The Netflix Files: April 6, 2011

The Netflix Files works to find the hidden gems of Netflix’s Watch Instantly feature, the films and TV series that have gone largely unnoticed by the streaming community.

This weekend, Russell Brand’s new comedy Arthur is set to hit theaters. The trailer paints the film as typical Brand fare — Arthur Bach is an unfathomably wealthy, hard-partying man-child (basically Aldous Snow). It’s his signature character, and this time around he trades in Jonah Hill for a new, slightly more celebrated straight man: Dame Helen Mirren.

The casual moviegoer will overlook the fact that Arthur is a remake. Which is unfortunate, because the original is one of the most influential comedies ever made. For instance, it proved that a lewd, obnoxious drunk could make for a likable comedic protagonist. In other words, the “Russell Brand” brand would never have existed if not for Dudley Moore’s Arthur.

Arthur was released in 1981 to rave reviews (RottenTomatoes rating: 89% fresh), a Golden Globe for Best Comedy, and four Academy Award nominations (two of which it won). It’s smart, endearing and genuinely hysterical, even thirty years later. Arthur is about as perfect as a comedy can get — so naturally, Hollywood was ready to remake the shit out of it.

Dudley Moore (1935-2002) was a British import, a petite and highly animated comedian who became an icon after the film was released. As some students may have surmised in their time here, there are two kinds of alcoholic at every party: the hilarious and the downright annoying. A lesser actor in the role of Arthur Bach might have ruined the party altogether. Yet Moore nails every scene, whether he’s joking around with spandex-clad prostitutes or delivering absurd orders from his bathtub.

The plot follows Arthur as he stumbles around Manhattan, dispersing his family’s $750 million fortune to anyone who will entertain him. He is bound to an arranged marriage with a beautiful and shallow heiress, but life has different plans for him when he falls in love with Linda, a petty shoplifter from Queens (played by Oscar winner and Arrested Development alum Liza Minnelli).

Shakespearean actor John Gielgud earned an Academy Award for originating the role of Hobson, Arthur’s quick-witted English butler and surrogate father. The relationship between Arthur and Hobson is the core of the film, and takes the viewer by surprise with its profound emotional resonance in the second act.

So if you’re in the mood for a laugh this weekend, there’s no need to dish out $10+ to see Russell Brand’s new film (unless it’s Hop, in which case we can’t help you). The original Arthur is a classic worthy of being seen by our generation, and it’s currently available on Watch Instantly.

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