Tonight: Dudley Moore and Liza Minnelli, with John Gielgud and Geraldine Fitzgerald in the hilarious comedy Arthur.
The inspiration for tonight’s film would seem to be the sophisticated comedies of the 1930s. Although Richard Bann suggests that the original inspiration may have come earlier, from the 1925 Buster Keaton classic Seven Chances.
Arthur says, to a Lady of the Evening: “You’re a hooker? Jesus, I forgot. I just thought I was doing great with you!!!”
This is writer-director Steve Gordon’s only film credit. He had a heart attack and died a year after Arthur was released, at the age of 43.
He nearly gave up on this project, because no studio was interested in the story.
“Nobody will find a movie about a rich drunk sympathetic,” Gordon was told, over and over again.
“So there were no takers, until the Woody Allen Production team of Jack Rollins and Charles H. Joffe got involved.
They managed to interest Paramount, but that studio would not agree to let Dudley Moore star.
So then Rollins and Joffe sought to interest their former partners at United Artists, who left UA in 1978 to form Orion Pictures.
Curiously, Orion had just vetoed a Blake Edwards project because the star was to be Moore.
The Edwards film, like Steve Gordon’s property, was intended as a throwback to the social comedies of the ‘30s and ‘40s.
Originally considered for the lead in Arthur: Bud Cort, from Where's Poppa? and Harold and Maude.
And John Belushi—He turned down the role fearing he might be typecast.
Dudley Moore modeled his performance on Peter Cook, Moore’s former partner, whose excessive drinking ended their comedy team in the 1970s.
The 45-year-old Dudley was born club-footed. His growth was stunted from childhood. He reached just 5’2”.
He studied music at Oxford where he met his future partner in British comedy revues and movies, Peter Cook.
The guys and I saw them together on a Monday night not long ago in the very funny The Wrong Box.
After they split, Moore earned most of the laughs in a Chevy Chase-Goldie Hawn comedy Foul Play (1978).
This led to Dudley replacing George Segal in Blake Edwards’ mid-life crisis comedy “10” with Bo Derek.
The film we’ll be screening tomorrow night.
Playing this would-be Romeo made Moore an immediate sensation.
It boosted his personal life, too. One of his wives was Tuesday Weld.
Tonight’s co-star, Liza Minnelli, the daughter of Judy Garland and Vincent Minnelli, was 34; to Dudley’s 46.
She owned an Oscar for Cabaret from 1972, and several Tony and Emmy Awards.
The co-writer of the Arthur Oscar winning theme song was Minnelli’s ex-husband, Peter Allen. He was gay.
So was Liza’s father, Vincent Minnelli. So was her mother’s father. So are most of her mother’s obsessed fans.
John Gielgud was 76 and one of the greatest actors of the century. But he was a Shakespearean stage actor and did not do movie work seriously until the 1950s.
Geraldine Fitzgerald was 66, born in Dublin, and was primarily a stage actress.
She was once a member of Orson Welles Mercury Theater Players.
She was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Wuthering Heights in 1939.
Arthur was shot in Manhattan: Fifth Avenue, the Plaza, the Oak Room, Park Avenue, Central Park and St. Bartholomew’s Church at Park and 51st Street.
At one point during production, Minnelli was supposed to board a bus in front of Bergdorf’s on Fifth Avenue.
When a real bus came along, she got on, thinking it was the “movie bus.” Not until she was a block away and the bus driver wanted her payment did she realize the mistake she had made, as she looked back and saw the crew standing in the street laughing.
Arthur opened at Mann’s Westwood on July 17, 1981.
Dudley Moore was the #3 Box Office star in 1981. He got $2 million for his role in Arthur. The film was budgeted for $7 million.
The picture started slowly and almost failed. But word of mouth was positive and built.
The domestic gross alone was over $95 million. It proved to be a monster hit—at a time when the average ticket price was $2.78.
The New Yorker called Arthur “a terrifically engaging, high-spirited, screwball comedy about Arthur’s more or less accidental salvation, largely through the love of a good, very poor, but equally daffy young woman (Liza Minnelli).
“The models here seem to be the great Hollywood comedies of the Depression Era, including My Man Godfrey and The Awful Truth. Movies that exalted bizarre behavior as the only sane way to deal with a world of stuffy, wrong-headed values.
“Not since Nick and Nora Charles made the dry martini into the national drink has there been quite so much boozing in a movie without hideous consequences...
“Sir John Gielgud is no Eric Blore-type, but he is the film’s caustic voice of sanity, as well as its real, but unsentimental heart.”
There were Oscar nominations for Best Actor (Dudley Moore) and screenplay (Steve Gordon).
And Academy Awards for Supporting Actor (Gielgud) and Original Song (“Arthur’s Theme.”)
There were Golden Globes too: For Best Comedy, Actor (Moore), Supporting Actor (Gielgud) and song.
There was a sequel in 1988 with the same cast, but it was a real disappointment, because the original writer-director (Steve Gordon) was gone.
There was a recent remake, too, with Russell Brand. But the less said about that, the better.
So now—the original classic.
Dudley Moore and Liza Minnelli inARTHUR