Remake: The “Arthur”ian Legends

I struggled with how to start this blog. Should it be witty to show our fun side? Academic to show our serious side? I rocked between several different post ideas in the effort to make a good first impression, but ultimately I decided on something relevant (especially to me, as an unemployed college graduate): Arthur!

Arthur (1981) and Arthur (2011)

Arthur was first made in 1981, starring Dudley Moore, Liza Minelli, and John Gielgud. Of course, this summer it was remade as a Russell Brand vehicle also starring Helen Mirren and Jennifer Garner (and Greta Gerwig in the Liza Minelli role). It is telling that both movies were made during recessions. In fact, as depressing as we all agree the recession is, that is exactly what I want to talk about.

While both movies share a common plot (Arthur must marry a woman of his parents’ choosing or lose his inheritance), their outlooks, and what they say about the recessions during which they were made, are radically different.

Dudley Moore as Arthur

Dudley Moore plays a loveable but drunk Arthur in a time before alcoholism was considered a disease. As such, he slurs his way through the film and gets away with some truly terrible things, not the least of which being drunk driving. Moore gives a fantastic comedic performance; despite the fact that he is almost dead drunk, he manages to throw some great off-the-cuff one-liners, followed by his insane trademark laugh.

His Arthur is dark, though. It’s readily apparent that he drinks to be happy, as few of his characteristic one-liners happen when he’s sober. Under the laugh, he’s an angry man. He’s angry at his father for trapping him, he’s angry at his fiance for not understanding him, and he’s angry ultimately at Hobson (Gielgud) for abandoning him. As a mouthpiece for his generation, Arthur vents his frustrations at an establishment which has just gone through Watergate, Vietnam, and the 1979 energy crisis.

Russell Brand as Arthur

Russell Brand’s Arthur is the polar opposite of Dudley Moore. Russell Brand plays Arthur as a child in a grown-up’s body, not only in terms of interests (he buys the Batmobile and plays dressup in the opening scene) but also in terms of outlook. Brand manages to capture a kind of childlike innocence that no real-world drunk ever has, making him both endearing and completely out-to-lunch.

As Arthur, Brand’s problem is less his alcoholism and more his complete disassociation from the real world. In a moment of thematic transparency, Brand’s Arthur is confronted by a reporter asking his opinion about the recession. After a moment of blank surprise, his answer is to run to the ATM and hand out money, yelling “the recession is over!” In this film, Arthur’s challenge is to grow up. His problem is actually symptomatic of the terror I know many new professionals feel. The going line for my generation seems to be “growing up sucks,” which why nostalgia is has taken firm root pop culture lately. Just look at the films that are coming out: Transformers, Captain America, The Smurfs. Beyond being part of Hollywood’s attempt to stay green and recycle, these films also show a culture that as a whole wants to look backward. Russell Brand as Arthur takes on a big burden in showing us that if he can grow up, then we can too.

There are so many other parts of these films that I want to share with you in order to continue my point, but I promised I wouldn’t go over 750 words in a post, so I’ll just say this: don’t be surprised when what looks like a lighthearted comedy on the surface turns out to be something more. Nothing was created in a cultural vacuum. This goes doubly so for remakes.

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About Anne Marie Kelly

Classic Film history & restoration nerd. Writer of A Year With Kate and Women's Pictures for The Film Experience. Follow me on Twitter @WeRecycleMovies.
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One Response to Remake: The “Arthur”ian Legends

  1. Lynda says:

    I live to read these!

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