Film / Arthur
No one should ever have to bathe alone... or sober.

"When you get caught between the moon and New York City
I know it's crazy, but it's true
If you get caught between the moon and New York City
The best that you can do,
The best that you can do is fall in love."

Arthur (1981) is the story of Idle Rich Arthur Bach (Dudley Moore), who comes from a wealthy family, and as such, he has never really had to grow up. He spends most of his time drinking and just generally enjoying himself. His father disapproves of his behavior, but is willing to continue to bankroll his son's activities as long as he goes through with the arranged marriage that he has set up for Arthur. The problem is, not only is Arthur not in love with his fiancee, he's just found love with a working-class girl (Liza Minnelli) from Queens. Hilarity Ensues as he tries to live his life his own way without getting cut off from the money.

A box-office sensation, this Romantic Comedy was the biggest solo success of Dudley Moore's career, and Sir John Gielgud, one of the most respected stage actors of the 20th century, won an Academy Award for his role as Hobson, Arthur's valet. "Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do)" won the Best Original Song award and made it to Number One on the Billboard Hot 100. The film was followed by an unsuccessful sequel (Arthur 2: On the Rocks) in 1988, which picks up the story four years later.

And while it has nothing to do with cartoon aardvarks, it is the nearest thing we're ever likely to get to a P. G. Wodehouse adaptation in the top-ten grossers of the year department.

Remade in 2011 with Russell Brand in the title role.

Provides Examples Of:

