Michelle Carter wrote this article.
Arthur! Arthur! Arthur! I can’t say it enough times. Ask me the name of my all-time favorite laugh-out-loud comedy and my answer will always be “Arthur.” What else can I say? I love this film. I am referring to the 1981 smash hit movie starring the lovable comic icon Dudley Moore, Tony award winning actress Liza Minnelli and the ever so elegant Oscar award winning thespian, Sir John Gielgud.
The anticipated 2011 release of a remake of the film starring English bad boy, Russell Brand, will surely send a new generation in search of the original. Sadly, “Arthur” was writer/director Steve Gordon’s last film. The filmmaker died of heart failure in 1982, months after the release of the movie. My objective is not to provide a critical analysis of his work but to point out why I recommend this film to anyone who needs a good laugh. In doing so, I hope that the genius of the auteur will be apparent.
Is That Funny?
It is funny. “Arthur” was billed as a comedy, and that it is. The storyteller’s goal was to make the audience laugh and laugh you will, all the way to the end. Laughter is easy for the audience (and for Arthur the character) it’s a natural reaction to something we find humorous or ridiculous. Constructing the scenes that get different folks to understand the same jokes? Not so much. “Arthur” succeeds by using physical comedy and snappy dialogue to achieve its goal and the bits work universally.
I’ll pause here to explain a term that “Arthur” virgins and Gen “Y” viewers will find completely irrelevant now but very helpful when you actually watch the movie. The term: simonize. Simonizing was an under care car treatment used to fight off rust. A popular television commercial of the times presented various customers declaring “Simonize It!” much like the “Super Size It!” declarations at McDonalds. Ok, so now you’re ready. It’s just a blurb and if you blink you might miss it but for me it gets the ball rolling. Yes, I’m laughing right now.
The Moon and New York City
Steve Gordon made great use of his resources and shot his baby in the location of locations, New York City. Everything gets extra points for originating in the Big Apple, and movie locations are no exception. A true believer can spot a Canadian location trying to pass for the real thing a mile away.
The bricks are familiar but the mortar is too new. Parts of New York are older than any other place in the United States. Scenes that come to mind take place in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Central Park and on Fifth Avenue and Park. Each time I watch this film I am reminded of why I love New York City and why everyone else does too.
The Kid’s Got Heart
The time and pace of cinema changes with the time and pace of our world. Some of the Apatow-esque gags that work for the comedy films of today would not have gotten by the censors 29 years ago. In no way does that mean this film is stodgy or dated. Although it was a different time in society, some things never change. Gordon’s film is actually very modern and very relevant even today.
I suppose the thing I appreciate most is that “Arthur” is a smart comedy, and it has heart. If you take all the laughs out of the Plaza Hotel scene what you have left is real life. The prostitute he is dining with says she has chosen this profession because he mother died when she was 6 and her father raped her when she was 12. A bitter taste of reality that would make you cry if you heard it on the morning news.
In this movie we laugh right past it. I don’t believe the storyteller meant it to be unfeeling but to reveal that life is hard and the only way to survive is to laugh a little. There are other nuggets of real life embedded in this story that will bring you to tears but it’s a good cleansing cry that makes its characters better.
Once Was Enough
Finally, “Arthur 2/On the Rocks” the 1988 sequel to “Arthur” is not my favorite but a valiant effort. A few reasons this movie does not work the obvious, there is a different writer and director. Next it was just too late for it. It’s 1988 release is 7 years after the first. 1988 is near the end of the decade which is almost the 90s.
The first movie is 1981 which is at the beginning of the decade and almost has a supped up 70s feel to it. So if you put that all together there is a virtual gap of almost 20 years and the rhythm and jokes that worked the first time don’t go for a new audience that has changed.
So, I’ve said all that to say this, “Watch the movie!” It’s a great film and a great escape. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry but in the end I hope you’re more that entertained. I hope you are enlightened to the fact that nobody is perfect, not even multi-millionaires and money can’t buy you love or happiness.
Sure we’ve heard that a million times but never quite like this. Steve Gordon painted a comedy onto a New York City backdrop, weaved in a bunch of heart and gave us “Arthur” — a timeless beauty. So, thank you Steve wherever you are — one was all we needed.