Liz Tells Frank What Happened In “Arthur” (Not the Remake)

Dear Frank,

So there’s often talk, when an older movie gets remade for modern audiences, if said remake is unnecessary or “too soon” — the answer usually being affirmative on both points. But what a remake does give its source material is some additional awareness– what I’m saying here is that I wouldn’t have watched the original 1981 Arthur this weekend if some Hollywood duder hadn’t said “Original scripts are lame! Let’s insert Russell Brand into some old movie! Are there any classic comedies where the protagonist has a substance abuse problem?”

For the moment, let’s leave the issue of the remake aside; the important thing is, I watched the original. And I enjoyed it! Arthur is, simply told, the story of a very rich guy who’s known nothing else — his name is Arthur, and his tale is told to the soothing beats of Mr. Christopher Cross’s classic tune “Best That You Can Do (Is Fall In Love).” Frank, let’s make this an audio-visual experience today, shall we? Play the below YouTube video so that you can listen to the theme from Arthur while we discuss it.

Arthur lives in New York with plenty of money to spend on booze and women; he’s also got a trusty butler, played by John Gielgud, to clean up after him. Hobson the Butler is kinda like Pepper Potts to Arthur’s Tony Stark, with more snark and slightly less sexual tension. SLIGHTLY. He’s a delight.

Anyways, Arthur’s dad wants him to marry a friend of the family, and will disown him if he doesn’t — this is seen as an effort to force Arthur to finally grow up. I was describing the story to a friend, and he remarked that the “man forced to marry a woman he doesn’t love” storyline doesn’t happen too often; it’s usually the reverse genders. But that’s because Arthur is not a man — he’s a child. A child with adult appetites, but a child. (I am being kind to Dudley Moore at this moment and avoiding the obvious jokes about his height, for the record.)

So, Arthur’s agreed to marry this boring-as-hell-proper-upper-class-dame lady — unfortunately, Arthur just fell in love for the first time! With someone else! Whoops! While shopping at a fancy-pants department store, he observes Liza Minelli shoplifting a necktie — he’s instantly obsessed with her and helps her escape a store detective with some dropping of the family name and french kissing. Liza’s a little chuffed by that until she figures out a) that Arthur is rich and b) that he’s (for the moment) single — at which point Dudley Moore gets a lot cuter (and taller, I’m presuming).

I'm just saying, she's taller than him WITHOUT the cowboy hat. Also, LOVE HER OUTFIT.

For the record, one of the things I found really enjoyable about the film was that kind of blatant honesty about the power of money, and how a short annoying man is made more attractive with its allure. Some might call it mature, some might call it cynical — but whatever you call it, it’s refreshing. Liza’s dad is the pinnacle of this; a lot of great comedy is derived from him being more excited about Arthur than Liza is.

Arthur woos Liza whilst simultaneously dealing with this situation where he’s supposed to marry the Susan lady — this includes driving out of Manhattan, swigging booze, to officially propose to the bland-as-fuck Susan, followed by a drive to Liza’s borough, EVEN MORE DRUNK, to confess his love and also his engagement. Let us always remember, Frank, that nothing good happens after 2 AM and you shouldn’t ever try a drop-by like that — especially because drunk driving is no longer a charming thing for a drunk to do.

This maneuver doesn’t get Arthur thrown in jail, but still goes badly because once again, nothing good ever happens after 2 AM. However, Liza gets reconvinced to give Arthur a chance when Dobson comes by to invite her to Arthur’s engagement party.

But just as Arthur’s won over Liza whilst simultaneously dealing with the fact that he’s gotta marry bland-as-fuck Susan, things come to a head with Hobson, who’s been totally dying of brain cancer this whole time. His final act is the film’s climax, as Arthur essentially drops everything to take care of him, and it’s super-sad and sweet, because Arthur is totally blatantly clear about how Hobson is essentially the person who raised him, and afterwards he’s pretty much destroyed.

He's DRUNK IN A SWEATSHIRT. You don't get much lower than that.

This means that he decides to blow off his wedding to Susan in order to run off with Liza — this is tough, because Susan’s father is a vicious hunter who’s already threatened physical violence against Arthur. But, from a third-party perspective, I gotta admit that Arthur’s in the right here. For one thing, who the fuck picks a a wedding dress uglier than the bridesmaid gowns?

I kinda want one of those hats, for the record.

So anyhow, after he breaks the news to Susan and gets the shit beaten out of him by Susan’s dad, Arthur embraces the idea of being poor in front of everyone in the church, and gets excited about just getting to be with Liza in his poorness. But, whoops, Arthur’s grandmother is all I-don’t-want-to-ruin-the-family-line! And so she decides to not disown him after all! Arthur jerks her around a bit, but takes the money — and also gets Liza! And they all lived happily after. Except, you know, for Susan and her family. But they were boring and/or violent, so it doesn’t really matter. THE END.

So that’s the 1981 Arthur! As to the question of whether or not it’s appropriate for there to be a remake of this film — I’m not sure. Because the original is really well-written and directed; the dialogue is fast and snappy and the comedy is sophisticated even to a 2011 viewer. As I said, I enjoyed it a great deal! The only thing I didn’t love? Dudley Moore. Dudley Moore totally carries certain parts of the film — he does have brilliant comic timing. But I haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaated his drunken giggle-laugh. It was a terrible grating sensation in my ears, every time, and every time essentially boils down to the first thirty minutes of the movie.

Meanwhile, Arthur the remake stars Russell Brand, as previously mentioned. And here’s the truth — I like Russell Brand. On my list of Actors I’m Probably Not Supposed to Like But Do Anyways, he’s near the top (though below Vin Diesel and Milla Jovovich, who really should co-star in the greatest action film of all time at some point). And the remake also includes Helen Mirren and Greta Gerwig and Jennifer Garner! They’re all great too. So if the new Arthur is an almost-exact remake of the original, I’m frankly on board.

But somehow I doubt that. Fussy ol’ Hollywood, not wanting a protagonist in a major feature to spend much time flagrantly driving drunk. So silly.

Love,
Liz

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About Liz Shannon Miller

Liz Shannon Miller, based in Los Angeles, is a writer for the screen and the web, her work including G4's Attack of the Show and the tech blog GigaOM. She also co-hosts the podcast Timey Wimey TV, contributes to the video curation site Here's Some Awesome, and tells her friend Frank about stuff at Liz Tells Frank.

Posted on April 12, 2011, in All the Spoilers, Movies and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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