Wednesday, August 31, 2011

"My Favorite Year" with Peter O'Toole, Mark-Linn Baker, Jessica Harper and Joseph Bologna

This is one of my all time favorite movies. It takes place in the year and city in which I was born - 1954, New York. In it, Peter O'Toole proves the old adage that "Dying is easy, comedy is hard." Briefly, the movie concerns Alan Swann, played by Peter O'Toole, in what may be his best movie role ever, as a washed up and boozed out actor from the 1930's who is set to appear on the "King Kaiser Show", which is based on the old Sid Caeser show "Your Show of Shows". Joseph Bologna plays the part of the TV host who has severe reservations about having Alan Swann on his show. The man is too unreliable. He is, in short, a "has been".

A young writer on the show, Benji Stone, played by Mark Linn-Baker, really believes in Alan Swann's abilities, and so he takes on the responsibility of making sure that the aging movie idol appears sober, and on time, for the show. If he is unable to accomplish this seemingly easy task, he will be fired.

When Benji meets Swann, he is apalled at the condition of his idol. He is also equally determined to meet his obligation to the show. The complications which arise, such as taking Alan Swann to his mother's apartment in Brooklyn, ring so true that I can smell the cooking in the hallways.

While rehearsing for the show Alan Swann is confronted by his old demons, and Benji has his hands full with caring for the aging actor. When his idol comes to the realization that his TV appearance will be live before 20 million people, he is panic stricken and quickly attempts to run away from the set. Confronted by Benji the following exchange takes place, with Peter O'Toole delivering some of his best lines ever;

Swann: Stone... I'm afraid. I'm afraid. That's why I couldn't get out of the car to see my Tess, my child.

Benjy: Alan Swann, afraid? The Defender of the Crown? Captain from Tortuga? The Last Knight of the Round Table?

Swann: Those are movies, damn you! Look at me! I'm flesh and blood, life-size, no larger! I'm not that silly goddamned hero! I never was!

Benjy: To me you were! Whoever you were in those movies, those silly goddamn heroes meant a lot to me! What does it matter if it was an illusion? It worked! So don't tell me this is you life-size. I can't use you life-size. I need Alan Swanns as big as I can get them! And let me tell you something: you couldn't have convinced me the way you did unless somewhere in you you had that courage! Nobody's that good an actor! You are that silly goddamn hero! (To view this exchange in the trailer above, go to 1 minute and 43 seconds.)

One of the many things which makes this film so remarkable, is that Peter O'Toole's own life, at the time of this filming in 1982, so closely resembled that of his character's, Alan Swann. Art imitating life comes to mind...

Directed by Richard Benjamin, and with a talented cast, including Jessica Harper as Benji's love interest "K.C.", and Bill Macy as one of the show's writers, this is a highly unusual film that will stay with you long after the credits have rolled.

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