Last seen playing a bad movie director in The Stunt Man, Peter O’Toole continued to bite the hand that feeds by playing, brilliantly, a bad movie actor. He’s bad in the sense of being unreliable, not incompetent.
Alan Swann – the Errol Flynn-like character that O’Toole portrays – frequently crashes to the ground in mid-performance. That’s because he’s almost always smashed – he practically lives on scotch.
The setting is New York in 1954, the favourite year of the title. Action centres around a Saturday night television show called Comedy Cavalcade, more than slightly like the then highly popular Your Show of Shows which originated from New York.
Comedy Cavalcades stars King Kaiser (Joseph Bologna) and Swann is signed for a guest appearance on the show. A young Carl Reiner-like writer named Benjy Stone (Mark Linn-Baker) is assigned to keep the swashbuckler – who he has idolised for his film roles – sober through a week of rehearsals and the live telecast.
Each night proves a challenge, save for the one where he and Swann are invited by his stereotypical Jewish mother (Lainie Kazan) for dinner at her stereotypical Brooklyn apartment. Kazan’s lampoon is amusing, although it comes dangerously close to being an ethnic insult – and oi vey, has Lainie got heavy!
That night proves to be an endurance test of horrendous proportions for Benjy, who is embarrassed – almost to death, already – by his fawning mother, tactless Uncle Morty (Lou Jacobi) and an assortment of oddballs who live in the same apartment building. Swann, however, loves it.
There’s a secondary plot of Kaiser being hassled by a hard-as-nails labor leader who has taken umbrage at a comedy sketch Kaiser regularly does on his show, depicting a hard-as-nails labor leader. When Kaiser refuses to bow to legal threats to stop the sketches, physical threats are not long in following.
For five days, everything brews nicely, a mixture of lunacy and romance (the love interest is supplied by a most forgettable Jessica Harper). But when airtime arrives, so does pandemonium.
Swann, accustomed to multiple movie re-takes, comes unglued at the realisation that there is no second chance on live television. “I’m not an actor. I’m a movie star!” he bellows in stark fear. So he takes a drink and takes off.
At the same time, some friends of the labor leader – to whom “break a leg” is more than a showbiz salutation – show up.
A memorable live television moment ensues with shades of the Marx Brothers and the Three Stooges.
My Favorite Year was the directing debut of Richard Benjamin, until now an actor.
Belle Steinberg Carroca
Anne De Salvo
Uncle Morty Kronsky
George Marshall Ruge
Amanda Horan Kennedy (as Barbara Horan)
Federal Marshal Holt
Peter Paul Eastman
Mrs Anne Horn
Aunt Sadie Kronsky
Walla Walla (voice)