  • The Alcoholic: Played for Laughs, big time, resulting in Values Dissonance from a modern viewpoint. The Critic spoofed this with the segment Arthur 3: Revenge of the Liver — though Arthur 2: On the Rocks had already addressed this issue. Alcohol still plays a major role in the 2011 film, though its exclusion from the trailer was a bit suspicious...
  • Annoying Laugh: Plenty of characters likely quickly grow tired of Arthur's cackling laugh. Too bad for them he's The Hyena, especially when he's trying to make them laugh with him. Works on a meta level too; when critic Scott Weinberg revisited the film for the podcast 80s All Over, he admitted that as much as he enjoyed Dudley Moore's performance, that laugh got on his nerves.
  • Arranged Marriage: One that Arthur's initially willing to go with just to keep his fortune — and then he meets Linda.
  • Award-Bait Song: "Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do)" plays several aspects of this trope straight (feel-good with soothing and mellow start, builds and builds starting with the second chorus, has a showboating saxophone — rather than guitar — solo for the bridge), but not others. It's very specific to the events of the movie, bookends it by being played under both sets of credits, and is co-written/performed by Christopher Cross, who had just won five Grammy Awards a few months prior. The song and movie were both such big hits that to this day they're joined at the hip, and more than most post-1960s movie theme songs it's become a standard; Barry Manilow, Dionne Warwick, Shirley Bassey, Ronan Keating, and the cast of Glee have all covered it. The song's also popular in Japan (and usually covered by female artists). By way of the Jukebox Musical The Boy from Oz, even Hugh Jackman has belted it out!
    • The soundtrack Arthur — The Album includes several songs that don't appear in the film but work off of melodies from Burt Bacharach's instrumental score. Stephen Bishop's "It's Only Love" fits this trope even more than "Arthur's Theme" does — it has a soothing and mellow start, a touching tone, isn't especially plot-specific, and has an electric guitar solo for the bridge, though it has a subdued finish.
    • The sequel has "Love Is My Decision", performed by Chris de Burgh (who was coming off of "The Lady in Red" at the time). This one is a straight-up Silly Love Song, there's sparkly synth, and the wrap-up is BIG — but at the same time it's even more film-specific because the first-person lyrics are clearly from the perspective of Arthur himself.
  • Aww, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: Hobson is constantly sarcastic and dismissive towards Arthur, going so far as to curse him behind his back. But it's nothing compared to his ire for others who speak ill of his employer. And Arthur stays by Hobson's bed without touching a drop of alcohol until Hobson's death.
    Executive: He gets all that money. Pays his family back by... by being a stinking drunk. It's enough to make you sick.
  • Badass Boast: "Don't SCREW with me, Burt!" Preceded by an Armor-Piercing Slap.
  • Book-Ends: The movie starts and ends with Arthur being driven around New York City and Central Park in particular in his Rolls-Royce. At the beginning, it's at night and he's with a hooker he's picked up for a one-night stand; at the end, it's daytime and it's with Linda, who is now his fiance. Along with this, "Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do)" plays under both the opening and closing credits.
  • The Cavalry: In the climax, Martha Bach serves as this, rescuing Arthur and Linda from being murdered by Burt. For bonus points this character goes on to promise Arthur that he won't lose his inheritance if he marries Linda.
  • Character Development: Arthur comes to realize he needs to start taking life more seriously and be less self-centered if he wants to find true happiness. Due to the specifics of the Surprisingly Happy Ending, he doesn't have to mature that much, but the sequel picks up where this film leaves off a few years later when he has to Earn Your Happy Ending.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Hobson. Oh, so very much.
    "It's been a distinct pleasure meeting you;'s been a most memorable afternoon. Usually one must go to a bowling alley to meet a woman of your stature."
    • Arthur and Linda also get in their shots.
      Susan: A real woman could stop you from drinking.
      Arthur: It'd have to be a real big woman.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Arthur's character arc in the sequel boils down to this: Burt manages to seize control of Arthur's family's business and leaves him and Linda penniless. Then, while Linda is able to find work as a waitress again, Arthur cannot hold down any job he manages to find because of Burt's meddling. The only hope he has of reclaiming his fortune is finally marrying Susan, but he cannot bear to do this. For Linda's sake Arthur ends up homeless and the sway of his alcoholism now threatens to destroy him altogether. But having hit rock bottom, he subsequently pulls himself together, ultimately impressing Susan Johnson enough to induce a Heel–Face Turn that saves the day.
  • Expository Theme Tune: "Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do)" sums up the movie's plot and theme in its first verse and chorus, and the second verse is solely devoted to describing Arthur's personality.
  • Foreign Remake: This movie was the basis for no less than three Indian films: Sharaabi (1984), Nee Thanda Kanike (1985, specifically a remake of Sharaabi), and Tumsa Nahin Dekha: A Love Story (2004). The first and last films are Bollywood productions.
  • Fun Personified: Arthur is determined to live life to the fullest and take others along for the ride, but has the misfortune of having a terminally humorless father who wants him to marry a woman who's just as straitlaced. Part of the reason he and Linda fall in love is that she appreciates his lighthearted qualities. Ironically, this is what paves the way for his Character Development into someone who takes life seriously to some degree when everyone else around him believes the Arranged Marriage is what will do it.
