Dudley Moore

The Mighty Kong (1998, Art Scott)

The Mighty Kong is fairly awful. It’d be nice to say there’s some kind of charm to it, given it’s an animated, family-targeted, period King Kong adaptation, it’s got Dudley Moore’s final performance, and Jodi Benson’s a lot more professional than the production deserves. But it doesn’t have any consistent charm. Not even Benson, who’s the only potential anywhere in the picture; for a while it seems like Benson’s going to be the protagonist.

Okay, let me set it up a little. Moore is the Robert Armstrong character, the movie director. In Mighty Kong he has a nerdy sidekick who’s his cameraman and assistant only the nerdy sidekick (voiced by William Sage). Moore and Sage make musicals of wild animals appearing silly, which is rather imaginative for William J. Keenan’s script. At some point Mighty Kong gives up on having a script—to the point you can forget the movie has a fairly standard first act introducing the characters and situation. Sure, it’s peculiar because Moore’s never it enough to be the lead, even though he’s the lead of that part of the story no question, and the scale of the production is always lacking. Mighty Kong really doesn’t have the animation budget it needs and what the animators end up doing… I mean, it’s bad. There are times when director Scott seems to have a good idea and the animators butcher it.

Except in the finale, which I’ll get to in a bit.

First, back to the characters. So Benson is Fay Wray and Randy Hamilton is Bruce Cabot. Hamilton’s only character trait is he hates women being on ships and is generally a dick. He falls for Benson after the natives on Skull Island threaten her. We know he falls for her because their next scene together is a heavily stylized, including 1998 CGI stars, musical duet where you don’t believe Hamilton or Benson ever met much less sing the duet in the same studio at the same time. Heck, their animated characters don’t even appear on screen together for the duet. It’s godawful and in no way amusing.

Immediately after that duet, it’s time for the giant ape to get introduced—they call him a “Monkey God” in Mighty Kong, never ape. Maybe apes are too big a concept for the target audience, but there isn’t a target audience because it’s such a weird movie. But anyway.

The Kong grabbing Benson and fighting dinosaur after dinosaur section is brief and at least not good in a different way than the first forty-five or so minutes have been not good. Once they get to New York, there’s the absurd Kong breakout sequence where Hamilton and Benson just walk away and ignore the destruction behind them. Even when they should be running. They just walk. Because bad animation.

Though Hamilton looks just like John Cassavetes most of the time, which would be cool if Hamilton were any good. He’s not, though it’s also a terribly written part. Moore gets bad one-liners. The script at least tries for him. Benson does get the “concern for Monkey God” subplot, but very little dialogue in the third act.

The only good part of the movie is when Kong gets into comic hijinks destroying New York. Even when he apparently kills two teens necking in a car. The animation is hilariously executed. Even if Kong’s rarely the same size.

The Mighty Kong is (mostly) harmlessly bad; it’s clearly being done way too cheap. It’s got bad music, bad songs, bad performances of bad lines, bad animation—occasionally excellent editing from Tony Hayman—and it’s not even worth it as a curiosity, which is a shame. An animated musical kids version of King Kong ought to at least be a curiosity.

Though it could qualify as an icky curiosity for the occasional objectification of Benson’s cartoon character in a kids’ movie but… a good curiosity would be nice.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Art Scott; screenplay by William J. Keenan, based on the story by Merian C. Cooper and Edgar Wallace; edited by Tony Hayman; production designers, Brendan deVallance and Lyn Henderson; produced by Denis deVallance and Henderson; released by Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.

Starring Dudley Moore (Denham), Jodi Benson (Ann), Randy Hamilton (Driscoll), William Sage (Roscoe), Jason Gray-Stanford (Ricky), and Richard Newman (Captain).


Arthur 2: On the Rocks (1988, Bud Yorkin)

With the exception of Jill Eikenberry, all of the cast members from the original return for Arthur 2: On the Rocks. Cynthia Sikes replaces her. Eikenberry’s absence means she’s the only person who doesn’t embarrass herself. I’m sorry, did I say embarrass? I more meant humiliate.

