Monday, June 24, 2013

#1,043. My Favorite Year (1982)

Directed By: Richard Benjamin

Starring: Peter O'Toole, Mark Linn-Baker, Jessica Harper, Joseph Bologna

Trivia:  This film was produced by Mel brooks, and the Mark Linn-Baker character is based on Brooks when he was a writer for Sid Caesar's "Your Show of Shows"

Back in the 1950s, Mel Brooks worked as a television writer for Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows.  At one point, Errol Flynn, the charismatic actor who starred in such pictures as Captain Blood and The Adventures of Robin Hood, was scheduled to appear as a guest, and many wondered if the notoriously hard-drinking Aussie would show up drunk, or not show up at all. As it turned out, Flynn’s appearance went off without a hitch, but that didn’t stop director Richard Benjamin from weaving a damn funny movie around the story some 30 years later.  

Like the reporter said in John Ford's The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend".

Produced by Brooks, My Favorite Year is set in 1954, and stars Mark Linn-Baker as Benjy Stone, a young writer for the hottest TV show in the country, Comedy Cavalcade, which stars the egotistical King Kaiser (Joseph Bologna). When Benjy learns that his favorite actor, Alan Swann (Peter O’Toole), is going to be a guest on the show, he can barely contain his excitement. His dreams of meeting his hero are nearly shattered, however, when Kaiser, mindful of Swann’s reputation as a drunk, threatens to drop the star from the program. So, Benjy agrees to serve as the actor’s chaperone, promising to keep Swann sober long enough to finish the show. But as Benjy soon discovers, preventing Allan Swann from hitting the bottle is easier said than done.

Director Benjamin and his crew do a fine job re-creating the era of the 1950s, but it’s the cast of My Favorite Year that’s its greatest strength. Though a bit broad in his portrayal at times, Mark Linn-Baker is effective as the star-struck Benjy, who, as the story progresses, must deal with the fact that his boyhood idol is less than perfect. Joseph Bologna is hilariously arrogant as King Kaiser, and Lainie Kazan makes a brief yet memorable appearance as Benjy’s mother, who continually embarrasses her son when he brings Alan Swann home for dinner. But the film’s best performance is delivered by Peter O’Toole, who gets just as many laughs as his co-stars (in one scene, Swann, who’s hanging around the studio, accidentally walks into the ladies room. A costume designer, played by Selma Diamond, angrily chastises him, exclaiming “This is for ladies only!” Without missing a beat, Swann unzips his fly and responds “So is this, Mum, but every now and then I have to run a little water through it”). Yet as funny as My Favorite Year is, it also has its share of drama, addressing such serious topics as insecurity and the trappings of hero worship. The film’s best scene, a final confrontation between Benjy and Swann, deals perfectly with both issues, and while Linn-Baker is exceptionally strong in this sequence, it’s O’Toole who nearly moves you to tears.

One of the greatest injustices in Academy Award history is that Peter O’Toole, despite being nominated 8 times for Best Actor, has never won an Oscar. Already passed over for his performances in such films as Lawrence of Arabia, Becket, The Lion in Winter, and The Stunt Man, it was no great surprise when he lost yet again in '82, this time to Ben Kingsley (for Gandhi). My Favorite Year marked his 7th nomination, and while the Oscar that year should have probably gone to Paul Newman, who was brilliant as the alcoholic lawyer in Sidney Lumet’s The Verdict, O’Toole’s portrayal of Alan Swann was one of the best of his career.

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