  • Grande Dame: Arthur's grandmother Martha, who is on the more intelligent and more ruthless end of the trope.
  • Heel–Face Turn: In the sequel, it's Susan Johnson who steps into the breach to secure Arthur's victory.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Really downplayed with Gloria, whom Arthur picks up for a one-night stand in the opening sequence. She's world-weary and clearly sees this evening as a (very profitable) job, but does seem to enjoy his company and sense of humor while it lasts.
  • The Hyena: Arthur's cackling laugh is heard before he's seen as the movie begins. He laughs as punctuation to his jokes, he laughs after he tumbles out of his car at the Plaza, he laughs in his sleep...
  • The Jeeves: Hobson. Very literally, and very directly, according to Word of God.
  • Lonely Rich Kid: Though he's not actually a kid — he's in his forties — Arthur fits the trope otherwise to the point that it's brought up in his theme song ("All of his life, his master's toys/And deep in his heart, he's just, he's just a boy") and the soundtrack album-only song "Poor Rich Boy".
  • Loophole Abuse: Martha's solution to Arthur's dilemma? Marry Susan and have an affair with Linda.
  • Loveable Rogue: When Arthur first meets Linda, she's in the process of being caught shoplifting; Arthur saves her by paying for the tie, which was to be a birthday gift for her father.
  • Manchild: Arthur, because he never had to grow up, is this. While he uses his money to enjoy very adult pleasures, he also has a giant model train set in his bedroom, a Personal Arcade, and otherwise. Hobson often speaks to/disciplines him as one would a child. In the waiting room outside Stanford Bach's office, Hobson gives him a magazine to look at ("There are many pictures"), reminds him to sit up straight, and promises that they'll get ice cream once the meeting is done. Even the theme song brings it up: "Arthur, he does as he pleases/All of his life, his master's toys/And deep in his heart/He's just, he's just a boy". This trope is more pronounced in the original than the remake because while a 30-something in The New '10s having a childish streak isn't that unusual, a 40-something in the early 1980s was a different story!
  • Marry Them All: Grandma Martha's solution? "Marry Susan, and have an affair with the girl from Queens!"
  • Meet Cute: She's shoplifting a tie from Bergdorf Goodman, he regards it as the perfect crimenote  and decides to help her out. By the time they part ways he's passionately kissed her and she's given him her phone number.
  • Micro Monarchy: Discussed and Played for Laughs: At the Plaza Hotel restaurant, Arthur claims to some family members who are also dining there that his date is Princess Gloria, who comes from a country so small that "they just had the whole place carpeted."
  • Never Mess with Granny: Martha! "Don't SCREW with me, Burt!"
  • Nice Hat: Said by a disheveled Arthur as he, having just been beaten up and almost murdered and now trying to make his way up the aisle to tell the crowd the wedding's off, passes someone wearing a nice hat. Due to his condition there is a lengthy pause between the two words as he continues his walk.
    • Arthur himself has a top hat he likes to wear when he's on the town...and when he's bathing.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: This happens, mostly offscreen, to poor Arthur in the climax when Burt finds out he's dumped Susan. And Burt tries to finish him and Linda off with a knife. To add insult to injury, Arthur has to go straight from this to telling the waiting audience in the chapel that the wedding's off.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: The English actor Dudley Moore plays Arthur, a New Yorker. A little bit of Fridge Brilliance comes from the fact Arthur's role model and father figure is his Quintessential British Gentleman Jeeves. (The role was intended for an American actor, but Moore couldn't pull off an American accent).
  • Not-So-Harmless Villain: Arthur assumes that because Susan has a generally bland personality, she won't be too bothered when he jilts her at the altar. Susan proceeds to prove Arthur wrong in spectacular fashion.
  • Parental Substitute: Arthur's mother is never seen, and he has a bad relationship with his father. Enter Hobson, who effectively raised Arthur. Even though he's frequently annoyed and frustrated by Arthur's antics, Hobson is the only person in his inner circle who genuinely loves him for who he is, and ultimately has a hand in Arthur and Linda getting together despite everything.
  • Personal Arcade: Arthur has a pinball machine in his bathroom.
  • Please Wake Up: Subverted. Arthur keeps telling Hobson to wake up and stop pretending to die. After Hobson dies, Arthur, drunk, tells another wino, how Hobson went to sleep — and never woke up.
  • Precision F-Strike: Hobson, more notable because he's Sir John Gielgud.
    Hobson: Perhaps you would like me to come in there and wash your dick for you, you little shit?
    • Arthur gets one in as well.
      Arthur: Susan... you're such an asshole!
  • Pretty in Mink: The sequel has several furs, including Linda having a mink coat and Susan wearing a black fox wrap.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Hobson berates Arthur for whining that he's never been loved, calling him a "spoiled little shit", then telling him that not only is he rich, but he can afford to be an eccentric drunk ("Real drunks have no teeth and live in the gutter."). He tops it off by angrily telling him he loves him.
  • Refrain from Assuming: The theme is not called "When You Get Caught Between the Moon and New York City", or even just "The Moon and New York City". It's called "Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do)".
  • Rewritten Pop Version: A variation. Peter Allen, who contributed the line "When you get caught between the moon and New York City" to the lyrics of "Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do)", was a performer as well as songwriter, and years after his death warranted his own Jukebox Musical, The Boy from Oz. By dropping the second verse (which is specifically about Arthur) and tweaking the lyrics of the first, the song was turned into a falling-in-love duet for Allen and...Liza Minnelli, who was his wife for a few years in The '60s / The '70s and went on to play Linda in this film. This version of the song is titled "Best That You Can Do".