Worse, director Yorkin and screenwriter Andy Breckman don’t just reserve the humiliation for the returning cast… the new cast members (like Kathy Bates, Paul Benedict and Sikes) humiliate themselves too. Watching Arthur 2, seeing actors who gave great performances in what are supposedly the same roles now giving terrible ones–Geraldine Fitzgerald is just awful, ditto for Stephen Elliott. Elliott’s the worse of the two, however.

As for leads Liza Minnelli and Dudley Moore–who were so precious and cute and good in the original–oh, they’re bad. Minnelli’s better, but only because Moore’s debasing himself in this one.

Besides a fifty-three year-old Moore no longer being adorable as an obnoxious drunk in the lead, the problem is the script. Yorkin’s direction is definitely lame, but Breckman’s script is atrocious. He tries to mimic the first film without actually developing the characters. There’s an unclear interim between the two films (it ranges from three to six years, never the actual eight) and it just goes to show how little thought Breckman puts into anything here.

Arthur 2: On the Rocks does have one big distinction–there’s nothing good about it. Even Burt Bacharach’s score is lousy. It’s a dismal, long, unfunny debacle.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Bud Yorkin; screenplay by Andy Breckman, based on characters created by Steve Gordon; director of photography, Stephen H. Burum; edited by Michael Kahn; music by Burt Bacharach; production designer, Gene Callahan; produced by Robert Shapiro; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Dudley Moore (Arthur Bach), Liza Minnelli (Linda Marolla Bach), John Gielgud (Hobson), Geraldine Fitzgerald (Martha Bach), Stephen Elliott (Burt Johnson), Paul Benedict (Fairchild), Cynthia Sikes (Susan Johnson), Kathy Bates (Mrs. Canby), Jack Gilford (Mr. Butterworth), Ted Ross (Bitterman), Barney Martin (Ralph Marolla) and Thomas Barbour (Stanford Bach).


Lovesick (1983, Marshall Brickman)

Lovesick is an unassuming comedy. Director Brickman will occasionally bring in frantic, sitcom-like plotting to jazz things up momentarily, but otherwise the film’s exceedingly calm and measured. It only runs ninety-some minutes; it’s gradual, without much conflict at all–in fact, when there’s conflict introduced, Dudley Moore’s protagonist will actually relieve pressure on the situation. It’s strange.

Moore’s an analyst who becomes infatuated with a patient–Elizabeth McGovern–and finds his life in upheaval. Brickman carefully layers in how the upheaval causes Moore’s self-discovery. These are little asides, never the focus of a scene or conversation. It’s very confident stuff, especially since Brickman also goes the extreme route of having Alec Guinness (as Freud’s ghost) counseling Moore about his life.

Alec Guinness as Freud, John Huston as Moore’s mentor. The film’s got excellent performances all around–Selma Diamond runs rings around Alan King, who’s also good–but Guinness and Huston give Lovesick a lot of charm.

So does McGovern, who has to become a character in a few scenes after she’s revealed as the object of Moore’s affection.

Also good in smaller parts are Ron Silver, Larry Rivers, Wallace Shawn and Anne Kerry. At times, if it weren’t Gerry Fisher’s exquisite photography and some excellent composition from Brickman, Lovesick feels like a little thing Brickman got together and worked on with his friends in their spare time.

The film’s gentle, sweet, rewarding. It’s always genial and never without charm, but gets rather good in the second half.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Marshall Brickman; director of photography, Gerry Fisher; edited by Nina Feinberg; music by Philippe Sarde; production designer, Philip Rosenberg; produced by Charles Okun; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Dudley Moore (Saul Benjamin), Elizabeth McGovern (Chloe Allen), John Huston (Larry Geller, M.D.), Alan King (Lionel Gross, M.D.), Gene Saks (Frantic Patient), Wallace Shawn (Otto Jaffe), Ron Silver (Ted Caruso), Renée Taylor (Mrs. Mondragon), Anne De Salvo (Case Interviewer), Selma Diamond (Harriet Singer, M.D.), David Strathairn (Marvin Zuckerman) and Alec Guinness (Sigmund Freud).


