Sunday, June 15, 2014


(October 1982, U.S.)

As funny and as wacky as MY FAVORITE YEAR is, it's interesting to note that it not only gives an interesting and colorful look at the early days of television in the 1950s, but is more based on true accounts than you might figure. You see, early in his career, legendary funny man Mel Brooks (executive producer of this film) was a writer for the Sid Caesar variety program called "Your Show of Shows". Movie swashbuckler Errol Flynn was a guest on one episode, and Brooks' real-life experiences with Flynn inspired the fictional screenplay. The character of Alan Swann (played to extraordinary perfection by the late Peter O'Toole) was obviously based on Flynn, while the character of Benjy Stone (played by Mark Linn-Baker) is loosely based on both Mel Brooks and Woody Allen, who also wrote for Sid Caesar. Although I can't account for much of who Errol Flynn was in real life, it's very likely that he wasn't as wild and crazy as O'Toole's Swann is in this film. Still, comedy is king here and in this business, you never cut out funny!

And so begins Benjy's tale of his favorite year; 1954. This was a year in a decade when hot cars, rock and roll and television were still new elements of popular culture. In New York City, though, it probably all moved at a slightly faster pace. As a young freshman comedy writer for a CBS-TV variety show starring Stan "King" Kaiser (played by Joseph Bologna), Benjy's life seems all but perfect and filled with fun. For their special upcoming guest, they get the still famous (though largely washed-up) Alan Swann. When he shows up, they realize that he's not much more than a roaring drunk. Kaiser is ready to dump him, until Benjy intervenes and promises to keep him sober during the week leading up to the show's episode. That, as they say, is where the fun begins. While Benjy spends much of his time trying to keep up with the wild and crazy Swann, they actually manage to learn a lot about each other personally, including the fact that they both have family they're both trying to hide from the rest of the world. When we meet Benjy rather eccentric family of Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn, it's easy to see why he's somewhat ashamed of them. Oh, they're not bad people, just horribly embarrassing.

When the night of the show finally arrives, it's only minutes before going on the air that Swann suffers a complete panic attack when Benjy informs him that the show is broadcast live in front of a living audience. Out of fear and panic, Swann gets drunk, and bolts from the studio, but is later confronted by Benjy, who angrily tells him that he's always thought of Swann as the swashbuckling hero he saw on the big screen, and that deep down, Swann must possess those same courageous qualities as a real life human being, claiming that, "Nobody's that good an actor!" In the end, fear and anguish are replaced by the type of courage we want our matinee movie idols to display and the show is a bit hit. Honor and respect between men is also evident, but even more is that part of us we cherish when we watch or own movie heroes on the big screen and the things we expect from them. It may not sound particularly realistic, but it's the sort of film fantasy that many of us enjoy clinging to. In other words, Han Solo and Indiana Jones may be the one of the greatest movie heroes we've ever had the pleasure of witnessing, but who's to say that Harrison Ford isn't a total asshole in real life?? Man, I hope not!

Favorite line or dialogue:

Benjy Stone: "We always get it on the first take. We have to."
Alan Swann: "We do?"
Benjy: "Sure. This is live television."
Alan: "Live? Live? What does live mean?"
Benjy: "It means at the exact moment you're cavorting and leaping around that stage over there, twenty million people are seeing it."
Alan: "Wait a minute. Wait a minute!"
Benjy: "Mr. Swann, you're white!"
Alan: "You mean it all goes into the camera lens and then just spills out into people's houses!"
Benjy: "Yeah!"
Alan: "Why didn't nobody have the goodness to explain this to me before?"
Benjy: "It's nothing to worry about, Mr. Swan. Our audiences are great."
Alan: "Audience? What audience? Audience?"
Benjy: "You knew there was an audience! What did you think those seats were for?"
Alan (panicked): "I haven't performed in front of an audience for twenty-eight years! Audience? I played a butler! I HAD ONE LINE! I forgot it."
Benjy: "Don't worry. This is gonna be easy."
Alan: "For you, maybe! Not for me! I'M NOT AN ACTOR! I'M A MOVIE STAR!"

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