  • Rich in Dollars, Poor in Sense
  • Romantic Comedy: An example told from the male half's point of view.
  • Runaway Bride: Male version, with Arthur leaving Susan.
  • Sarcasm Failure
  • Screen-to-Stage Adaptation: A stage musical adaptation, Arthur — The Musical, arrived at the turn of The '90s and was intended for Broadway, but only saw two regional productions before disappearing save for the duet "The Memory of Tonight", which appears on the Unsung Musicals, Vol. 2 compilation as a studio recording. (Odd fun fact: co-librettist Marta Kauffman went on to be one of the creators of Friends.)
  • Screwball Comedy: One of the more successful attempts at "neo-screwball".
  • Screw the Money, I Have Rules!: Arthur eventually chooses Linda over Susan. Grandma Martha then lets up and says that no grandson of hers would be poor, and they get to remain in the money after all — but he was willing to choose love over money. He even convinces Linda and Bitterman that he'll still give up the money before revealing the truth ("I'm not crazy!").
  • Self-Made Man: Burt Johnson is this and proud of it, having gone from Rags to Riches through determination and ruthlessness. In his introductory scene he tells Arthur how he once confronted a robber, ultimately killing him with a knife. Burt was eleven at the time.
  • Servile Snarker: Arthur's valet, Hobson.
    Hobson, would you like to run my bath for me?
    It's what I live for, sir.
  • Sophisticated as Hell: Martha. She buys one of the most famous paintings in the world, and mentions that the dealer "jerked her around" on the price. (Said painting is Vermeer's "Woman with a Pearl Necklace"; Martha misidentifies it as "Woman Admiring Pearls".)
  • Spiritual Successor: It draws a lot of inspiration from P. G. Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster stories. Characters' names are changed so that the filmmakers can do their own thing with them. It also owes a debt to 1930s romantic comedies.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Between the two films, Arthur and Linda are put through quite a bit even by the standards of a "love or money" story, but come through.
  • Surprisingly Happy Ending: The denouement of the first film looks to end on a slightly bittersweet note, as Arthur is all set to live the poor life with Linda and become a responsible working adult...but Martha won't have the "working" part and says he can have his inheritance no matter what. The remake's Not His Sled ending may have been conceived partially because using this ending wouldn't play as well with audiences of The New '10s.
  • Tabloid Melodrama: Arthur's antics have been this for the N.Y.C. press for quite some time. The hooker whom he doesn't choose but is paid anyway tells his driver Bitterman that "I've seen his face in the papers — that's Arthur Bach, isn't he?" The following day, Arthur's dalliance with Gloria at the Plaza Hotel warrants newspaper coverage as well, much to his father's disgust.
  • Took a Level in Jerkass: Susan in the sequel. In the first film, she was a Well-Intentioned Extremist at her worst and really didn't have a hostile bone in her body. In the sequel, it plays up the Woman Scorned, even having her mock Linda for being barren when she's "as fertile as the Napa Valley." At the end, she does come to realize the depths of Arthur's love for Linda and makes a Heel-Face Turn that allows a happy ending.
  • Tough Room: Arthur deals with this constantly when it comes to his jokes. He even drops the trope name during his visit with Burt at the latter's mansion, having failed to make him or the butler smile. "This is a tough room — I don't need to tell you that." "You", in this case, refers to a stuffed-and-mounted moose head on the wall he can't stop commenting on.
  • Twisted Christmas: The sequel actually hits all the points of one, because Arthur and Linda lose their fortune just as the Christmas season's beginning. Things go from bad to worse for them to the point that on Christmas Eve Arthur's homeless. Luckily, that's when the Spirit Advisor arrives and things begin turning around.
  • Uncle Pennybags: Arthur in both versions, to the point that the remake had the Tagline "Meet the world's only lovable billionaire." He can be playfully generous with his money — after he chooses to pick up Gloria in the opening scene, he tells Bitterman to pay the other hooker $100 because "she came in second."
  • Vanilla Edition: One of the very first DVD releases Warner Bros. put out, it wasn't even in its proper aspect ratio. The only widescreen edition available is the Blu-Ray, which packages it and its sequel together and was only brought out as a tie-in to the remake. Sadly justified as several of the principals had passed away or were too ill to participate in extras even in the late 1990s.
  • Video Full of Film Clips: "Arthur's Theme" has one — one of the earliest examples of this trope and the first involving an Oscar-winning song.
  • Walking Spoiler: Between the two films, there's a really unconventional case with Arthur's valet Hobson, who dies at the end of the first film's second act. His appearance in the second film is as a Spirit Advisor who may or may not be a hallucination.
  • Walk This Way: The butler at the Johnsons' mansion uses the exact words to direct Arthur into Burt's trophy room. Arthur being Arthur, he obliges by mimicking his walk behind his back.
  • Wedding Smashers: Just as Arthur and Susan's wedding ceremony is about to go on, Arthur tells her it's off, she calls for Burt, he beats Arthur up and almost murders him and Linda, and are only saved by Martha. The waiting audience in the chapel is stunned to see the bruised-and-bloody Arthur stumble up the aisle, announce that the wedding's off and he's poor now, and pass out.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Susan Johnson honestly believes she can change Arthur into a respectable, responsible person once they're married — it's I Can Change My Beloved way in advance, given that he does not reciprocate her affections.
  • Yandere: Susan.

