Peter O’Toole at his comedic best – “My Favorite Year”
Updated: Jun 8, 2022
BLU-RAY REVIEW / FRAME SHOTS
Mark Linn-Baker as Benjy Stone, the junior comedy writer for a 1950s NBC variety show, with guest star swashbuckling actor Alan Swann played by Irish-born Peter O'Toole.
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“MY FAVORITE YEAR”
Blu-ray; 1982; PG for mild profanity and rude humor
Best extras: Commentary by director Richard Benjamin
THE YEAR is 1954. Television was in its infancy and Caesar reigned – Sid Caesar, that is – as well as Milton Berle and Jack Benny, Red Skelton and Jackie Gleason. Caesar’s popular sketch/variety program, “Your Show of Shows,” was performed live before a studio audience, and one of its young writers was Mel Brooks. A story Brooks told, about when Errol Flynn was due to appear on the show and Brooks was tasked with keeping the alcoholic movie star sober, was the inspiration for “My Favorite Year.”
The film, co-produced by Brooks’ company, Brooksfilm, stars Mark Linn-Baker as Benjy Stone, the junior comedy writer; Joseph Bologna as King Kaiser, the Sid C. persona; and a very appropriately dissipated-looking Peter O’Toole as Alan Swann, the often plastered former matinee idol. The laughs in “My Favorite Year” are plenty, assuming you like that type of comedy — that is, broad, slapstick, vaudevillian … old-fashioned, shall we say. Linn-Baker, in his first screen role, had been acting on the Broadway stage, and it shows in his tendency toward exaggerated facial and physical gestures. And O’Toole’s frequent drunken collisions with walls, tables, floors, you name it, which he obviously had lots of fun doing, is old-timey slapstick, through and through.
(1) New York City, 1954. (2) Stone holds a cutout of actor Alan Swann while walking to Rockefeller Center home of NBC. (3) Swann arrives in NYC and wakes up in bed with a flight attendant. (4) The writing team for the King Kaiser Show: Alice Miller (Anne De Salvo), Herb Lee (Basil Hoffman), Sy Benson (Bill Macy) and Benjy Stone.
As are the caricatured roles of Bologna and supporting actors Selma Diamond, Bill Macy, Cameron Mitchell, Lainie Kazan and Lou Jacobi. The only truly understated roles come from Harper, who is basically the straight man, and a brief cameo by Gloria Stuart (“Titanic”), who never speaks a line. All that noted, “My Favorite Year” was an audience favorite, for which O’Toole earned an Academy Award nomination.
This Warner Archive Blu-ray, scanned in 2K (1.85:1 aspect ratio), looks great and has a nice vintage film grain to the imagery. Colors are deeply saturated, detail is excellent, and skin tones completely natural. The mono soundtrack in DTS-HD MA 2.0 is very fine, with musical cues well-balanced and dialogue always clear.
The only extra is Director Richard Benjamin’s commentary, and it’s quite enjoyable. Best known for his role in the original “Westworld” (1973), he notes the affordability, in 1982, of using Nat King Cole’s “Stardust” for the film’s opening, compared to how the cost would be prohibitive today. Benjamin quotes a review of “My Favorite Year,” in which it’s called “a Valentine to New York City," with which he heartily agrees. He shares the excitement he had at the opportunity to direct his first feature: “There’s a movie in your head that you’ve already made – and then, suddenly, it’s in 3-D!”
When he was young, Benjamin was a page and guide at “30 Rock,” NBC’s headquarters, where most of the film’s action takes place, so he had inside knowledge, as well as a special affection, for the project. He decided to cast O’Toole at his wife’s suggestion. Benjamin is married to the actress Paula Prentiss, who had been in “What’s New, Pussycat?” with O’Toole, and knew him well.
(1&2) The first rehearsal for the latest episode of the King Kaiser Show, which features a satire on corrupt union boss Karl Rojeck. (3&4) Swann finally arrives at Rockefeller Center while the writers watch clips from his swashbuckling movies. The actor does a somersault onto the table landing at the base of the projector. (5) Stan "King" Kaiser (Joseph Bologna) mimics Rojeck (Cameron Mitchell) who made a surprise visit to the producer's office.
When Benjamin sent O’Toole the screenplay, a reason he said yes to play the part of Swann was because of a scene that never made it into the final script. It takes place after Alan Swann’s death, with Benjy visiting his grave in the cemetery. By pure coincidence, the birth date engraved on the tombstone was the same as O’Toole’s. “He believed in omens,” says Benjamin, and that convinced him he was meant to be in the film. He also notes that O’Toole did most of his own stunts, thanks to his having been trained in Britain’s music hall, an equivalent to American vaudeville. Benjamin recalls how O’Toole was “always on,” and prepared for that day’s scenes, and that he would apologize to cast and crew alike if he ever missed a line. He also came up with one of his funniest (and most risqué) jokes in the movie, with Selma Diamond in a women’s bathroom.
When O’Toole shot a scene in Brooklyn, Benjamin describes the excitement of the people who lived in the apartment building where the scene was filmed, to have the famous actor in their midst. Some of them leaned out of their windows, and shouted, “Lawrence! Lawrence from Arabia!!” It mirrors another good laugh in the film. Now that’s funny.
— Peggy Earle
(1) Benjy Stone was assigned to keep a watchful eye on Swann, and the two have a night on the town. Swann thrills a woman celebrating her anniversary (Gloria Stuart) with a dance. (2) The rehearsal for the swashbuckling skit. (3) Benjy's love interest co-worker K. C. Downing (Jessica Harper) is starstruck by Swann. (4) Swann discovers Brooklyn -- and Benjy's mother (Lainie Kazan). (5) Residents of the Brooklyn apartment building crowd the movie star.
(1) It's showtime! (2) Producer Leo Silver (Adolph Green) and the directors are shocked when Swann appears in the balcony and grabs a cable and jumps onto a ledge. (3) Three Rojeck thugs highjack the skit and start punching Stan "King" Kaiser, when they notice Swann jumping off the ledge. (4) The final curtain.