Review: My Favorite Year (1982)

>> Monday, October 29, 2007

USA/C-92m./Dir: Richard Benjamin/Wr: Dennis Palumbo/Cast: Peter O’Toole (Alan Swann), Mark Linn-Baker (Benjy Stone), Jessica Harper (K.C. Downing), Joseph Bologna (King Kaiser), Bill Macy (Sy Benson)

Some comedies elicit huge laughs, while others are simply smile-inducing. My Favorite Year definitely falls within the “smile” category. However, it is more noteworthy than most “smile comedies,” due to Peter O’Toole’s memorable turn as the cognac-guzzling, past-his-prime movie star, Alan Swann.

In the year 1954, swashbuckler Swann is scheduled as a weekly guest star on King Kaiser’s Comedy Cavalcade, a live variety show modeled after Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows. Showing up tardy and woozily wasted on his first day, Swann is nearly fired. However, Benjy Stone (Linn-Baker), a junior comedy writer on the show who idolizes the actor, talks his bosses into letting Swann keep the gig. Of course, there’s a catch--Stone is given the responsibility of chaperoning the drunky dramatist for the remainder of his engagement. Over the course of the week, the pair learn valuable life lessons from each other, punctuated with minor misadventures, lightweight comedy, and several drained bottles of cognac.

Mel Brooks, who wrote for Your Show of Shows, produced My Favorite Year; and although it’s difficult not to like the film, one wishes the comedy had more of the edge of Brooks’ (and Sid Caesar’s) own work. Not only are most of the film’s situations predictable, much of the humor is obvious or corny. However, the supporting cast of pros--Bill Macy, Joseph Bologna, Lainie Kazan, Selma Diamond, Adolph Green, and the great Lou Jacobi--really know how to sell a line, so much of the time, you don’t notice how lame the jokes actually are.

The performances are the real reason to watch My Favorite Year. Mark Linn-Baker does fine work in the lead, but this is really O’Toole’s show. The character of Alan Swann was obviously modeled after Errol Flynn, a celeb known for his swashbuckling charm and liquor-fueled misbehavior. Few actors could have pulled off both the cavalier charisma and drunken slapstick required of the role, but O’Toole’s performance is a triumph. It is reason enough to make My Favorite Year required viewing for soused cinema enthusiasts.

As a side note, although Swann is primarily based on Errol Flynn, the “this is for ladies” bathroom scene was based upon a legendary incident often recounted about legendary lush John Barrymore.

Drinks Consumed--Cognac

Intoxicating Effects--Staggering, stumbling, passing out, slurred speech, vomiting, and memory blackouts

Potent Quotables--BENJY: Mr. Swann, I think I’m going to be unwell.
SWANN: Stone, ladies are unwell. Gentlemen vomit.
STONE: Mm-hm.
SWANN (to a random gentleman): Alfredo, you needn’t wait. We shan’t need the car any more. We’re going to throw up in the park and then walk home.

Video Availability--My Favorite Year DVD (Warner Brothers)

Similarly Sauced Cinema--The real Errol Flynn played an alky in John Huston’s Roots of Heaven (1958).


Booze News: R.I.P. Joey Bishop

>> Thursday, October 18, 2007

The man Frank Sinatra liked to call "The Hub of the Wheel" is dead at 89. Although Frank, Dean, and Sammy were the best known and best loved of the Rat Pack, the act would have been nothing without Joey Bishop. He wrote most of the "ad libs" that the boys repeated night after night, and played ringmaster--directing traffic and keeping the show on track. The Sixties wouldn't have been nearly as swingin' without him.

Although Joey was not a drinker (he famously liked to joke that Frank spilled more than he drank), I don't think he'd mind if we hoisted a few in his honor. Rest in peace.

Here is a link to Joey's obituary on Comedian Joey Bishop Dies

Mouse In The Rat Pack: The Joey Bishop Story


Booze News: More W.C. Fields on DVD (but Region 2)

John Hodgson's blog, From the Cheap Seats on posted the following intriguing item regarding a W.C. Fields DVD box set being released in the UK. The announced set contains five films that are currently unavailable in the U.S. (Million Dollar Legs, If I Had a Million, Tillie and Gus, Mississippi, and Follow the Boys). Hopefully, Universal will put together a third Region 1 box set containing those titles. However, if that never comes to pass, you can still enjoy the UK box set if you pick up a region-free DVD player (a fairly inexpensive purchase).

Here's the post from John's Blog:

W.C. Fields CollectionUniversal has unveiled details of it’s W.C. Fields; The Movie Collection, featuring 17 titles on 10 discs and coming at last on December 10. The full press release as found at Zeta Minor, tells us that, unlike the R1 sets there are no extras to be found. However, those extras are frankly pretty underwhelming, they are relatively expensive sets, and the U.K. box has the advantage of, I think I’m right in saying, all but two of Fields Universal titles in a single collection that can currently be found online at just over £50. Not bad.

