‘Arthur’ Then and Now
BY DENNIS KING
Thirty years separate the two “Arthurs.” In that time, some things have changed and some have stayed the same.
In 1981, British gnome Dudley Moore originated the big-screen role of New York playboy wastrel Arthur Bach in writer-director Steve Gordon’s modern fairy tale inspired by P.G. Wodehouse’s droll Jeeves and Wooster stories.
“Arthur” was imagined as a besotted modern incarnation of the effete, upper-crust twit Bertie Wooster, and Sir John Gielgud essayed the Jeeves-like role of Hobson, the above-it-all butler who kept his air-headed charge from self-destructing.
Now, three decades later, British comedian Russell Brand steps into Arthur’s Gucci loafers and delivers a more antic, verbally acrobatic version of the lush character for the new millennium. Director Jason Winer (TV’s “Modern Family”) and screenwriter Peter Baynham (“Borat”) turn in what they call a “re-imagining” of the original story with a few key character changes and a floridly updated depiction of Arthur’s profligate lifestyle.
Here are a few ways in which the two films diverge and converge:
Arthur, short and tall
Diminutive, shaggy-haired Dudley Moore was a puckish, elfin Arthur, wavering between manic hysteria and spoiled, rich-boy cool. Rangy, shaggy-haired Russell Brand is a gawky, scarecrow Arthur, much more goofy, childlike and unpredictable than his predecessor.
Lively Linda, naive Naomi
The working-class love of Arthur’s 1981 life was Linda, a sassy diner waitress and aspiring actress; in 2011 it’s Naomi, an unlicensed tour guide and aspiring children’s book author.
Liza Minelli’s Linda was a brassy Queens gal with a sharp tongue. Arthur was intrigued when he spotted her shoplifting a necktie at Bergdorf Goodman as a gift for her unemployed dad. Greta Gerwig’s Naomi is a gentle blond Queens girl with a droll sense of humor, a store of Grand Central Terminal trivia and a penchant for wearing Minnie Mouse dresses. Arthur meets her as she is leading a group of tourists through Grand Central and is busted by the cops.
Arthur, rich and richer
In 1981, Arthur’s personal fortune was said to be $750 million; by 2011, it amounts to $950 million – hardly keeping up with inflation.
As Moore’s chaste Arthur confessed to Linda that he was engaged to be married, he meekly offered her a condolence check for $100,000 to further her acting career. Brand’s Arthur offers Linda $999,999 to support her writing (he thinks one million would be tacky).
In 1981, Arthur sported a fairly modest array of expensive toys – his Rolls Royce limo, a natty wardrobe, some vintage racing cars and a model train set on the headboard of his bed.
For 2011, the ante is upped on conspicuous consumption, and Arthur’s luxuries include a king-sized bed floating on a field of giant electro-magnets, plus a real Batmobile and a DeLorean from “Back to the Future.” For his first date with Naomi, he arranges to clear Grand Central Terminal during rush hour and bring in acrobats on the balconies for entertainment.
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