Certain movies bring a huge smile to my face, and 1982’s “My Favorite Year” is one of those movies. A delightful discovery I went into completely cold one night when I watched it on TCM for the first time a few years ago. I’ve been holding out for the movie to get a blu-ray release from Warner Archive, and that has finally come to pass. Watching the film again yesterday brought just as big a smile to my face.
Directed by Richard Benjamin and produced by Mel Brooks, “My Favorite Year” is loosely inspired by events in Brooks’ early career as a writer for Sid Cesar and the comedy/variety series “Your Show of Shows.” The film has an absolutely splendid cast headed by the great Peter O’Toole (who was nominated for an Oscar for his role), Jessica Harper, Mark Linn-Baker (yes, of future “Perfect Strangers” fame), the great Bill Macy, and in a wonderful role as producer of the show, legendary musical writer Adolph Green.
It’s 1954 and legendary screen swashbuckler Alan Swan (O’Toole) is making an appearance on the weekly TV series “Comedy Calvacade” starring Stan “King” Kaiser. But right from the start, Swan is late, and everyone begins to wonder if he’ll even show up at all. Thought Sawn is still a star, recognized everywhere he goes, he’s also a little washed up, and an alcoholic. When Swan does show to the show’s writer’s room, he’s roaring drunk and promptly passes out on the conference desk in the middle of the room.
King is ready to dump the bum, but young staff writer Benjy Stone (Linn-Baker) intercedes, Sawn is Stone’s idol, and he doesn’t want to see the star be given this setback. They keep Swan as that week’s guest, with the caveat that young Stone is responsible for him. So begins a week in which Stone’s life becomes upended by his hero. Swann shows Stone a little about his larger than life, and Stone shows Sawn the life of a kid from Brooklyn who found himself writing for one of the biggest shows on television—and his starry-eyed love for one of the production assistants on the show (Harper).
“My Favorite Year” is simply a charming picture from start to finish, a joyful, warm, very funny film. A love letter to early TV, and New York City. I try to show this movie to as many people as I can, I think it’s a true gem. Peter O’Toole is just fantastic in the film, doing all his stunts and never failing to impress flying through central park on horseback, or swinging from the rafters. This was the first film for both Linn-Baker and director Richard Benjamin (Yes, the actor).
Warner Archive’s blu-ray of the film comes with a commentary track from Benjamin where he talks of how lucky he was to have “My Favorite Year” as his first outing as a director. The track is light, relaxed, but Benjamin goes into plenty of details about the making of the film, including an anecdote about a cut scene which revealed the date of Sawn’s birth—which coincidentally happened to be the same day (not year) as O’Toole’s, and how that helped convince him to take the part.
The film looks nice in a new 1080p scan made from original elements, a little heavy on the grain, but that isn’t uncommon for films of the era. The colors are natural, in keeping with how the film was shot. It looks good and looks sharper than the last time I saw the film. Overall a really nice presentation.
Often in these pages, I will saw a film is highly recommended from me, I never know if that means anyone will seek it out, but this is one time I hope you truly do. “My Favorite Year” is a delightful movie and a one that should have a place in everyone’s library. See you next week.