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Viewer Guide: Arthur and A Most Wanted Man

February 12, 2021 | Richard Peña


ARTHUR, Dudley Moore, 1981, (c) Orion

Tonight’s classic is Arthur, the 1981 romantic comedy written and directed by Steve Gordon.

In the defining role of his movie career, Dudley Moore stars as Arthur Bach, the heir to an enormous family fortune who spends his empty days in besotted bliss, roving around New York City in his chauffeured Rolls Royce in pursuit of every inebriated whim. A charming man-child under the supervision of his starchy British butler Hobson, played in an Oscar-winning performance by John Gielgud, Arthur seems to be the luckiest man alive—except that when the alcohol wears off, he starts remembering that despite his limitless options, he’s being deprived of the one choice that matters the most. For to maintain his inheritance, Arthur must marry the daughter of his father’s business associate, a strategic matrimonial alliance that Arthur’s family is also convinced will help him to finally “grow up.” Faced with such a joyless future, it’s no wonder that Arthur drinks…until one day while shopping at Bergdorf Goodman, a ray of hope enters Arthur’s life in the form of Liza Minnelli as Linda Marolla, a Queens waitress who immediately fascinates him with her nonchalant attempt at shoplifting. Realizing he just may have found the way out of his gilded cage, Arthur embarks on his ultimate joy ride to find the courage—and the reason—to finally take control of his life.

Also featured in supporting roles are Jill Eikenberry as Arthur’s upper-crust fiancé, veteran actress Geraldine Fitzgerald as his eccentric grandmother, and Ted Ross as his long-suffering chauffeur.

As one of the founding members of the British “Beyond the Fringe” comedy troupe in the early 1960s, Dudley Moore made his first big splash in the movies with Bedazzled in 1967, co-starring with his “Beyond the Fringe” partner Peter Cook. But it was the one-two punch of “10” in 1979 and Arthur in 1981 that briefly transformed Moore into an unlikely top box office star. Despite being the sleeper hit of the year, Arthur had been a tricky movie to cast, with other stars including George Segal, Al Pacino, Jack Nicholson, Richard Dreyfuss, John Belushi and Martin Mull all discussed for title role. Likewise, Liza Minnelli reportedly turned down the role of Linda twice, finally agreeing after stars including Carrie Fisher and Debra Winger had also passed. John Gielgud reportedly first dismissed the role of Hobson as “vulgar”—but eventually signed on when his salary was doubled. Gielgud’s deadpan performance garnered him the year’s Oscar for Best Supporting Actor—the only Academy Award of his illustrious career. The film’s theme song by Christopher Cross, Burt Bacharach, Carole Bayer Sager and Liza Minnelli’s ex-husband Peter Allen also picked up the Oscar for Best Original Song that went on to become a number one pop hit. Tragically, writer-director Steve Gordon’s died of a heart attack in November of 1982 at the untimely age of 44. A sequel titled Arthur 2: On the Rocks released in 1988 reunited most of the original cast but was unable to recreate the effervescent charm or box office success of the first film.


A Most Wanted Man (2014)

Tonight’s indie is A Most Wanted Man, a 2014 spy thriller adapted from John le Carré’s 2008 novel and directed by Anton Corbijn.

In his final starring film role, Philip Seymour Hoffman plays as Gunther Bachmann, the head of a special secret intelligence division in Hamburg, Germany. With the German port city’s lingering notoriety as the home base for 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta, sensitivities remain high, and competing government agencies are determined to crush any future acts of international terrorism. In the midst of investigating a Muslim philanthropist suspected of ties to Islamic militants, Gunther and his team quickly take notice when an alleged Chechen jihadist named Issa Karpov appears on their surveillance networks. Learning of Karpov’s efforts to contact a banker named Thomas Brue, played by Willem Dafoe, Gunther strikes a tentative bargain with his hardline security bosses to allow Karpov to remain free in order to follow his trail to potentially bigger things. Also falling under Gunther’s observation is Anabel Richter, an idealistic immigration lawyer, played by Rachel McAdams, who becomes a go-between for Karpov and Brue. But when Robin Wright appears on the scene as Martha Sullivan—an “observer” from the U.S. Embassy—Gunther remembers his own high price for making the world a safer place, a price he never wants to pay again.

A veteran of the British Secret Intelligence Service MI6 A Most Wanted Man’s author David Cornwell achieved international fame as John le Carré, adopting his pen name due to the MI6 prohibition against staff publishing under the real names. As one of the agents allegedly exposed by the notorious British spy Kim Philby in 1964, le Carré left Foreign Office service to devote himself full-time to writing, with his prolific output of novels providing ample material for film and television, including The Spy who Came in from the Cold, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Smiley’s People and The Little Drummer Girl. A Most Wanted Man marked the first collaboration of le Carré with his sons Simon and Stephen Cornwell as producers, who went on to produce adaptations of le Carré’s The Night Manager and Our Kind of Traitor and a new miniseries adaptation of The Little Drummer Girl in 2018. While it requires close watching, you can spot le Carré in a cameo appearance in the scene where Gunther breaks up the barroom fight. Sadly, the film marked the final leading role of Philip Seymour Hoffman, who died of a drug overdose at the untimely age of 46, just two weeks after the film’s premiere at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.

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