This is the seventh of twelve films that Steve at 1001plus has picked for me to watch and review. He ran across it doing his reviews of Oscar nominated films. In this case, Peter O’Toole received his seventh (of eight) Best Actor nominations, although he would lose once again (this time to Ben Kingsley in Gandhi). O’Toole’s performance is mostly comedic – something that is usually bypassed by the Academy – so the fact that he even got a nomination at all might say something. As a whole, the film is a pleasant experience. The less comedic/more dramatic moments are understated and fit well within the story.
O’Toole plays Alan Swann (a thinly disguised Errol Flynn) in the mid 1950s. Swann had a big movie career as a swashbuckler, but by the time of the film he’s known more for being drunk and/or in trouble with a woman. TV has just started getting big and Swann has accepted a guest appearance on a live comedy show. The star, King Kaiser (Joseph Bologna playing a thinly disguised Sid Caeser), has his doubts about Swann appearing. This isn’t helped by the fact that when the film opens Swann was already supposed to have come to the studio, yet no one knows where he is.
We see Swann waking up in a stupor with a couple of stewardesses that were apparently on his flight into
New York City. His faithful manservant, chauffeur,
babysitter, etc gets him to the studio where Swann promptly passes out on a
table in the writers’ room.
Among the writers is a young man supposedly named Benjy Stone (Mark Linn-Baker). He changed it to not sound Jewish. This concerns his mother (Lainie Kazan), and he feels guilty about it. (This character is purportedly based on Mel Brooks aka Melvin Kaminsky.) Benjy is a huge fan of Swann and we get the impression that Swann may have gotten the gig at a suggestion from Benjy. He defends Swann after he passes out in front of everyone, and even stands up to King Kaiser. Rather than being fired, Benjy is ordered to watch over Swann and make sure he gets to all rehearsals and the actual live show. If he doesn’t, then he’s fired. As you might expect, this is quite difficult and leads to several adventures.
Not the least of these is Swann helping Benjy woo a co-worker he’s been chasing for a while. K.C. (Jessica Harper) won’t give in to Benjy no matter how hard he chases her (which is probably the biggest problem). Swann counsels him to play it cooler, give her a little space. We wonder, and for good reason, if Swann is just saying this so he can swoop in and scoop up the obviously star struck K.C. Thankfully, the film doesn’t go there. Swann may be a drunkard and a womanizer, but he is not a jackass. In fact, he can be quite the gentleman when he wants to be.
O’Toole and Baker have quite a few scenes together. For the most part the relatively inexperienced Baker holds his own with O’Toole, but there are a few scenes where Baker plays them in a “sitcom”y fashion for the humor, while O’Toole still plays them comedically, but more restrained. The most obvious difference in their acting skill happens during a scene where both are supposed to be drunk. A more experienced actor would have matched up with O’Toole better, but I got the impression that first-time director Richard Benjamin wanted to have an unknown in the role. Baker would go on to a career on TV, most notably on the show Perfect Strangers.
I mentioned some more dramatic moments. We find out that Swann has a young daughter – presumably the result of one of his many trysts. He seems to love her quite a bit, yet we find he has not seen her for over a year. We get hints that there is a deeper story here, perhaps even a tragic one, but O’Toole plays it as something in the depths of his being that never fully comes out.
The movie doesn’t spend too much time on this before returning to the humorous side. Without spoiling anything I will say that I was laughing out loud at a big scene near the end of the movie, and it was a situation that had been set up the entire length of the film in order to pay off at the end.
The main reason to see My Favorite Year is for Peter O’Toole. As I said at the top, comedic performances rarely get nominated so the fact that he did receive one really says something. Despite the fact that I wouldn’t have wanted to deal with Alan Swann in real life, he made me like the character. I was amused by him in some scenes. In others he shows that he can be a great friend. If this sounds interesting I definitely recommend you give the film a try.
Chip’s Rating: 3 out of 5 stars