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For, Friday, Sept. 20, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: Hard to believe but Peter O’Toole never won a competitive Oscar, despite being nominated seven times before being given an honorary award in 2003 — and in 2007 he earned his eighth nomination! If you’re wondering who beat him in 1963 for ‘Lawrence of Arabia,’ it was Gregory Peck for ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’ The other nominees that year were Jack Lemmon (‘Days of Wine and Roses’), Burt Lancaster (‘Birdman of Alcatraz’) and Marcello Mastroianni for ‘Divorce Italian Style’). Ahhh, those were the days. But I digress. One of O’Toole’s well-deserved nominations was for ‘My Favorite Year,’ which remains a hilarious gem. Warner Archive has just given the film a Blu-ray upgrade, so here’s my review, published Oct. 8, 1982.

Though it is unfortunately punctuated with more than its share of crude jokes, “My Favorite Year” is a very funny film with a number of hilarious performances under the debut direction of actor Richard Benjamin.

Peter O’Toole stars here as the funniest drunk since Dudley Moore parlayed “Arthur” into a hit last year. O’Toole is Alan Swann, a dashing, swashbuckling movie idol who is about to make his first television appearance in 1954 on a program that looks suspiciously like Sid Caesar’s old “Your Show of Shows.” But that’s OK, since the show’s star, played by Joseph Bologna, is suspiciously like Caesar himself.

The youngest comedy writer on the program’s staff is Benjy Stone (newcomer Mark Linn-Baker), who idolizes Swann and is assigned to keep him sober until the day of the program.


Peter O'Toole, left, Mark-Linn Baker, Jessica Harper, 'My Favorite Year'

The two develop an immediate rapport, Swann helping Benjy woo another staffer (Jessica Harper) and Benjy introducing Swann to his very Jewish family in Brooklyn.

Meanwhile, Bologna, as Stan “King” Kaiser, has problems of his own. It seems a local mobster (Cameron Mitchell) is fed up with Kaiser spoofing him each week in a regular skit and he’s trying to do Kaiser in.

The episodic confrontations that follow each of these storylines provide some very funny moments, many of them genuinely hilarious.

Linn-Baker is a fine young actor with excellent comic timing. A scene where he is trying to teach Harper, who seems to have been born without a sense of humor, how to tell a joke is both funny and touching. And his exasperation at his mother (Lainie Kazan) during the dinner with Swann is played at just the right level of comic tension.


O’Toole takes pratfalls that give him his funniest moments since “What’s New, Pussycat?” — and that goes back a ways. Bologna manages to steal every scene he’s in as the hard-driving, slightly obnoxious Kaiser, who is constantly offending people and then buying them presents to apologize.

Director Benjamin is best at pulling well-timed comic performances from his cast and he has the added incentive of a very funny script by Dennis Palumbo and Norman Steinberg (never mind that Steinberg is responsible for the worst parts of “Yes, Giorgio”).

But Benjamin occasionally lets scenes run too long, as with the “live” stage fight between Bologna and Mitchell’s thugs, and the sappy, sentimental encouragement given by Linn-Baker when O’Toole discovers to his dismay that the show he’s about to do is live. This is a minor quibble, however.

Rated PG for profanity and vulgarity, as well as a suggestive bedroom scene, “My Favorite Year” is the first honestly funny comedy to come along in a good while. And it’s very welcome.