Eccentric millionaire Arthur Bach (Dudley Moore), it's safe to say, likes a drink or two. Or three. Or more. Tonight he instructs his chauffeur Bitterman (Ted Ross) to stop the car in front of two typical New York City hookers, rolls down the window and starts chatting them up; they are unimpressed until he starts offering them a lot of money, and one of them gets in, whereupon Bitterman drives them away to a posh restaurant where Arthur has a regular table. This inebriated behaviour is all too familiar to those who know him, but isn't it time he sobered up and took on his responsibilities?
Probably not because the rest of the film would have been a lot less of a hit, but as it was TV comedy writer Steve Gordon's first feature struck the mood of the times where being disreputable in comedy was viewed with great public acclaim, although not so much that it turned the characters hateful: just make them enough of a rebel to appeal, cast it right, and the film would practically make itself. Sadly, Gordon was not able to capitalise on the success of this as he died suddenly a year after it was made, but although its reputation has dimmed over the years, there remains a solid fanbase for the title character's drunken antics.
Part of the reason that cachet dropped wasn't down to the casting, indeed watching this you can see they were as good as they ever were, but due to the attitude towards getting absolutely plastered as a source of humour. Not that it's ever gone out of fashion in real life, but alcoholism as depicted on the screen, both big and small, turned into something far more tragic and depressing than the days of Moore stumbling around and slurring his lines for humorous effect. His movie ancestors were such character performers as Jack Norton (who was teetotal in real life) and Arthur Housman (who, er wasn't), the sort of chaps who would show up for one scene, supply the tipsy chuckles, and be forgotten about come the end of the film.
The thought of an actor making a living playing drunks is not something that would happen today, and likewise Arthur would not be the object of laughter now as he was back then: you only have to look at the belated sequel where his problems become far less amusing to see how times had changed even in ten years - no wonder that was a flop. But credit to Moore, his innate charm was well applied to the role where we view his dipsomania as a way of reacting against the stuffy, suffocating society he really wants no part of other than its ready supply of money. Helping him out were an excellent cast, most notably Sir John Gielgud as Hobson, Arthur's longsuffering butler, who secured an Oscar for his troubles.
Although this is not as funny as it was (and you do wonder why Arthur seems to avoid gut-wrenching hangovers), the interplay between him and his manservant was one of the movie's strengths, and Gielgud drily brought out some of the biggest laughs as the man who feels great affection for his charge, but winces at the depths he sinks to escape from the world, as night after night he dives to the bottom of a bottle. Arthur is supposed to marry billionaire's daughter Susan (Jill Eikenberry) to bring even more money to his family, the trouble is he doesn't love her but has recently become smitten with waitress turned shoplifter Linda Marolla (Liza Minnelli) who he happened by chance to meet in a swanky outfitter's and saved her bacon when he covered for her. This adhering to the classic form of screwball comedy, there's no way they won't end up together at the end of the movie, so rather than worry about the plot details, it was best to appreciate the acting and consider how much of humour has changed and how much has stayed the same. Music by Burt Bacharach, including the famous theme song.