Arthur (1981): Screwball Comedy Starring Dudley Moore, Liza Minnelli, and John Gielgud in Oscar-Winning Performance

A New York-set screwball comedy, reimagined in the vein of “My Man Godfrey” and other Depression era fare, Arthur was directed and written by Steve Gordon, who received an Oscar nomination for his Original Screenplay.

Grade: B (*** out of *****)


Theatrical release poster

(The winner was Colin Welland for Chariots of Fire, which swept most of the Oscars that year).

At top form, Dudley Moore plays the titular character, a spoiled drunken millionaire playboy, who falls for a poor girl from Queens, a waitress (Liza Minnelli, well cast), risking his inheritance.

He’s supposed to marry the classier Jill Eikenberry, a marriage that will also bring about a big business deal.

Audiences enjoyed the antics of the inebriated super rich, and the film benefits from Dudley Moore’s easygoing charm and considerable comic skills.

Sir John Gielgud won Best Supporting Actor Oscar for the non-nonsense butler, a character with curmudgeonly charm, who’s also like surrogate father.

Some critics thought the role was beneath the level (and caliber) of famous Shakespearean actor, and were appalled when Gielgud says to Moore: “Do you want me to wash your dick.”

The fairytale happy ending is not exactly creditable, but it’s a minor flaw in a film that’s imaginatively directed, sharply written, and also boasting polished production values, a result of the pro team behind the cameras.

The film bestowed on Dudley Moore his only Best Actor Oscar nomination.

And it deservedly won the Original Song, “Arthur’s Theme” (Best That You Can Do), music and lyrics by Burt Bacharach, Carol Bayer Sager, Christopher Cross, and Peter Allen (who had been married to Liza Minnelli).

Considered one of the brightest talents in Hollywood, director Gordon died of a sudden heart attack in 1982, barely a year after the film’s release.

Made on a modest budget of $7 million, Arthur was a huge commercial hit, grossing $95.5 million at the box-office.


Stay away from the sequel, “Arthur 2 on the Rocks,” which was made in 1988.

Oscar Nominations: 4

Actor: Dudley Moore

Supporting Actor: John Gielgud

Screenplay (Original):  Steve Gordon

Original Song: Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do), music and lyrics by Burt Bacharach, Carole Bayer Sager, Christopher Cross, and Peter Allen

Oscar Awards: 2

Supporting Actor
Original Song


Arthur Bach (Dudley Moore)

Linda Marolla (Liza Minnelli)

Hobson (John Gielgud)

Martha Bach (Geraldine Fitzgerald)

Susan Johnson (Jill Eikenbery)

Burt Johnson (Stephen Elliott)

Bitterman (Ted Ross0)

Ralph Marolla (Barney Martin)

Stanford Bach (Thomas Barbour)

Gloria (Anne DeSalvo)


Directed, written by Steve Gordon
Written by Steve Gordon
Produced by Robert Greenhut
Cinematography Fred Schuler
Edited by Susan E. Morse
Music by Burt Bacharach

Production company: Orion Pictures

Distributed by Warner

Release date: July 17, 1981

Running time: 97 minutes
Budget $7 million
Box office $95.5 million