>> 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.
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.
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).