ARTHUR/ARTHUR 2: ON THE ROCKS - Blu-ray review

Arthur has endeared himself to millions of viewers over the years.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.

Dudley Moore got his start in movies during the Sixties and early Seventies with his comedy partner Peter Cook in films like "The Wrong Box," "Bedazzled," and "The Hound of the Baskervilles." Then his scene-stealing supporting role in 1978's "Foul Play" led to a star turn in "10." Following that, his drunk act in "10" apparently landed him the starring role in "Arthur" two years later and "Arthur 2: On the Rocks" seven years after that. However, by the Nineties his career was in decline and his health deteriorating; Moore died in 2002.

Anyway, you're probably wondering why Warner Bros. chose to issue both of Dudley Moore's "Arthur" movies on a single, high-definition Blu-ray disc at this particular time or at all, since the first movie is not quite a comedy classic and the sequel is downright bad. The answer appears to be that WB wanted the BD release to coincide with and help promote the release of their 2011 remake of "Arthur" with Russell Brand in the Dudley Moore part and Helen Mirren replacing John Gielgud. Fair enough.

"Don't you wish you were me? I know I do." --Arthur

Arthur Bach (Dudley Moore) is intended as a lovable, funny drunk (or a lovably funny drunk). He's a millionaire playboy who is perpetually loaded and cracking corny jokes nonstop. The film's writer and director, Steve Gordon, wanted Arthur to ingratiate himself with viewers by being gentle, genial, and well-meaning. But Arthur is still just a drunk, and a rather tiresome one at that. Arthur admits that the only things he's ever done in his life are race cars, play tennis, and fondle women (but, as he says, he has weekends off). He was born to luxury and has never known anything but extravagance since birth. Everyone fawns over him because he's rich, making him actually quite a pathetic figure, his antic behavior and slurred speech getting old fast. It's to Moore's credit that he can make anything at all of this pitiable character, and he manages to salvage what he can (thanks to his diminutive size, pixieish charm, and perfectly timed delivery). As a result, Arthur has endeared himself to millions of viewers over the years.

Waiting on Arthur hand and foot yet acting as a surrogate father figure and treating him as a child is Arthur's butler, Hobson (Sir John Gielgud, whose work in the movie won him an Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role). Gielgud is the most welcome part of the show, his understated humor as the snobby servant saving what might have otherwise been a short act. I've heard people say that Gielgud never understood why audiences found him funny in the part, but I fail to believe it. Gielgud was a consummate actor, and like his fellow British contemporary, Alec Guinness, knew exactly what he was doing and how to get a laugh.

"Hobson, do you know what I'm going to do? I'm going to take a bath."
"I'll alert the media."

The film's conflict develops when Arthur's family decide it's time for him to marry. (Moore was already in his mid forties by the time he made "Arthur," so the constant references to him as a young man seem oddly out of context). Indeed, the family (Thomas Barbour as the father and Geraldine Fitzgerald as the grandmother) will cut him off from his fortune (close to a billion dollars) if he doesn't marry the daughter, Susan Johnson (Cynthia Sikes), of a rival rich family, the Johnsons; and Susan's father, Burt Johnson (Stephen Elliott), threatens to kill Arthur if he doesn't go through with it.

That's when Arthur meets Linda Marolla (Liza Minnelli) while she's shoplifting in a fancy department store. Minnelli appears to be trying to outdo Barbra Streisand in the cutesy department and, when we first meet her, is wearing the most god-awful gaudy clothes and hat imaginable. The film means for her attire to tell us she is a commoner, a poor person (although a waitress) trying to be stylish, but it only serves to remind us how garish the early Eighties were. Be that as it may, Minnelli's character is more lovable than Arthur, and Arthur falls instantly in love with her, deciding to forego his fortune for her. All of this happens in the first few minutes of the film, and the rest is predictable filler.

When Arthur is not drunk, he's a pretty nice and appealing person. Unfortunately, that's only a moment or two during the movie. The rest of the time, we have to endure his boorish drunken conduct, which is only intermittently humorous.

