US Release Date: 10-01-1982
Directed by: Richard Benjamin
- Peter O'Toole, as
- Alan Swann
- Mark Linn-Baker, as
- Benjy Stone
- Jessica Harper, as
- K.C. Downing
- Joseph Bologna, as
- King Kaiser
- Bill Macy, as
- Sy Benson
- Lainie Kazan, as
- Belle Carroca
- Anne De Salvo, as
- Alice Miller
- Basil Hoffman, as
- Herb Lee
- Lou Jacobi, as
- Uncle Morty
- Adolph Green, as
- Leo Silver
- Tony DiBenedetto, as
- Alfie Bumbacelli
- George Wyner, as
- Myron Fein
- Selma Diamond, as
- Cameron Mitchell, as
- Karl Rojeck
- Jenny Neumann, as
- Gloria Stuart as
- Mrs. Horn
Peter O'Toole and Mark Linn-Baker in My Favorite Year.
My Favorite Year is one of my favorite comedies. It's not only quite funny it also oozes nostalgia. It was written by Dennis Palumbo and Norman Steinberg, and is based on real people and events; although exaggerated versions to be sure. It's a wonderful homage to the Golden Age of Television. It begins with a voice-over narration setting the scene. Television writer Benjy Stone recalls his favorite year, 1954...
Benjy (Mark Linn-Baker) was then a rookie writer for a hit television show. When a washed-up, drunken -but still legendary- movie star (Peter O'Toole) is hired to make a guest appearance, Benjy must babysit the man to ensure he makes it to rehearsals and to generally keep him out of trouble. Of course they end up bonding and the film adds sentiment to the already potent mix of nostalgia and humor.
The Comedy Cavalcade was clearly based on Your Show of Shows and Benjy Stone was modeled after Mel Brooks (who acted as an uncredited producer on this movie). Brooks wrote for that classic show and this movie is based on the time Errol Flynn guested on it. Alan Swann, a Flynn like swashbuckler, is a lovable lush. He causes trouble but always in the name of fun and never out of a sense of meanness.
There's a subplot involving the show's star, King Kaiser (Joseph Bologna doing a hilarious Sid Caesar knock-off). He's portrayed as a clueless loudmouth. When one of his sketches angers a corrupt union boss (Cameron Mitchell) Kaiser's life is threatened. The movie climaxes during the live broadcast of Swann's episode.
One of the funniest scenes occurs when Benjy takes Swann home to Brooklyn to have dinner with his very Jewish mother and her former bantamweight boxer, Filipino, husband Rookie Carroco. Benjy's embarrassing Uncle Mort and Aunt Sadie (in her wedding gown) show up to add to the fun. Lainie Kazan plays Benjy's mom. She tries to act elegant but fails, “Welcome to my humble chapeau.” Uncle Morty makes things worse by asking Alan about a famous scandal, “That paternity rap a few years ago - did you shtup her?” And Rookie reveals the secret ingredient in his meatloaf, “Parrot.” It's a comic gem of a scene.
My Favorite Year is filled with tiny little tributes to those days gone by of live television in the 1950s. Selma Diamond, a writer on Your Show of Shows, plays the wardrobe mistress. She had a distinctly humorous speaking voice. You may recognize it from It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, World. She provided the voice of Spencer Tracy's wife in several hilarious phone conversations.
Gloria (Titanic) Stuart appears in one scene at the Stork Club. She's a fan of Alan Swann and he chivalrously dances with her while the crowd admires them. As for O'Toole, he was Oscar nominated for this role but failed to win. It was the seventh of his eight nominations and he holds the dubious distinction of garnering the most acting nominations without a single win. (He was given an honorary Oscar in 2003.)
If we put some thought into it I'll bet most of us could come up with our own personal favorite year. Mine would be 1984. My Favorite Year, the movie, is an infectious blend of comedy and nostalgia. It always puts me in a good mood whenever I watch it.
Peter O'Toole, Mark Linn-Baker and Jessica Harper in My Favorite Year.
Mel Brooks, who produced this film as Patrick said, also produced 17 other films through his company Brooksfilms, including The Elephant Man, Frances, 84 Charing Cross Road, The Fly and The Fly II. On the films whose style differed from his usual comedy, he kept his name out of the credits to avoid setting up comedy expectations. As he said in an interview with Hitflix, "If you say 'Mel Brooks presents The Elephant Man,' they’re gonna expect a pretty funny Elephant Man.'" The same was true with this film, whose comedy is much gentler than Brooks' typical style. He also, as Patrick noted, acted as the inspiration for the Benjy character and contributed to the script without a credit. Although the plot setup was inspired by a real event as described above, Brooks has noted in more recent interviews that the action is entirely fabricated and that Flynn's appearance on Your Show of Shows was uneventful and that none of the writers got much of a chance to even talk to him.
