Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 2, 2019)
Peter O’Toole experienced a minor resurgence in the early Eighties. After the noted disaster that was Caligula, O’Toole rebounded with 1980’s The Stunt Man. He then made My Favorite Year in 1982, and that movie went on to be a moderate hit.
After that, he acted in 1984’s Supergirl - oops! So much for the comeback!
O’Toole would appear in 1986’s reasonably funny Club Paradise, though, and he also showed up in 1987’s Oscar-winning , but otherwise, he continued to work in fairly low-profile flicks for much of his remaining career.
I always thought it was a shame that O’Toole faded from the public eye so significantly. He often presented a lively and powerful screen presence of the sort we simply don’t see too often these days, as there’s a loose roguishness about him that modern actors seem to lack.
Frankly, I knew little about O’Toole when My Favorite Year opened in 1982, so his presence had little impact on my desire to see the film. I know I wanted to check it out but never did, for reasons that escape me.
Year takes place in 1954 and deals with a hit TV program called King Kaiser’s Comedy Cavalcade. Benjy Stone (Mark Linn-Baker) serves as a junior writer on the show, and he appears excited when faded matinee idol Alan Swann (O’Toole) will make a guest appearance on the series.
However, when Swann arrives at the studio drunk, Kaiser (Joseph Bologna) wants to dump him. Only Stone’s pleas of pity change Kaiser’s mind, but one caveat remains: Stone must make sure that Swann shows up for all the necessary work.
Thus begins Stone’s escapades with the loose cannon film swashbuckler. As Stone attempts to shepherd the actor, the two go through a variety of mini-adventures, and Swann’s inspiration seems to help Benjy in other ways.
For example, Benjy finally gets somewhere with his long-unrequited love KC (Jessica Harper). Swann learns something from the interactions as well, and he finally starts to sober up - figuratively and literally - and deal with real life.
Although My Favorite Year seems like a good movie as a whole, O’Toole provides its strongest element. He basically plays Errol Flynn as channeled through himself, and he makes the role work swimmingly well.
O’Toole handles the many bits of physical comedy with aplomb and seems loose and lively in all ways. He can be suave and debonair as necessary, but he also adds heart to this solid performance.
Most of the supporting cast seems positive as well, though I feel lukewarm toward Linn-Baker. Perhaps it’s the fact that the lines around his mouth make him look like a ventriloquist’s dummy, but the actor often annoys me. However, he maintains a good rapport with O’Toole, so I think he does fine in the role.
Most of the cast maintains a sense of slight cartoonishness that works for the film. They play the parts slightly larger than life, but Year maintains a connection with reality, so it never degenerates into pure silliness. The comedy keeps the plot moving, but the human connections make it memorable.
The film also benefits from its warm feeling toward its era. The flick portrays a New York of modest fantasy, so it never seems like Oz, but it’s clear that the movie gives it an idealized air.
That works for the flick, since the piece never asserts that it wants to paint a realistic picture of the era. Year exists as nostalgic figment, and it works well in that regard.
Overall, My Favorite Year offers a pleasant and charming experience. The movie presents a light and amusing piece that benefits from an excellent cast. In particular, Peter O’Toole makes the movie more compelling, as he adds a layer of depth to this lively and winning flick.