By Eli Sanchez
Silver Screen Capture
Special screening at the 2017 Atlanta Jewish Film Festival
Richard Benjamin’s My Favorite Year (A) opens up with a voice-over with Mark Linn-Baker stating, “The year was 1954; you don’t get years like that anymore…” From then on you’re swept up in a period piece of 1950’s yesteryear, complete with Buicks that have more curve appeal than Jane Russell.
The film’s plotline revolves around the misadventurous weekend of junior writer Benji Stone (Linn-Baker) on the fictional “Comedy Cavalcade” television show who is tasked with making sure an extremely alcoholic Alan Swann (Peter O’Toole) makes it to the variety show’s rehearsals during the week leading up to show night on Saturday.
The film is loosely based on a recollection of the Sid Caesar comedy show, “Your Show of Shows” in which the main character Benji is based somewhat on a young Mel Brooks and Alan based most likely on Errol Flynn.
The film’s setting is New York City at a time when television is in its infancy and most of America tuned into only a few shows instead of the great panoply of streaming and on-demand viewing choices.
Benji is faced with taking Alan along for a ride in his life, while the whole time Stone is thinking Swann is the real-life swashbuckling hero he plays on the silver screen. Realistically, Benji is forced to deal with Alan’s constant alcoholism and womanizing and is forced to see the dark side of addiction that tends to bring down the 35mm caricatures we tend to idolize in life.
Swann is a fallen idol, on the run from the IRS for tax evasion and being forced to do this show to catch up on some back taxes, but he’s also on the run from responsibility as he avoids visiting his estranged daughter.
Benji must cope with Alan’s antics along with dealing with his own family of overbearing archetypes who reside “over the bridge” in Brooklyn. Though you can tell he loves his family dearly, it seems more that Benji prefers the lifestyle of disconnected Manhattan and wishes to strike out and find his own success away from his family.
The film switches between tender sincerity and outright hilarity at times; and the climax of the film is a sort of redemption for both of the main characters as well as the various subplots getting resolved.
The film has more than its share of great character performances with Jessica Harper playing Benji’s love interest, Bill Macy playing the outspoken headwriter, Lainie Kazan as Benji’s mother, Joseph Bologna as Stan “King” Kaiser (the Sid Caesar character) as well as Selma Diamond (who wrote for “Your show of Shows” as a wise-cracking costume seamstress who works in the basement). Thrown in for some great secondary story laughs are Broadway veterans Lou Jacobi and Adolph Green.
The film earned Peter O’Toole one of his Academy Award nominations. The film was also nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Picture Comedy or Musical.