It's not surprising that O'Toole was nominated for an Oscar for his role and it also shouldn't surprise that he lost (to Ben Kingsley for Ghandi). The Academy has never been very friendly to comedy performances, especially in the lead categories. Perhaps if he had been more rightly nominated as a Supporting Actor, which is what his part actually is, he might have won. After all, just the year before John Gielgud had won for Arthur. But award or no, O'Toole is a delight as the former swashbuckling star. He brings charm and a sense of world weariness to the part and plays them both so perfectly that you're never sure which is the act. He has moments of drama where he seems tired of his lifestyle, but he also seems to be having a lot of fun by misbehaving.
The rest of the cast is filled with recognizable faces, if not names, who all do good work. Mark Linn-Baker, who actually has the lead role as Benjy, would become most famous for starring in the sitcom Perfect Strangers. He plays the naive young writer well, showing us an idealized version of the world of 1954 television. I also agree that Joseph Bologna is great as the imitation Sid Caesar. But even the smaller parts, such as the other writers, are all played well and for laughs. Although Tina Fey had her own experiences to draw on for her show 30 Rock, I don't doubt that she was also inspired by this movie.
Although sharp eyed viewers may notice a couple of anachronisms, for the most part the film does a great job of recapturing 1950's New York City. Even those who aren't nostalgia junkies like my brother will find plenty to enjoy in the costumes, the cars and the sets.
There are a few laugh out loud moments here, but for the most part the humor is quite gentle. It's a look back at the Golden Age of Television with the gold provided by the glowing haze of memory. This isn't 1954 as reality, but 1954 as one man remembers it. Released in 1982, it has now been more years since its premiere than the number of years between 1954 and that premiere date. This has the effect of doubling the nostalgia. Its charm has only grown with the years.
Peter O'Toole in My Favorite Year
Both of my brothers waxed on about the nostalgia factor of My Favorite Year. I too recall and miss the days of when a movie drunk was hilarious. Scott mentioned Arthur (1981) while I will add Nick and Nora from The Thin Man films. There was a time when a drunk was not considered just a pathetic addict.
Every scene that features Peter O’Toole is a gem. His Alan Swann has the film’s best lines. After barging into a meeting intoxicated, someone comments, ““He’s plastered!” With perfect timing, O’Toole responds, “So are some of the finest erections in Europe.” He is even charmingly funny when sober. When he goes into the wrong bathroom he is scolded, “This is for ladies only.” Swann unzips his fly and smiles, “So is this Mum, but every now and then I have to run some water through it.”
Like Patrick, I enjoyed the scene where Benjy takes Swann home to have dinner with his family. Swann has perfect manners, charming Benjy’s stepfather and mother. Although the moment is played for laughs, we also get to know Swann a bit better. He turns down a drink because he knows how it will change him. Later, at the dinner table, he explains fame to the common folk. “I am blamed for a lot of things I had absolutely nothing to do with. On the other hand, because of who I am, I get away with murder.”
The problem, as Scott noted, is that O’Toole is in the supporting role. The main plot is of a young writer falling in love and navigating his way through the early stages of his career. Mark Linn-Baker is adequate in the role but he barely registers next to O’Toole, acting as his mentor. Then again, with Swann being such a larger than life character, what actor could make an impression standing next to him. Linn-Baker’s best moment is when the girl of his affection asks, “What do you want from me?” and he says to himself, as if just then discovering the answer, “Sex.”
One of my favorite scenes is when Swann and Benjy walk in Central Park the morning after a drunken adventure. Swann tells Benjy some personal stories and we see that they have truly become friends. Before things can get too sappy, Swann jumps onto the back of a policeman’s horse with Benjy and they ride off as if in one of his old movies.
Alan Swann may be a pain in the ass to work with but he is so very full of life. He seizes the moment every chance he gets. He sleeps with any attractive woman who offers herself and is always up for a party. He is pleasant to all he meets. One of his best assets is that he is fully aware of how others see him and just what his limitations are.
The movie suffers whenever he is not on screen. The side plot involving the arrogant television star and his feud with a Union boss belongs in a sitcom. The climactic fight in the studio, during the live taping, is a bit much even though is does allow Swann to show off. The side plot is not that intrusive but Swann’s absence is always felt. As this entire film takes place in a few days, instead of My Favorite Year, it should have been called, My Favorite Week.
Photos © Copyright Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)Brooksfilms (1982)