Crazy People (1990, Tony Bill)

Crazy People is distressingly tepid. It has a number of fine performances–Dudley Moore’s sturdy and likable in the lead, Daryl Hannah’s outstanding as his love interest and the supporting cast’s so good I’m going to wait a while to talk about them to go out on an up note. But the film itself? Very tepid. Like they threw in curse words to guarantee an R rating when it really could have been PG.

Strangely enough, writer Mitch Markowitz does a great job with the swearing. He just doesn’t do enough of it.

The film concerns an institutionalized ad writer (Moore). It’s more of a retreat, really–there’s the kindly doctor (an underutilized Mercedes Ruehl) and friendly fellow patients. Moore recruits these patients to write honest (and very) funny ads.

But then Markowitz runs out of story. Sure, People only runs ninety minutes, but there are long gaps without Moore or even his fellow patients. Instead, the picture concentrates on J.T. Walsh’s odious advertising executive. Not even Paul Reiser, as Moore’s friend, sticks around for the entire runtime. And Ruehl gets an unceremonious boot.

Luckily, the actors playing the patients are outstanding. David Paymer’s probably the best, but Paul Bates and Danton Stone are both good too.

Ben Hammer’s fine as the evil doctor–People has a big problem with internal logic; an evil doctor doesn’t make a good villain.

Besides an annoying score from Cliff Eidelman, it’s technically proficient.

The parts are funnier than the final product. Much funnier.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Tony Bill; written by Mitch Markowitz; director of photography, Victor J. Kemper; edited by Mia Goldman; music by Cliff Eidelman; production designer, John J. Lloyd; produced by Thomas Barad; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Dudley Moore (Emory Leeson), Daryl Hannah (Kathy Burgess), Paul Reiser (Stephen Bachman), J.T. Walsh (Drucker), Bill Smitrovich (Bruce), Alan North (Judge), David Paymer (George), Danton Stone (Saabs), Paul Bates (Robles), Dick Cusack (Mort), Doug Yasuda (Hsu), Floyd Vivino (Eddie Aris), Mercedes Ruehl (Dr. Liz Baylor) and Ben Hammer (Dr. Koch).


Foul Play (1978, Colin Higgins)

Foul Play ends with a celebration of itself. Over the end credits, clips of some of the film’s more memorable moments and characters play. It’s incredibly egotistical–I mean, Foul Play is director Higgins’s directorial debut, it’s Chevy Chase’s first leading man role… it’s an unproven commodity.

Except, of course, Higgins has every right to be so full of himself and proud of the film. It’s not just the best made comedy of the seventies, but it’s probably the best made one since the seventies too. And Higgins? Higgins’s directorial debut is one of the best directorial debuts. He’s in an elite club of five or six directors. The plot complications and the way he layers information and causal relationships throughout the film are only matched by the complex composition and direction. His approach to establishing shots is both distinct and inventive, brisk but deliberate.

Higgins gets great performances out of the entire cast–Goldie Hawn and Chase are wonderful together (and on their own, though it’s really Hawn’s film)–but there are some standouts. Dudley Moore is incredible, as is Burgess Meredith. While they’re fine actors, their performances here are extraordinary. I wonder if Higgins had them in mind when he wrote the script.

Billy Barty’s great too (in a similarly suited role).

In tiny roles (less than three minutes of screen time) M. James Arnett, Pat Ast and Frances Bay all stand out.

Excellent score from Charles Fox, excellent photography from David M. Walsh.

