsequent viewing. I learned what a gifted comedic actress Liza Minelli was (still is) and marveled at the deadpan delivery of Sir John Gielgud. I memorized it word-for-word. The relationship between Arthur and Hopson touched me, with Hopson being the father Arthur needed. Their scenes deftly move from rich comedy to sweet affection from beat to beat. I came to value just how perfect "Arthur's Theme (The Best That You Can Do)" is for the movie. In college, I bought an anthology of great American screenplays simply because Steve Gordon's impeccable script for ARTHUR was in it. This movie contains zero scenes that don't work. It's infinitely quotable. And, I know most people will point to WHEN HARRY MET SALLY as the best romantic comedy ever made and I won't try and change their minds. That's a lovely film. For this romantic heart, though, I prefer watching Arthur Bach trying to figure out how to grow up and have a life with Linda. The chemistry between Dudley Moore and Liza Minnelli is electric and they play off each other perfectly.

It's Dudley Moore's showcase and it remains my single favorite comedic performance in any film (and possibly my favorite performance, period). Yes, I love this performance more than Harvey Korman in BLAZING SADDLES (more on that in an upcoming post). Dudley Moore was nominated for Best Actor at the Oscars and there was no way he was going to beat out Henry Fonda, but to hear his name read off as a nominee that Oscar night was an inspiration to this wannabe comedic actor. Throughout high school and even into college, my "Arthur voice" was a go-to for impressing girls. Sometimes it worked, sometimes not. I kept my top hat from prom so I could wear it just like Arthur did. In my novel, KILROY WAS HERE, one of my lead characters wears a top hat as my own personal ARTHUR Easter egg. ARTHUR didn't just entertain me, it gave me Arthur Bach. My own personal sense of comedy is heavily influenced by Dudley Moore in this movie. I studied his work with Peter Cook and saw all of his movies in the 80s. Even the bad ones. I loved Dudley Moore.

He passed away in 2002 from pneumonia brought on by progressive supra-nuclear palsy, a disease for which there is no cure. I was heartbroken. When I heard the news, though, one of my favorite lines from ARTHUR immediately came to my mind.

"I'm glad we've had this time together. You're a funny guy."

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