My Favorite Year (1981)

Directed by Richard Benjamin

During the 1970’s and 1980’s it was not uncommon to see Peter O’Toole in roles where he played a drunk, usually an amusing one. It’s even how he presented himself on talk shows occasionally. He played the role perfectly which is probably why he was asked to reprise it again and again – or perhaps it simply seemed that way because he did it so well. I suspect he had a good deal of practice.

One of the movies O’Toole appeared in as a drunkard was 1982’s My Favorite Year. It’s a comic homage to the early days of television and centres around a show called King Kaiser’s Comedy Cavalcade. Peter O’Toole plays a movie star who is scheduled to make an appearance. Unfortunately, when he shows up, it’s obvious to everyone he is a drunk and that there are going to be problems.

The desire to pay tribute to television’s early days, while laudable, really weakens this movie. It’s far too sentimental and relies on way too many clichés and stereotypes. There are good moments, largely sight gags, but overall it’s a weak. However …

Peter O’Toole redeems it with his performance. You can tell how good he is (and how weak the rest of the movie is) because whenever he is not on screen you are desperate for his return. One of the reasons O’Toole stands out so well in this movie is because, while all around him characters and situations are cliché and over the top, he plays everything with understated wit and aplomb. He doesn’t “sell” the joke, or the performance. He just plays it and never hits a wrong note. And he’s incredibly funny doing it. He has a tremendous sense of balance between the dramatic and the comedic and how they relate, and when each is called for.

The movie itself is a kind of meat-and-potatoes effort, meaning it’s not about the director’s ability to manipulate cameras and so on. It’s very much the Howard Hawks school of directing which is focused on letting the story and characters play while the director gets out of the way. Unfortunately, as mentioned, the story and characters are weak and thus the film is as well. As an interesting contrast it’s worth looking at Blake Edward’s 1982 movie Victor Victoria. Apart from an obsession with staging large sight gags and other big scenes, Edward’s is another director who seems inclined to let his script and actors do the work and avoid the excesses of being a self-conscious auteur.

With the DVD, the transfer is largely clean. However, in many scenes it appears washed out, or undersaturated. In other scenes (especially interiors) it has an almost perfect colour balance with some perfect skin tones. (Many current films are wildly over-saturated so this was a nice change.) So the film alternates between a very nice look and the washed out one (usually exteriors )

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