The 2011 remake also or alternatively provides examples of:

  • The Alcoholic: Obviously, given the source material. But Arthur justifies his drinking because of his father. His father was a frugal man, had no excesses, walked everywhere he went... and dropped dead of a heart attack at age 44. The lesson Arthur took from this tragedy is "Why bother to take care of yourself?"
  • Ambiguously Bi: Arthur makes references to being caught in affairs with transvestites and to visiting gay bars.
  • Brick Joke: Lots of them, from Arthur's fear of horses to his magnetic bed, though The Batmobile takes the cake.
  • Broken Bird: A male subversion. Arthur seems to enjoy his frivolous lifestyle, but he acts out against his mother by spending obscene amounts of money on useless things (his apartment is full of suits of armor, a glittery camel, a phone-booth-turned-fish-tank) and by drinking vodka like water.
  • Decoy Protagonist: Despite Jennifer Garner being heavily featured alongside Russell Brand in the publicity campaign for the film, she plays Susan Johnson — the woman that Arthur doesn't want to marry.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Due to the Not His Sled ending of this version, Arthur goes through this in the third act (see below).
  • Gender Flip: Twice over. Hobson is now Arthur's nanny and played by Helen Mirren, and it's Arthur's mother rather than father who's pushing him towards marrying Susan.
  • Gold Digger: Susan Johnson, subverted in that she is already quite wealthy... just not as wealthy as Arthur and the upper crust caste system she wants to leap to the forefront of.
  • Lonely Rich Kid: Arthur, in spades.
  • Not His Sled: In the original film, Arthur gets his happy ending when he rejects Susan and Martha declares he shouldn't have to be working class, which frees him to marry Linda and keep his fortune. In this version, Arthur rejects Susan BUT Naomi rejects him, too hurt by previous events. To become worthy of her, he spends six months sobering up and finding his place in the family business, whereupon he is able to reconcile with her and thus gets his happy ending.
  • Nouveau Riche: Burt Johnson, Susan's father. He doesn't seem to mind his humble beginnings, but Susan is deeply ashamed of them, leading to her plot to marry Arthur.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Arthur. His mother and Hobson both lament the obviously intelligent Arthur's frivolous lifestyle, and his mother's belief that he will never grow up sets the plot of the movie in motion.
  • Rich Bitch: Arthur's mother Vivianne to an extent, and Susan to the extreme - she's already wealthy, but sets her sights on Arthur because his name brings prestige she wants from high society.
    Arthur: (to Susan) I really think you are dark and twisted on the inside, and I tried my best to bugger it out of you but I'm pretty sure it's still there.
  • Rich in Dollars, Poor in Sense: Arthur comes off as this, though he has good reason to...
  • Sir Not-Appearing-in-This-Trailer: Linda's counterpart Naomi appears only for a moment at the beginning, perhaps because her actress (Greta Gerwig) is not as big a name as those playing Hobson (Mirren) and Susan (Jennifer Garner). In fact, she not only gets lesser billing than both of them, she's not even on the poster while Mirren and Garner are.
  • Stealth Pun: One of the first things you see in the movie is Arthur and his chauffeur crashing the Batmobile into the famous golden bull on Wall Street. Cut to his mother's fundraiser, where a man is saying "We're not worried about a market crash..."
  • "Well Done, Son!" Guy: Nearly all of Arthur's emotional troubles stem from his awful mother (he calls her by her first name, Vivianne) and the fact his perfectly healthy father died suddenly at the age of 44, when Arthur was 3. By the end of the film, he openly considers his nanny Hobson to be his real mother.