Foul Play is magnificent.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Colin Higgins; director of photography, David M. Walsh; edited by Pembroke J. Herring; music by Charles Fox; production designer, Alfred Sweeney; produced by Edward K. Milkis and Thomas L. Miller; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Goldie Hawn (Gloria Mundy), Chevy Chase (Tony Carlson), Burgess Meredith (Mr. Hennessey), Rachel Roberts (Gerda Casswell), Eugene Roche (Archbishop Thorncrest), Dudley Moore (Stanley Tibbets), Marilyn Sokol (Stella), Brian Dennehy (Fergie), Marc Lawrence (Stiltskin), Billy Barty (J.J. MacKuen), Don Calfa (Scarface), Bruce Solomon (Scott), Pat Ast (Mrs. Venus), Frances Bay (Mrs. Russel), William Frankfather (Whitey Jackson), John Hancock (Coleman) and Shirley Python (Esme).


Blame It on the Bellboy (1992, Mark Herman)

Herman opens Blame It on the Bellboy with his two weakest features—and the film’s full of weaknesses so to start with the worst ones? It’s sort of impressive he set it up to immediately stumble.

First, Andreas Katsulas’s mobster. The film takes place in Venice and Katsulas plays the only Venetian. He plays the role with an absurd New York accent. It’s an incompetent performance.

Second, Bronson Pinchot’s titular bellboy, who sets the film’s wacky events into motion by not understanding English. The surprising thing about Bellboy is the absence of a plagiarism suit as Herman rips off scenes and dialogue from “Fawlty Towers,” apparently telling Pinchot just to ape Andrew Sachs’s Manuel on that program. Unfortunately, even in someone else’s role, Pinchot can’t give a good performance.

Then the principals show up. Bryan Brown, Dudley Moore and Richard Griffiths. Griffiths is the best as minor British politician looking for sleazy romance in Venice. Brown’s an assassin, Moore’s a nebbish on assignment from a bad job. Moore actually manages to be likable; Brown barely makes an impression. In about half his scenes, he doesn’t even speak, just nods.

The female cast is Patsy Kensit, Penelope Wilton and Alison Steadman. The script’s response to the character enduring a sexual trauma is to make her comically unsympathetic. Steadman is initially treated well (and her performance is good) before Herman too makes her a target for audience laughter.

Only Steadman keeps afloat, giving the film’s best performance.

Herman makes a bad Bellboy.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Mark Herman; director of photography, Andrew Dunn; edited by Michael Ellis; music by Trevor Jones; production designer, Gemma Jackson; produced by Steve Abbott and Jennifer Howarth; released by Hollywood Pictures.

Starring Dudley Moore (Melvyn Orton), Bryan Brown (Mike Lawton), Richard Griffiths (Maurice Horton), Andreas Katsulas (Scarpa), Patsy Kensit (Caroline Wright), Alison Steadman (Rosemary Horton), Penelope Wilton (Patricia Fulford) and Bronson Pinchot (Bellboy).


Unfaithfully Yours (1984, Howard Zieff)

If I’d had to guess, I’d say remaking Preston Sturges and having it work to any degree was impossible. Unfaithfully Yours proves me wrong. Instead of doing a–no pun intended–faithful remake, this version is more geared as a Dudley Moore comedy. It’s not a stretch for Moore (though he does, eventually, get to do some great physical comedy) but he’s good, even if it is the kind of role he can sleep through. The script plots out these fantastic set pieces–the last act is spectacular, even if the denouement is a disaster–but there’s great ones throughout. There’s a dueling violins scene between Moore and Armand Assante, which is probably director Howard Zieff’s high point.

Zieff’s an indistinct director, so the script is what makes Unfaithfully Yours work. The scenes between Moore and Albert Brooks–Brooks’s character in general–are great. They made me wonder why Unfaithfully Yours is either dismissed or unknown. Moore’s character being slight never really affects the film’s quality, because of the comedic payoff in the last act, but Nastassja Kinski ruins it. She’s trying to mask her native accent as an Italian one and it doesn’t work. It’s an unpleasant mix of confusing and confounding. She gives the film’s only weak performance, but since her character–married to the older Moore–has to be believable and she never manages, it’s a damning problem.

