Skepticism arose from movie goers when they learned outrageous British comedian Russell Brand would star in the remake of 1981s “Arthur,” a role originated by the late Dudley Moore. The trailer for the film hints Brand will pay tribute to Moore while making the role his own.
Moore’s Arthur Bach made drunkenness seem lovable. He laughed at his own jokes, tripped over his feet, and yet charmed his way into the heart of aspiring actress Linda Marolla (Liza Minnelli). The part came naturally to Moore, who had played similar roles throughout his career: including a drunken rapscallion with his partner Peter Cook in the salty duo Derek and Clive.
The original Arthur shared Moore’s ease at the piano, entertaining engagement party guests with a slightly inappropriate musical ode to marriage. He evinced a natural gentleness, both in his dealings with those around him (his respect for his driver and his love for butler Hobson, played by John Gielgud) and even the way he stroked a horse in the stable. With these nuances, Moore’s Arthur was a gentle soul, comfortable with the trappings of wealth and yet questioning the cold demands of business. His drinking was both a way of celebrating independence and of escaping reality.
All of these factors combined to convince the viewer this Arthur could never be happy with someone as bloodless and stale as Susan Johnson (Jill Eikenberry), the daughter of a rich man whom Arthur’s family insisted he must marry. Instead, it was clear he belonged with Minnelli’s Linda, a vivacious, playful, creative woman who seemingly shared his soul.
While Brand joked with Moviehole reporter Tim Johnson that “I’m two foot taller than Dudley Moore. Other than that, I’ve tried as best I can to perfectly recreate Dudley’s performance as a tribute,” in actuality the trailers reveal many differences in his embodiment of the role.
His Arthur may share the original Arthur’s love for alcohol, but the previews show him less soused and more silly. This seems a good choice, given the differences in their physiognomy. Moore, at just 5′ 2 1/2″, was frequently described in the movie as “cute.” Slender and tall, at 6′ 1″, Brand is all limbs, so every movement seems larger. At the risk of overdoing it, he seems to be playing down the drunken stumbling and, instead, concentrating on other forms of slapstick.
This remake is no shot-for-shot tribute. Rather, the humor seems to derive from the strengths of the cast. Helen Mirren as Hobson, reinvented as a nanny, serves a slightly different role. Brand’s Arthur seems more childlike, more innocent than the original Arthur.
Moore’s Arthur held onto the trappings of childhood, such as a train set in his bedroom, because they reminded him of a responsibility-free life. Brand’s Arthur, who still dons a Batman costume and needs a glow-in-the-dark mobile to sleep, seems more like an overgrown child.
While both Arthurs are willing to laugh at themselves, scenes of Brand in a ridiculous character costume, falling down a flight of stairs before delivering a punchline, indicated he’s more willing to make himself look ridiculous.
None of this is a surprise if you look at Brand’s filmography. He has played hard-partying rock star Aldous Snow twice, first in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and then in “Get Him to the Greek,” a primping, preening rocker who’s smooth one moment and outlandish the next.
Viewers of the remake can probably expect much the same: an Arthur who is both endearing and ridiculous; an Arthur who pays tribute to Moore but is yet a Brand creation.