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A Favorite Among My Favorites
by Jon Schuller

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If you're anything like me when it comes to movies, your list of favorites probably stretches for a few miles or so. Just when you think the menu of great films you've seen has been completed, you see another and it's an instant hit in your book. In late 2009 two films premiered, one from the United States and the other from England. The Fighter and Sherlock Holmes were different in many ways, but the relationships between the two main characters in each movie were similar in how they depended upon each other. Simultaneously, I added these two great pictures to my favorites list and proceeded to buy them on dvd. I also wrote about them in my column. It's become a never-ending process of watching, absorbing and, in some cases, writing about a movie that's caught both my attention and imagination. There is no lack of films in any given year to choose from and I readily admit I'm particular and that's okay. The choices are wide-ranging, divergent and always interesting. Some films with particular actors I won't watch because I've found them boring and not particularly funny or talented. That's that.

I've been writing this column for over 6 years and I hope that the subjects are appealing and interesting to readers and movie lovers alike. This week's column will feature a film that was released on October 1, 1982, which was an excellent year for movies with An Officer and A Gentleman, Gandhi, Tootsie, Sophie's Choice, 48 Hours, Deathtrap, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, The Verdict and one of the all-time blockbusters for box office and popularity, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, to name a few.
Today I'm writing about My Favorite Year, a first-directorial effort by Richard Benjamin, a sentimentally funny and warm look at a young man reliving an eventful year in his life 1954 as he gets the chance to become a writer for a famous television program.

Benjy Stone (Marc Linn-Baker) narrates the story of how he volunteered, as a junior script writer on the popular live variety program, The Comedy Cavalcade, to accompany the show's famous guest star around New York. The show stars Stan "King" Kaiser (Joseph Bologna) and he's invited a washed-up former swashbuckler movie star named Alan Swann (Peter O'Toole). In the 50s, Sid Caesar had actually invited Errol Flynn to be on his popular Your Show of Shows and a novice 20-year old writer named Mel Brooks was assigned as his "chaperon." When Swann arrives at the Rockefeller Plaza studio, everyone realizes that Swann is not only washed-up, he's awash in booze. Benjy tells everyone he'll take of Swann during rehearsals and opening night. A driver for the limo to drive him around is chosen, Alfie Bumbacelli (Tony DiBenedetto).
Benjy, whose real name is Benjamin Steinburg, has a family who lives in Brooklyn on Ocean Parkway. As he gets to know Swann in a more sober moment, who reveals to Benjy his real name and his early days in Ireland, struggling as an actor, Benjy realizes what a real person he is, completely unlike his movie persona. Swann admits he has a daughter, Tess (Cady McClain), whom he rarely sees, fearing she'll be ashamed of him. Benjy discusses his "interesting" family but invites Swann to a faraway land called Brooklyn for
supper.

Benjy's mom is Belle Carroca (played to ultimate Jewish perfection by Lainie Kazan) is married to a former bantamweight Filipino boxer named Rookie Carroca (Ramon Cisson). Benjy and Swann arrive at the cramped apartment and everyone sits around the table, including Uncle Morty (Lou Jacobi), talking about family. Belle's motherly advice to Allan is simple: this is good, this is family. As they exit the apartment into the hall, everyone on the floor has turned out to greet the famous actor and the entire block greets them on the street.

Kaiser is rehearsing a scene called "The Boss Hijack Sketch." It's based on an unhappy union boss named Karl Rojeck (Cameron Mitchell) who's told Kaiser in no uncertain terms not to parody him on television. Accidents at the studio begin to happen during rehearsals. Benjy is also trying to win the heart of a pretty co-worker K. C. Downing (Jessica Harper). He gets romantic advice from Allan Swann.

The big night arrives and Swann arrives and gets into his costume. Benjy explains that the show has a live audience he'll be performing in front of as well as a massive television one. Swann panics, realizing there'll be no re-takes to get it right. He hasn't done live theatre since his young acting days. He proceeds to get drunk and wanders off into the street. Benjy follows him to the limo but Alfie refuses to drive him anywhere because he's drunk. Benjy yells at him that Swann is still a hero in his eyes and should be ashamed of behavior with the show and with his daughter.

In the studio Rojeck's men proceed to beat up Kaiser and wreck the set.
The fight spreads onto the stage as the audience think it's all part of the sketch. Swann and Benjy watch from the balcony, horrified by the destruction and Kaiser's fate. Swann yells he's coming as the audience sees him dressed as a musketeer, when he suddenly grabs a rope, swings on to the stage and helps Kaiser get rid of the bad guys.

We hear Benjy's voice narrating the end of the film, seeing Swann waving his sword as the audience claps and applauds. We only hear Benjy and beautiful background music; we see Swann go back to Connecticut to actually see his daughter.

This is a great movie. All elements especially the accomplished cast work in harmony to take us back to another era and live television. The real people who worked in New York and formed the famous writing team for Sid Caesar - Neil Simon, Mel Brooks, Woody Allen, Carl Reiner, Selma Diamond are characterized here. Some great lines of dialogue were created:
Benji's mom, Belle, to Alan Swann: "Welcome to our humble chapeau."
Alan Swann: "I'm not an actor I'm a movie star!"
Belle: "Benjamin, what are you ashamed of?"
Benji: "Everything!"
I especially enjoy how Joseph Bologna played his part, going from the tough yet sensitive star of the show. How he and Peter O'Toole bonded together and how Mr. Bologna interacts with the other cast members.

You'll enjoy this film from beginning to end. It will make you laugh and make you wistful simultaneously. Peter O'Toole is perfectly cast and creates a character at once famous but lonely. Borrow My Favorite Year from a friend or find it on the internet. So, nu? Enjoy.

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Cinema Savant
Every other Thursday

My views on an eclectic mix of films and personalties, past and present; emotional interpretations; some laughs, some cries.


Other Columns
Other columns by Jon Schuller:

But Can She Act? That's What I Want to Know

They're Not the Same People They Used To Be

Time Does Fly When We Watch Movies

Before Minimum or Maximum, There Was Only Prison

A Story of Bravery, Truth and Devotion

All Columns


Jon Schuller
I am a former New Jersey native, living in Charlotte, N.C. for almost 30 years. I am a lifelong movie lover with lots of movie trivia knowledge and soundtracks in my CD collection. I enjoy sharing my love of films with everyone and have so many fond memories growing up in darkened movie theaters. I have been married 50 years (as of December 22, 2018) and we both share a passion for film (and each other of course).



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If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to Jon Schuller by clicking here.


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