The year is 1954 and the most popular television program in America is preparing to have swashbuckling movie star Alan Swann (Peter O’Toole) appear on its latest live broadcast.
Unfortunately, Swann is not the embelm of class and sophistication that comedy writer Benjy Stone (Mark Linn-Baker) idolizes. Benjy admires the onscreen Swann who saves the damsel, says the perfect line and be the classy embodiment of someone to aspire to be.
However, the Swann who shows up to the Comedy Cavalcade television show is a notorious aging alcoholic, a troublemaker and a womanizer who doesn’t seem to care about anything other than satisfying his own carnal urges. He doesn’t seem to be able to cross the street on his own let alone work on a live television program.
Benjy gets assigned to look after Swann and make sure he’s ready to perform Saturday night in front of the 20 million people who will be tuning in. Getting the opportunity to spend time with his idol isn’t what Benjy ever imagined it would be.
Directed by Richard Benjamin and executive-produced by Mel Brooks, My Favorite Year is one of those movies that always makes me feel really good while watching it. I have a smile on my face from the opening credits all the way to the end. There’s a bunch of reasons for this.
First the whole setup. The world of 1950’s live television presented here is so much dang fun! Decades before Tina Fey made 30 Rock a popular address, My Favorite Year used it to tell this entertaining story. Brooks used his background working on Your Show Of Shows as inspiration for the story. This is my ideal vision of how working on a television comedy show would be.
There’s this excitement and glamor associated with being on television at the time. Television is a young medium, there’s a freshness and enthusiasm by the audience for it and an innocent charm by the sketches the show presents. I just love seeing dancers dressed up as cigarette packs! We’ll never see that kind of costume on television again.
However, behind the scenes there’s a biting, cynical edge to all of it. Benjy is walking down the halls and he’s constantly trading wisecracks with a weary wardrobe woman, worn down comedy writers and an egotistical star. This might sound routine today, but the juxtaposition with the excited wide-eyed 1950’s live-television atmosphere makes it all funnier to me.
Then we have the characters. I love watching and spending time with all these people. This was one of Linn-Baker’s earliest roles and he’s very good here. He immediately establishes his funny put-upon-everyman persona that will define his most popular roles in his career – Perfect Strangers.
The supporting roles are all memorable and well played by the actors. The cast in this are all really good. I’m not even going to waste the time listing them all, but everyone from Benjy’s co-workers to his family in Brooklyn to Swann’s limo driver all are given their nice little moments.
My Favorite Year could have easily just focused on our leading characters and stuck with broad comedy, but it spreads the quality around with the smaller roles as well and I think that’s one of the key things that makes it so enjoyable.
And yes – O’Toole. He seems to be having a lot of fun spoofing this respected movie star image and doesn’t hold back. He’s more than happy to flail around in his underwear and drop to the floor drunk.
I still find it hard to believe his performance was actually nominated for an Academy Award that year. It’s the complete opposite of the heavy-duty dramatic performances that the Oscars love to take notice of. It’s nice to know they actually acknowledged how good O’Toole was here.
Between all the laughs there’s also some very touching little moments throughout the film. Alan Swann dancing with an elderly woman (Gloria Stuart) celebrating her 40th anniversary at the Stork Club, Benjy having a late night date in the offices of 30 Rock with K.C. – the fellow staffer he’s sweet on, Swann paying a silent long overdue visit to his daughter. Really nice little scenes that make the movie richer than just a straight out belly laugh comedy.
Fans who know their television history should have fun considering all the influences that inspired My Favorite Year. Obviously, it’s A Your Show of Shows-type of show, Swann is clearly meant to be Errol Flynn. Linn-Baker is perhaps a young Woody Allen? With Mel Brooks being an uncredited executive producer these connections become obvious.
However, even if you have no idea about any of that, you should still be able to enjoy My Favorite Year. It’s just a very entertaining comedy with some heart to it. It’s pretty refreshing to watch a comedy that doesn’t have to get by with gross out gags and annoying characters. A good story, likable characters and some very funny dialogue is what continues making My Favorite Year an ageless comedy to go back and watch.
I remember seeing this movie when I was in college and thinking that it was an instant classic. My parents, who remembered Sid Caesar's Show of Shows and recognizing "King Kaiser" as an obvioustake-off on this.
I also remember thinking that Linn-Baker was going to have a great career in Hollywood…unfortunately he got drawn into playing Straight Man to Bronsan Pinchot in a hideous sitcom and vanished soon afterwards.
I've never seen MY FAVORITE YEAR in its entirety unfortunately. That being said, I know Mark Linn-Baker better as Tim the prop man/stage handler in Peter Bogdanovich's underrated farce NOISES OFF! (1991)
Peter O'Toole talked the producers into paying for a fencing instructor to get him in shape for the fight sequence.