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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Vintage Cable Box: “10, 1979”

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“Whenever Mrs. Kissel breaks wind, we beat the dog.”

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10, 1979 (Dudley Moore), Orion Pictures

“I feel betrayed”, cries Dudley Moore’s character at his surprise birthday party. He may be frightened. He might be terrified at the prospect of being 42. While reconciling his lost youth with chipper, upbeat girlfriend Julie Andrews, he secretly covets the easy sexual power of his neighbors, whom leave the curtains open for him and his telescope to spy on their encounters. On his way from a brainstorming session with oversexed but adorable, velour-wearing homosexual collaborator Robert Webber, he locks eyes with lovely bride-to-be Bo Derek. Distracted, he slams his custom Rolls (with 8-track!) right into the front of a cop car, basically setting up a series of embarrassments, from banal to severe, for Moore’s fragile male ego.

Originally a writer (with partner Peter Cook, with whom he also appeared in The Wrong Box and Bedazzled) for Beyond The Fringe, Dudley Moore was a mainstay of 80’s screwball comedies, and 10 was his first collaboration with Blake Edwards. Moore and Edwards would later make the bigamist comedy, Micki & Maude. While specializing in portraying lovable drunks, Moore was also able to find sadness and desperation in his characters.

In talks with his analyst (a refreshing John Hancock), he reveals an inexplicable infatuation with Bo Derek. His insecurity is the result of frustration with middle age. Hancock indirectly encourages Moore’s pursuit of the girl. He cases the newlywed’s minister (Casey Adams) in an effort to gather information about her (while barely suppressing the urge to laugh his ass off at the minister’s inept songwriting skills). He arranges an appointment with Derek’s dentist father (Benson’s James Noble), who performs major oral surgery on him, hilariously causing Moore to go completely numb and unintelligible. He wanders into one of his neighbor’s naked orgy parties, to the ire of Andrews.

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Moore follows Derek and her new husband (Sam “Flash Gordon” Jones!) to Mexico. He fantasizes about making love to Derek on the beach. He hooks up with a very lovely and neurotic Dee Wallace, but can’t quite bring himself to consummate his relationship with her, and in her vulnerable state, she blames herself. One day while sailing, he spots Derek’s husband, asleep in the ocean, and rescues him from certain death. With Derek’s husband in the hospital, she seeks out Moore to thank him. While initially charming and chaste, she reveals a casual attitude regarding sex. When she finally seduces Moore, he is turned off by her advances and seeks to correct his own obsessive behavior, by repairing his relationship with Andrews.

10 is a clever, intelligent, sexy comedy that is also surprisingly sweet, honest, and affectionate. It speaks to the objectification of women (and men) while digging deeper, past the notions of libido and ageism, into the psychological motivations and emotional yearnings of men and women. An enormously influential sex comedy for the next decade, very few movies would be able to repeat the movie’s formula and box office success.

This week marks the official start of Dudley Moore Month here at Vintage Cable Box. I had not realized, until now, how many of his movies I had seen (and loved). A gifted linguist, comedian, and musician, Dudley Moore passed away in 2002, and the world became a little less interesting.

“Englishmen who go to California never recover.”
Wilfred Sheed

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.