It turns out that a movie about a cheerful drunk is not as funny to me now as it was the first time I saw it. Don’t get me wrong, it is still damn funny, but the first time I remember all but rolling in the aisles. Our attitudes about drunks are a little different today. Dudley Moore’s maniacal laugh is still a killer, and some of his lame jokes (which he, and no one else, finds hysterical) are pretty funny, too. Liza Minelli, it seems to me, isn’t all that great as an actress. Any number of women could have played this part opposite Dudley, and some might even have been better. I’m not totally dissing her here. She was terrific in the films where she got to sing: Cabaret and New York, New York.
But I think the real thing that made this movie such a hit, even more than Moore, was John Gielgud’s part as Hobson, the world’s best and most cynical butler. He won the Supporting Actor Oscar, and deservedly so. It is one of those genius bits of casting, where he plays the snooty Brit he has done so many times before, but with lines that are totally unexpected. Like:
Arthur says he intends to take a bath: “Perhaps you would like me to come in there wash your dick for you, you little shit.” Or this:
Executive: He gets all that money. Pays his family back by… by… by bein’ a stinkin’ drunk. It’s enough ta make ya sick.
Hobson: I really wouldn’t know, sir. I’m just a servant.
Hobson: On the other hand, go screw yourself.
It’s a sad story about the writer-director, though. Steve Gordon made this film, and then up and died the very next year. He was nominated for Best Original Screenplay, and for my money it was better than the winner, the highly over-rated Chariots of Fire.