Thursday, July 14, 2016

Steve Gordon: An Appreciation

Thirty-five years ago this week (July 17, 1981), a soon-to-be classic little movie called Arthur was released.

It was the first movie written and directed by a young, up-and-coming TV writer, Steve Gordon.

Arthur would solidify Dudley Moore’s American film career, bring a Best Support Actor Oscar to John Gielgud, win multiple Golden Globe awards and go on to gross nearly $100 million dollars.

While he would experience some of that success, sadly that was the first and last movie we got from director/writer Steve Gordon, who died on November 27, 1982.

I can’t think of any other filmmaker who showed such promise for a first feature and then was denied the chance to go on and make a second, third, fourth feature.

I can only imagine how great those movies might have been.

Very few movies match Arthur for its character-driven humor. While it was probably the last time that a drunk was considered to be a funny character in a movie (the charm of that conceit had already worn off by the time the inevitable, non-Steve Gordon-driven sequel came around a couple years later), I can’t think of a movie that matches it for line after line of quips and sharp dialog.

Along with What’s Up, Doc?, it’s the closest any filmmaker has come to capturing the magic of the screwball comedies of the 30s and 40s.

And for all this wonderfulness to come from a writer and first-time director who had only one film credit under his belt (the screenplay for The One and Only, starring Henry Winkler and directed by Carl Reiner) is remarkable.

(Reiner, on The Tonight Show to promote The One and Only, actually interrupts Johnny Carson at one point to give a shout out to the talented writer of the film, Steve Gordon. How often does that happen?)

I won’t start listing lines from Arthur, because once you start it’s hard to stop.

But every time I watch it (and it’s impossible to turn it off when it pops up on TV), I am dazzled that such a perfect gem of a movie came from a young writer who had never made a movie before.

Granted, he had some great help behind the camera: Producer Roger Greenhut and Editor Susan Morse had both worked on numerous Woody Allen movies by that point and clearly knew the ins and outs of making a New York-based comedy.

Director of Photography Fred Schuller had only two previous credits as a DP at that point, but one was John Cassavettes (Gloria) and the other was with Sidney Poitier (Stir Crazy).

Then there is Burt Bacharach’s score, which next to the dialog is the real engine that drives this frothy little train.

And that cast!

Sure, the top trio (Moore, Minelli, Gielgud) are terrific, but the supporting cast is full of gems as well: Anne De Salvo, Ted Ross, Barney Martin, Stephen Elliot.

Even the Vice Principal from The Breakfast Club (Paul Gleason) gets to be on the receiving end of a Gielgud putdown.

Thirty-five years later that movie still makes me laugh and that’s a credit to its maker, Steve Gordon, a big talent that left us far too soon.

I miss the movies he didn’t get to make.


1 comment:

Ron Carlivati said...

Watching Arthur right now on HBO On Demand. Impressed once again by the film, I googled the writer/director and found out Steve Gordon died after making it. Watching a younger Liza Minelli, it reminded me of a younger Barbra Streisand in What's Up Doc, how funny and charming they both were. Then I stumbled upon your blog and see you referenced the same movie. Just thought I'd let you know I feel the same way. Cheers.