Wednesday, September 9, 2009

My Favorite Year (1982)

By Eric Jessen 9/7/09

My Favorite Year is a slice of showbiz nostalgia (and boy is that a cut from a tired mold) with one glaringly bad performance. Sorry Mark Linn-Baker. And unfortunately its genuine enthusiasm is weighed down by the shapeless joke-spewing style of its executive producer, Mel Brooks.
Thank goodness for Peter O'Toole. He saves My Favorite Year. This movie is proof that O'Toole is that good. Brooks, Linn-Baker and director Richard Benjamin should be kissing his feet. He gives an absolutely wonderful performance. His sarcastic grin and restless eyes tell of hidden juicy secrets. His joyful, bustling spirit make the movie worth the price of admission or a rental fee. In My Favorite Year O'Toole is perfectly cast. He plays Alan Swan, a former star of Hollywood and British Technicolor adventure movies whose career is in decline and whose off-screen shenanigans have made him a caricature on the front page of tabloid newspapers. Swan's career has sunk so low that he is forced to make guest appearances on the hammy freak-show that is mid-50's TV.
The movie is narrated by a variety hour junior writer, Benjy Stone (Linn-Baker) who tells us the story of his favorite year, the year he met his hero Alan Swan. When Swan arrives for pre-production of the show plastered and flirtatious, wearing his tear-away “drunk suit,” Benjy has to convince the star of the show “King” Kaiser (Joseph Bologna) not to dump Swan. As a compromise Benjy is assigned to babysit Swan. For the rest of the movie we follow Benjy following Swan. He makes almost no attempt whatsoever to keep Swan under control other than acting hysterical. But all the more fun for us. Swan parades around with a reckless abandonment. O'Toole couldn't have played it any better. It's clear from the start that the Swan character is based on the infamous romantic charlatan Errol Flynn. For those of you familiar with 50's TV shows, the variety hour is based on the Sid Caesar program in which Flynn made a guest appearance. And the Benjy Stone character is likely based on one of the young Jewish writers for Sid Caesar, Woody Allen or Mel Brooks.
(Side note: My Favorite Year reminded me of Truman Capote's charming piece “A Beautiful Child.” Capote, a self-proclaimed master of memorizing dialogue, gives a detailed description of a few hours he spent with Marilyn Monroe including every remark and every anecdote filled with her famous swearing. What came to mind while watching My Favorite Year in particular was a story Marilyn told Capote about Errol Flynn. “Marilyn: Did I ever tell you about the time I saw Errol Flynn whip out his prick and play the piano with it? Oh well, it was a hundred years ago, I'd just got into modeling, and I went to this half-ass party, and Errol Flynn, so pleased with himself, he was there and he took out his prick and played the piano with it. Thumped the keys. He played You Are My Sunshine.”)
It's this flamboyant Flynn along with a lively performance by Peter O'Toole that is the heart and the charm of My Favorite Year. Alan Swan swung from banisters (as Flynn did in The Adventures of Robin Hood) and smooched gorgeous women in his movies. Everyone loved him and let him do whatever he wanted. But the hero-worship got in his head. He began to see the man in the mirror and the characters projected on the big screen as one and the same. As result he is constantly acting. We watch him play the part of the hero and as his career declines the part of the washed-up actor. We watch him play the part of the hopeless drunkard pulling bottles of scotch out of his trench coat, and the unconscionable womanizer stealing tarts from snobs at fancy restaurants. We watch My Favorite Year and afterwards we forget about its downsides and remember Peter O'Toole as Alan Swan and we remember Errol Flynn: the exuberant swashbuckler and adorable lush.

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