Yes, there are several strong laughs in the film, and, yes, Gielgud is fine in his role (although not to the extent of his winning an Academy Award for it). It's everything else that seems questionable or dated. Arthur drinks and Linda smokes, and they do it constantly. Drinking and smoking are neither sophisticated nor laughable; they're deadly, and everybody today knows it, making their behavior uncomfortable, at least now, some thirty years on. OK, I hear you say, lighten up. I'll try. Then there's Burt Bacharach's musical score, which won an Oscar for Best Original Song. These days, it sounds remarkably vapid and saccharine. Along with the Academy nominating Moore for Best Actor and Gordon for Best Writing, one can understand why a lot of people don't put much stock in the Academy's judgment.

Film rating: 6/10

Arthur 2: On the Rocks:
It would have been better for Warners to have left well enough alone, since "Arthur" did quite well at the box office. Nevertheless, since it did do so well, the studio couldn't resist a sequel in 1988, this time without writer-director Gordon, who had died prematurely in 1982. Instead, they got veteran movie and TV director Bud Yorkin to helm the project.

"You have to be the most-annoying man I have ever met," an acquaintance says to Arthur. Yes. I agree.

Now married to Linda, Arthur is still an incurable boozer, and he still tells terrible jokes that only he thinks are funny. And he's still filthy rich (his new butler is Fairchild, played by Paul Benedict, even more humorless than Hobson had been but not quite as humorously snooty). For some reason, Linda puts up with Arthur. The moviemakers would have us believe it's not because of his money but because she genuinely loves him, and that's the theme of this second movie.

"Arthur 2" is more syrupy than the first film and much less amusing, straining for every gag. Arthur and Linda want a child, but she cannot have one so they decide to adopt (Kathy Bates plays the adoption lady). Meanwhile, Burt Johnson, the vindictive father of Arthur's earlier fiancée, takes over control of the Bach family business, and he threatens to put them all into the poor house if they don't cut Arthur off from all money forthwith unless he divorces Linda and marries Susan. The Bachs are as ruthless as the Johnsons, and since Arthur refuses to leave Linda, they disinherit him, leaving him and Linda broke and on the street. Literally. Yeah, it's a stupid premise for a movie.

Let's face it: A poor Arthur is even more obnoxious than a rich Arthur.

The moral of both "Arthur" movies: Idle wealth begets idle wealth. The second film, especially, has no redeeming qualities.

Film rating: 4/10

Warner engineers use a dual-layer BD50 and MPEG-4/AVC encoding to accommodate both high-definition transfers on a single disc. The encodes do a decent-enough job with the 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratios and the colors involved. Even so, "Arthur 2" comes off looking by far the better of the two movies.

"Arthur" has a soft, dull look, with a slightly rough overall appearance. It has a clear screen, free of any obvious flecks, specks, or lines that might have come with age, but the picture doesn't look particularly well defined. In fact, it's not much better than a good standard-definition transfer. "Arthur 2," on the other hand, looks much cleaner, sharper, and better defined, with brighter colors, too.

The disc uses lossless DTS-HD Master Audio for the soundtracks, "Arthur" in 1.0 monaural and "Arthur 2" in 2.0 stereo. The mono does little more than duplicate the midrange in "Arthur," with little frequency range or dynamic response. The stereo in "Arthur 2" is an improvement, although there is still a limited front-channel spread, and voices sometimes sound a bit compressed and nasal.

Understandably, with two high-definition movies occupying one Blu-ray disc, there wasn't much room left over for extras. What we get are two theatrical trailers, a pan-and-scan affair for "Arthur" and a widescreen one for "Arthur 2," both in standard def. In addition, we find twenty-nine scene selections for "Arthur" and thirty for "Arthur 2"; English, French, German, and Spanish spoken languages; French and Spanish subtitles; and English and German captions for the hearing impaired. The disc comes housed in one of those flimsy Eco-cases I'm beginning to hate.

Parting Shots:
"Arthur" did not meet the expectations of my memory, having dated quite a lot in the past three decades. While I still found it of interest, it wasn't nearly as funny or as topical as I had remembered it. "Arthur 2," however, was just as much a disappointment as I recalled. Not horrible, mind you, just best had Warners not made it.

The scores listed below are averages of the ratings for both movies.


Film Value