Vintage Cable Box: “Arthur”, 1981

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“Perhaps you’d like me to come in there and wash your dick for you.  You little shit.”

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“Arthur”, 1981 (Dudley Moore), Orion Pictures

The familiar strains of Christopher Cross mingle with the drunken cackle of Dudley Moore’s incorrigible Arthur Bach, straddling the backseat of a vintage Rolls; a drink in his hand and a top hat on his head. He scours New York City looking for hookers, or ladies he affectionately dubs, “strangers who will love him.” He picks up Annie DeSalvo and explains that he’s basically a wealthy layabout. I feel badly for his put-upon chauffeur. Figuring Moore’s actual age into the production, and comparing him to his character, this would put Arthur at roughly 45 years of age. All of his equally wealthy associates admonish him to “grow up”.

In the expository conversation between Moore and DeSalvo that follows, Arthur reveals that he is, for lack of a better word, betrothed to a woman he can’t stand named Susan (Jill Eickenberry). This is a very interesting scene – by itself, as DeSalvo tells him of the various unfortunate circumstances that led her to become a prostitute. I’m of a mind that whole movie could’ve been just these two characters gabbing drunkenly in a fine restaurant. Of course, if we left the movie at that, we’d never know the pleasure of meeting Hobson, Arthur’s sarcastic butler (played to acidic perfection by Sir John Gielgud).

Arthur’s parents inform him that he will be financially cut off if he does not marry Susan (as close to an “arranged” marriage between the wealthy as I can recall) so Arthur acquiesces. While shopping at Bergdorf Goodman, he spies Liza Minnelli’s character, Linda, a sassy little con-artist, stealing a tie. He vouches for her when she is busted by the security guard. He is immediately infatuated with her. Infatuation seems to be a common theme in Dudley Moore’s movies (notably in “10” and 1983’s “Lovesick”), perhaps because the characters he plays tend to be middle-aged men forever clinging to their waning youth. He is elfin with an impish gleam in his eye, and always with a mischievous smile; the prototypical man-child that gets so much play in comedies these days.

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When he is sober, his pressures and the encroachment of adult responsibility make him miserable. The drinking is a cover for his insecurities, and with Minnelli being the first “real woman” he encounters in his life, he worries after his surrogate father, Gielgud. Gielgud seems to be only person in Arthur’s world who genuinely loves him and wants to see him happy. Arthur is forced to end his relationship with Minnelli. When Hobson becomes ill, it destroys Arthur. He buys Hobson toys, serves him gourmet suppers in his hospital bed, and loses sleep caring for him.

I think the reason “Arthur” works better than it should is because of the casting of Dudley Moore. Even at his most mercenary or opportunistic, you simply can’t hate the guy. Where Minnelli’s character tends to grate (though nowhere near as annoying as a Streisand or a Midler), Moore balances their fledgling, improbable romance with remarkable chemistry creating a mutual attraction between him and his leading ladies and love interests.

“Arthur” was remade in 2011 with Russell Brand assuming the title role. Jennifer Garner plays Susan Johnson, and Greta Gerwig plays the Lisa Minnelli analog. The remake is filled with financial intrigue, glazes over the titular character’s alcoholism, and, oddly, lacks the romance of the original film, as well as the chemistry between Moore and Minnelli. It’s unfortunate that Hollywood believes it lacks the creativity to make original films, and instead devotes considerable time to remaking and rebooting proven properties.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties. 

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