Assante’s rather good (I never thought I’d believe him as a classical violinist) and Richard Libertini’s got some hilarious moments (Libertini has no problem trading in his Massachusetts accent for an Italian one) and the whole production has a good tone. Bill Conti’s score is playful, the New York locations look great. The scenes with Albert Brooks do look, strangely, like they’re from a different movie in terms of lighting and editing, but they help carry Unfaithfully Yours to its conclusion. The first three-quarters of the film is amusing (it survives an opening 1980s voiceover) but it’s never particularly good. The script’s got strong dialogue exchanges, a few good set pieces, but it never gives away the eventual payoff.

And for someone expecting a more direct lift of the Sturges (like me), it’s a big surprise and a nice one.

It’s just a shame it all falls apart in the last scene. Unfaithfully Yours transitions, in the last few moments, from being a comedy to being a romantic comedy (pejorative intended). It makes it less successful, but it’s still a fine movie.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Howard Zieff; screenplay by Valerie Curtin, Barry Levinson and Robert Klane, based on a screenplay by Preston Sturges; director of photography, David M. Walsh; edited by Sheldon Karr; music by Bill Conti; production designer, Albert Brenner; produced by Joe Wizan and Marvin Worth; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Dudley Moore (Claude Eastman), Nastassja Kinski (Daniella Eastman), Armand Assante (Maxmillian Stein), Albert Brooks (Norman Robbins), Cassie Yates (Carla Robbins) and Richard Libertini (Giuseppe).


Arthur (1981, Steve Gordon)

Steve Gordon died the year after Arthur came out, so he never made any other films, which is an exceptional tragedy. Arthur is a singular comedy–it’s a mix of laugh-out-loud comedy, romantic comedy, sincere human relationships and genuine character development. The first two are not mutually exclusive, but I’m not even sure Woody Allen’s managed to combine them with the second two (two of Woody’s regular producers, in fact, produced Arthur). Gordon frequently gets affecting hilarious scenes going–usually involving John Gielgud–and the film’s a joy to watch.

For the last third, Gordon takes a hint from Mr. Deeds Goes to Town and sets everything at one location. (Oddly, as Dudley Moore shuffles in–the character’s a complete drunk and Moore’s got some incredible bits with how far he’ll go to protect his alcohol–I thought it’d be interesting if Gordon did the Deeds close, but didn’t even realize he had until I started typing this post up). It’s a good format for the close, but also the only part where Gordon stumbles. He offers the film’s most profound moments, then shies away. Worse, he continues this absurd life-threatening subplot, which kind of worked as a joke in a scene in the middle, but at the end… it had me thinking about framed bellboys instead of the movie itself.

The acting in the film is all excellent. Gielgud’s performance as Moore’s exasperated but loving butler is exceptional. The scenes with him and Moore are all great, just getting better as the film goes along. Moore, as the leading man, is a comic genius–he can make his heel of a character utterly sympathetic from the first moment on film. Also great are Anne De Salvo, Ted Ross and Barney Martin. Strangely–or maybe not–Liza Minnelli’s best scenes are the ones without Moore. She and Moore are good together, but they’re very cute, and when it’s her and Martin or her and Gielgud, the scenes just have a lot more resonance. It’s a romantic comedy, of course she’s got to have scenes with Moore, but the rest of her scenes–even the brief second watching her at work–are when it’s obvious Gordon was really writing the character.

For a while, I thought Arthur was going to be that supreme example I’d compare all other popular comedies against. The way Gordon serves actual human regard with the funny stuff, it’s incredibly rare (because the laughs Gordon goes for are cheap, popular laughs). So, it might not be the ultimate comparison, but it’s still great.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Steve Gordon; director of photography, Fred Schuler; edited by Susan E. Morse; music by Burt Bacharach; production designer, Stephen Hendrickson; produced by Charles H. Joffe; released by Orion Pictures.

Starring Dudley Moore (Arthur Bach), Liza Minnelli (Linda Marolla), John Gielgud (Hobson), Geraldine Fitzgerald (Martha Bach), Jill Eikenberry (Susan Johnson), Stephen Elliott (Burt Johnson), Ted Ross (Bitterman), Barney Martin (Ralph Marolla), Thomas Barbour (Stanford Bach) and Anne De Salvo (Gloria).


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