The comic drunk has been a staple of the movies for as long as there have been movies — by the time Chaplin was doing this sort of thing on the screen, he’d already done it on the stage. Two men I can think of — Arthur Housman and Jack Norton — made a career out of this, but they were generally limited to bit parts. Arthur — an awfully late in the day addition to the cycle — may be the only film (excepting its recent remake) to build a romantic comedy around such a character. Yes, it’s a thoroughly irresponsible and utterly unrealistic concept, but there’s no denying that Arthur mostly succeeds in keeping that realization at bay — at least while you’re watching it. Afterwards may be another matter.
Arthur was made in the wake of Blake Edwards’ 10 (1979) having propelled Dudley Moore into — relatively short-lived — the realm of a bonafide movie star. The film would have been unthinkable without him (as the Russell Brand remake proved), but it really wouldn’t have worked without the easy chemistry he shares with John Gielgud and Liza Minnelli. Gielgud’s acerbic wit keeps the film alive, though at least one critic at the time found it slightly ironic that the greatest actor of his generation should win an Oscar for saying, “Perhaps you would like me to come in there and wash your dick for you, you little shit.” The truth is there’s more to Gielgud’s performance than his zingers, though they are what is best remembered. His assessment of Liza Minnelli with, “Usually one must go to a bowling alley to meet a woman of your stature,” is admittedly golden. But it’s interplay of Moore, Gielgud, and Minnelli that carries the film through its excessively predictable plot.
The Hendersonville Film Society will show Arthur Sunday, Jan. 4, at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community (behind Epic Cinemas), 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville.