It’s thirty years old. Old enough to be a relic. You know what? The original “Arthur” (1981) with drunken fool Dudley Moore makes me laugh more in one minute than the entire remake with Russell Brand did. The opening minutes of the remake is an outrageous parody of a parody – so outrageous it ceases any human connection with its audience – with Brand’s Arthur getting soused and hitting the streets in his own Batmobile (note that Arthur and Batman are both Warner Bros. properties) until he’s chased by cop cars. Russell doesn’t do much more than reprise his party-hard brat from “Get Him to the Greek.” Dudley in the original, in his first scene, is drinking straight Scotch in his backseat of his Rolls Royce while he orders his driver to pull to the curb where two weary hookers await. “Girls! Girls! Girls” hehe, Dudley prattles. “Will the more attractive of you please step forward!” Dudley gurgles, laughing at his own joke. Catching himself, he says, “Actually both of you are very attractive. Will the one who thinks I’m attractive please step forward?” he says, simpering. What’s on the menu, she asks.
He offers $200 to hooker #1 which doubles her asking price. Then he tells his driver Bitterman to give $100 to hooker #2 left behind on the curb for coming in second place. Also, Bitterman isn’t friends with Arthur. Two hookers and a driver, introduced in the beginning five minutes, are just in it for the money.
In the remake, after Russell crashes his Batmobile he pays a high bail to be released. Then he pays the bail for every jailbird that was locked up. He moves the party to his fabulous penthouse and a corral of strangers get hammered and one skanky stranger makes it into Arthur’s bed.
Which version sounds funnier? Which one sounds more amusing? If you’re still saying the remake then you’re misguided. Let’s compare the scenes of the morning after.
Dudley’s Arthur wakes up to the hooker next to him and she looks happy to have gotten a good night’s sleep. Dudley has a stick up his butt butler named Hobson played by the embittered John Gielgud. “Hi,” the hooker slurs, waking up. “Yes. You obviously have a wonderful economy with words,” Hobson says with haughty superiority. “I look forward to your next syllable with great eagerness. Hobson doesn’t so much as offer a robe to the hooker, but rather throws it to her. “Say goodbye to her, Arthur.” Thereafter, Dudley says he’s going to take a bath. “Perhaps you’d like it if I’d come in there and wash your d*** for you. You little s***.”
Russell’s Arthur wakes up to the anonymous woman next to him. Helen Mirren is Hobson, this time classified as a nanny and not a butler. Hobson accuses the woman of stealing from Arthur. The woman denies it. “Perhaps I shall go through your purse for you.” No, the woman shakes her head and unzips her purse and removes the stolen item. Russell in bed preens at what a handsome guy he is. The woman leaves. Hobson tells him to get dressed. Yay.
Wow, what a witty advance in comedy thirty years has made. Let’s next see a remake of “Risky Business” where the brothel girls retire from the business and get rich selling Proper Lady cosmetics or a remake of “Down and Out in Beverly Hills” where the bum Jerry, after cutting a record label with Little Richard, gets his own corporate jet to fly his vagabond posse to St. Bart’s.
Something is utterly human with the way Dudley falls in love with ordinary girl Linda (Liza Minnelli). Such as a moment when she tells him on their first date that she’s a waitress and he responds with caring questions to simulate that he knows what she’s talking about. In the remake, Russell doesn’t know what Grand Central Station is and so to impress his girl Naomi (Greta Gerwig) he rents out the place, impeding commuters. It’s a “grand” gesture that’s supposed to be cute and make us fall in love with Arthur.
How about the comparison of Hobson? Mirren is a strict enough of a custodian to deserve her own headline sequel to “The Pacifier” someday, but here she has no classic lines. Gielgud has nothing but classic lines. “Thank you for a memorable afternoon, usually one must go to a bowling alley to meet a woman of your stature,” he cogitates with disdain.
There are so many ways in which the remake is mechanical – its steals the broad outline of the original only now the details don’t make any sense. Dudley is asking to be loved, in fact, we are invested in concern for him because he is so obviously helpless and incapacitated by alcohol. He is weaker than everybody around him, including Hobson who deigns him with dry wit that he can’t always comprehend. Russell makes no distinction between sober Arthur and drunk Arthur. And he’s such a manic rambler that nobody really can get top control over him, not completely.
Both Arthurs’ are set to marry Susan Johnson in an arrangement between families, but the remake belabors the point that Susan is a total bitch while in the original she was just a socialite who thinks she can understand and lovingly support this man. The remake suppresses pretense of love and that it is clear that it is an arrangement built on hate and transparency. We get it, they hate each other. The two families bridging this marriage in 1981 were somewhat convinced that they are doing this for Arthur out of love.
The more Russell Brand grandstands the more unctuous he is to please his audience, forgetting about arcing into a reformed character. Thus, the more the movie treads on waxing on the “poignancy” the more synthetic it all becomes. Not to mention just plain feeble. You don’t need to see the remake. You need to see the original.
But if you’re in the obstinate camp that all remakes must be better than their originals, then don’t worry whether Russell will slip redundantly into his Batsuit for an encore or not. Have no fear, he does.
For me, Cheers to Dudley.