Those titles are, I’ll remind you: Million Dollar Legs, My Little Chickadee, If I Had A Million, Tillie and Gus, Mississippi, The Bank Dick, Follow The Boys, Six of a Kind, International House, You Can’t Cheat An Honest Man, The Old Fashioned Way, You’re Telling Me, It’s A Gift, The Man on the Flying Trapeze, The Big Broadcast of 1938, Poppy and Never Give a Sucker An Even Break.

The set now includes Follow The Boys but there’s no sign of Mrs Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch or Alice In Wonderland, both listed in previous specs and possibly the cause of this box being shunted around the schedules.

W.C. Fields Comedy Collection (The Bank Dick / My Little Chickadee / You Can't Cheat an Honest Man / It's a Gift / International House)

W.C. Fields Comedy Collection, Vol. 2 (The Man on the Flying Trapeze / Never Give A Sucker An Even Break / You're Telling Me! / The Old Fashioned Way / Poppy)


Review: Rio Bravo (1959)

>> Saturday, October 13, 2007

USA/C-141m./Dir: Howard Hawks/Wr: Jules Furthman & Leigh Brackett/Cast: John Wayne (Sheriff John T. Chance), Dean Martin (Dude), Ricky Nelson (Colorado Ryan), Angie Dickinson (Feathers), Walter Brennan (Stumpy), Ward Bond (Pat Wheeler)

There are Westerns that are better written, more artfully directed, and more important than Rio Bravo, but none are quite so much fun. This Western classic originated as a rebuttal to multiple Academy Award-winner High Noon (1952), a film that director Howard Hawks and star John Wayne absolutely loathed. They despised the idea of a sheriff begging regular citizens for help, so for their movie they reversed the situation. In Rio Bravo, several nonprofessionals offer to assist Sheriff John T. Chance (Wayne) during his time of need, but the lawman refuses their aid, knowing that the townsfolk would only get themselves killed or get in the way. In fact, the plot of Rio Bravo gets rolling when an unarmed citizen is murdered while stepping in to help Dude (Dean Martin), Chance’s drunken deputy. With the murderer in custody, John T. must hold his prisoner against an army of paid killers. True to form, he only accepts the help of a couple of professionals--Stumpy (Walter Brennan), an elderly cripple who can handle a shotgun, and town drunk Dude, who is still lightning with a pistol.

Dean Martin gives his finest performance on film as Dude, a washed up alky trying to dry out. Dino was rarely given an opportunity to play a role outside of his familiar, drunken playboy persona, but on the few occasions he was allowed to stretch, he proved himself an excellent actor. He’s completely believable dealing with nausea, the shakes, and an all-abiding thirst; even if his method of quitting the bottle is questionable. Dude manages to kill his cravings for whiskey by drinking beer. Apparently, he was only addicted to hard liquor.

The rest of the performances are equally good, including surprisingly competent work from teen idol Ricky Nelson, who handles both a six-gun and a guitar (in a memorable duet with Dino). It should also be mentioned that Rat Pack beauty Angie Dickinson makes a great, tough-talking love interest for Wayne, and her legs look amazing in stockings. Rio Bravo might be a little long at a leisurely-paced 141 minutes, but it’s hard not to smile all the way through it.

Drinks Consumed--Whiskey and beer

Intoxicating Effects--Hangover, the shakes, soused sentimentality, and physical violence

Potent Quotables--CHANCE: Don’t set yourself up as being so special. Think you invented the hangover.
DUDE: I could sure take out a patent for this one.

Video Availability--Rio Bravo DVD and Rio Bravo [Blu-ray] (Warner Brothers)

Similarly Sauced Cinema--Howard Hawks and John Wayne virtually remade Rio Bravo in 1966 as El Dorado, with Robert Mitchum as the drunk that time around.


Review: Pardon My Scotch (1935)

>> Saturday, October 6, 2007

USA/B&W-19m./Dir: Del Lord/Wr: Andrew Bennison/Cast: Moe Howard (Moe/McSnuff), Larry Fine (Larry/McSniff), Curly Howard (Curly/McSnort), Nat Carr (Mr. Martin), James C. Morton (J.T. Walton), Billy Gilbert (Signor Louis Balero Cantino), Al Thompson (Jones, the druggist)

In their first booze-centric short, Moe, Larry, and Curly portray carpenters who are asked to watch over a drug store when the owner leaves in a frantic search for liquor to sell in his pharmacy before the impending end of Prohibition. Of course, the Stooges are mistaken for the owners of the establishment when Mr. Martin, the local bootlegger, stops in to apologize for being unable to fill the pharmacist’s order. Stressed out, Martin asks the boys to fix him a drink, which they do by pouring everything they can find into an old boot, shaking it up, and straining the cocktail through a wicker chair. When Martin tastes the potent concoction, he’s convinced it’s Scotch; and he suggests a business partnership in which the boys produce the whiskey and he distributes it. The story ends with Moe, Larry, and Curly attending a dinner party, masquerading as Scottish distillers (McSniff, McSnuff, and McSnort) in an attempt to sell their “Breath of Heather” to the rich attendees. Naturally, the barrel of whiskey they brought along explodes, and the party is doused in foam.

