I have begun to have a great appreciate for Peter O’Toole recently – not only as an actor (I always maintained by statement that he was perhaps the greatest actor of all time), but as a comedic actor. While his performance in Lawrence of Arabia and The Lion in Winter are absolutely tremendous, it were his performances in lighter fare that truly showcased O’Toole’s talents as an actor. I recently reviewed The Ruling Class, a social epic where O’Toole sang, danced and pretended he was the Messiah. I thought that was his best performance, and while My Favorite Year might not be a great film, his performance in it is truly remarkable.
The film might just be the most straightforward in O’Toole’s entire career. In the film, O’Toole plays Alan Swann, an Errol Flynn-inspired faded action star that is assigned to be the guest star on a classic 1950s live comedy show. He is placed in the care of Benjy Stone (Mark Linn-Baker), who is apparently based on Mel Brooks when he was working on Your Show of Shows in the 1950s, and also had to take care of Errol Flynn. It is seemingly a traditional showbusiness comedy, and an interesting period piece – and unfortunately, in that regard it is unremarkable. There are so many films like this, it never dares try and be different, and it is often completely and utterly unremarkable. That isn’t to say that it is a bad film – just a film with some very big flaws, but ones that are really easy to overlook, because the positive aspects of this film exist in far bigger abundance than the flaws.
Mark Linn-Baker was selected to be the main lead of this film, and quite honestly I feel like he doesn’t do anything that warrants him receiving any acclaim. He often just fades into the wallpaper in almost every scene, and doesn’t stand out at all. I understand acting across from an acting titan like Peter O’Toole can be daunting, and even the most established actors would pale in comparison when next to O’Toole…but we are constantly told that Benjy Stone is this fascinating and interesting character, but there is nothing in this film that would prove that to be true. Rather, Linn-Baker is just in the background, and he makes absolutely no impact on the film, which is unfortunate because the character was based on Mel Brooks, but rather appearing as the outrageous and brilliant Brooks we know and adore, Linn-Baker just plays him as a nervous nebbish, and one that quite frankly isn’t that entertaining. This is my biggest complaint about the film, and that is unfortunate, because the rest of the cast is perfect.
Jessica Harper, a great actress that has somewhat disappeared from our screens, is great as K.C. Downing, a character that she plays well, but also an utterly useless character. It seemed to me that the character would have been much more effective had the script actually given any stock to the story or at least not abandon the romantic subplot halfway through. Harper does her absolute best with what she is given, and we can’t really expect more from her, given her limited role. Joseph Bologna, however, is fantastic as Stan “King” Kaiser, the host of the television show, and the fiercely proud and stubborn, yet beloved entertainer. The rest of the cast is obviously very solid, and do what they need to do to make this film the success it was.
I am aware that I have just criticized the film heavily, which is strange considering the high score accompanying it. There is one reason for that score – Peter O’Toole. His performance is just absolutely delightful and brilliant, and proves why O’Toole is one of the most revered actors of all time. He had this quality where he could tell an entire story without saying a word – the twinkle in his eye, his slightly mischievous smile and the way he carried himself was truly unique, and throughout this film, he utilized every bit of talent he had, and he truly elevated the film. His performance as the drunken, but strangely charming, Alan Swann is absolutely mesmerizing, and he once again proves his brilliance as a master of comic timing and witty repartee.
My Favorite Year is a flawed film. It is a bit too short, and the first two acts are slow and deliberate, while the third act is rushed and sloppy. There were too many stories going through this film – the romantic sub-plot, the mob going after the host, amongst others – could have been cut to make time for the far more interesting main story. Peter O’Toole was absolutely fantastic, and he deserves so much praise for his performance here. The rest of the film is not as impressive as its leading man, and I wish the film was just slightly better, because it had the roots of being a great film. However, it is enjoyable, and I do recommend it, if only for Peter O’Toole’s great performance.