The influence of Sid Caesar's early television variety series Your Show of Shows runs deep, and the 1982 comedy My Favorite Year, inspired by an actual appearance on the show by the charming but washed-up actor Errol Flynn, plays like an inside joke. As with TV's The Dick Van Dyke Show from two decades earlier, Year's cast of zanies is based loosely on Caesar and his backstage entourage of writers, Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner among them. Brooks produced this film, which was directed by actor Richard Benjamin.
Of course, that's where the resemblance to truth ends: In this incarnation, Peter O'Toole charms the audience in a tour de force comic performance as Alan Swann, the Flynn character, who arrives to meet Stan "King" Kaiser, the Caesar character (aptly played by Joseph Bologna), quite smashed. Kaiser wants to kick him off the show, but junior writer Benjy Stone (Mark Linn-Baker), an adoring fan, offers to take Swann under his wing and keep him off the drink until the show airs.
What follows is delightful: a series of pratfalls and picaresque New York City adventures turned both hysterically funny and sweetly serious by subplots involving Benjy's untouchable love interest, K. C. Downing (Jessica Harper), and crazy family (his mother hilariously played by Lanie Kazan), as well as Swann's daughter Tess, from whom he is estranged.
Continue reading for more about My Favorite Year. Benjy and Alan develop a relationship through it all, and there is some disappointment as Benjy realizes Alan doesn't quite live up to his heroic image. But nothing ever drags this little film down, packed as it is with O'Toole's sophisticated gags and innocently wide baby blues.
He even manages to charm Kaiser during rehearsals, but disappears before showtime upon learning he'll be performing on live television ("I'm not an actor, I'm a movie star!"), throwing everyone into a tizzy.
What happens next is an ending for the ages, which we won't divulge -- but rest assured that it is happy and will leave a sweet spot in your heart.
Susan Froyd, in another life, toiled for a few years in some of Denver's most beloved and belated repertory cinemas. She has also seen a lot of movies over a lot of years. In this weekly series, she'll recommend forgotten films, classics, cult favorites and other dusty reels of celluloid from the past. You might like it.
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