Pardon My Scotch is one of the most memorable of the early Stooge comedies. Not only does it contain the first of many cocktail mixing scenes involving an old boot; it also contains some classic exchanges during the opening carpentry scenes--

MOE: Get the tools.
LARRY: What tools?
MOE: The tools we’ve been using for the last ten years!
LARRY: Ohhh, those tools.

The short is also notable for containing the sequence in which Curly saws through a table while Moe stands on top of it. Moe actually cracked a few ribs during the fall, but ever the trouper, he finished the scene before collapsing in pain.

As for the alky content of the short, there is very little actual drinking, but the whole film centers around obtaining liquor and making a quick buck off it before the repeal of Prohibition. This comedy was filmed just four months after the 21st Amendment put an end to the temperance movement for good, and although the material was very contemporary upon its release, this comic cocktail has held up remarkably well.

Drinks Consumed--Homemade Scotch

Intoxicating Effects--Hats flying off heads and insensibility

Potent Quotables--MARTIN (toasting the homemade cocktail): Toodle-loo.
MOE: Over the river.
CURLY: Skip the gutter.
LARRY: Ver g’harget. (Yiddish for “drop dead”)
MARTIN (recovering from the drink): Oh, boy! Where’d ya get this Scotch?!
MOE: We made it.
CURLY: All of us.

Video Availability--On DVD as part of The Three Stooges Collection, Vol. 1: 1934-1936 (Sony)

Similarly Sauced Cinema--The Stooges also mixed a cocktail in a worn out boot in the shorts Three Sappy People (1939), Out West (1947), All Gummed Up (1947), Bubble Trouble (1953), and Pals and Gals (1954).

The Three Stooges Scrapbook (Paperback)


Review: Mudhoney (1965)

>> Tuesday, October 2, 2007

USA/B&W/92m./Dir: Russ Meyer/Wr: Raymond Friday Locke & W.E. Sprague/Cast: John Furlong (Calif McKinney), Hal Hopper (Sidney Brenshaw), Antoinette Christiani (Hannah Brenshaw), Stuart Lancaster (Lute Wade), Rena Horten (Eula), Princess Livingston (Maggie Marie), Lorna Maitland (Clara Belle)

Sidney Brenshaw is the kind of drunk that gives drunks a bad name. He’s an ill-tempered, razor-totin’, wife-beatin’, crazy-ass bastard--the kind of drunk you try to avoid on the street--the kind of drunk that ruins everyone else’s good time. This disagreeable character is at the center of Mudhoney, a low-budget exploitation flick from sleaze auteur Russ Meyer.

The film is the story of Calif McKinney (I can’t decide whether I like or loathe that name), a drifter who finds temporary work on a farm in a small, Southern town. The place is run by a kindly guy with a bum ticker and his beautiful niece, Hannah. The situation would be more or less ideal if it weren’t for Hannah’s lay-about, abusive husband, Sidney. Sidney spends most of his time at the home of local bootlegger, Maggie Marie, drinkin’ her moonshine and diddling her two scantily clad daughters (this is a Russ Meyer film after all). Still, Sidney finds time to welcome his new hired hand by holding a razor to his throat, and relations only worsen between employer and employee when Calif begins to take a shine to Sidney’s wife.

Honestly, Mudhoney doesn’t add up to much. The story is simply an excuse to paint the drive-in screen with black and white images of boobs, violence, more boobs, bizarro behavior, a few more boobs, heavy-handed social commentary… and did I mention boobs? Much of the acting is amateurish, the dialogue is often insipid, there is no sense of period (although the film is supposed to take place during the Depression), and the musical score ranges from irritating to obnoxious.

As an exploitation film, however, Mudhoney is a rousing success. It’s fast-moving, never boring, full shock and sleaze, and fairly artfully directed. Some sequences actually reminded me of Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil (1958), in their odd staging and effective camerawork. Mudhoney may not be a subtle cocktail, but it packs a memorable punch.

Drinks Consumed--Corn Liquor (moonshine)

Intoxicating Effects--Staggering, slurred speech, drunk driving, swearing, brawling, physical violence, jail time, the giggles, harmonizing, belching, and passing out

Potent Quotables--MAGGIE MARIE: You look kinda dried out. How ‘bout a nice drink of fresh well water? Hope you don’t object to plain drinkin’ water. We had us a little socializin’ last night and the home brew’s all gone. Got a new batch workin’ though. I make the best home brew and corn liquor around here.
CALIF: Isn’t that kinda against the law?
MAGGIE MARIE: You mean the Prohibition? Fawgh! Folks around here don’t pay no mind to that foolishness. Besides, it’s about to be repealed anyhow.

Video Availability--Released on DVD as Russ Meyer's Mudhoney (RM Films International), but hard to find

Similarly Sauced Cinema--For more countrified moonshine-soaked action, check out Thunder Road (1958) and White Lightning (1973).

Big Bosoms and Square Jaws: The Biography of Russ Meyer, King of the Sex Film

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About Me

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I like to drink. I like to watch movies. I like to watch movies about drinking. I like to write about the movies I’ve watched, but only if I’ve had a drink first.

All text including the title "Booze Movies: The 100 Proof Film Guide" Copyright William T. Garver

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