Weekend Film Recommendation: My Favorite Year

This star vehicle for Peter O’Toole (playing a drunken, rakish movie star reminiscent of Peter O’Toole) delivers big laughs as well as some acute observations on the nature of fame. The movie also opens a window into the world of 1950s live television comedy and the people who made it happen.

The supporting cast is filled with wily veterans who know how to get the most laughs out of the material. Bill Macy is perfect as the beleaguered head writer, and Joseph Bologna is almost as good as a Sid Caesaresque television star. Another treat: In the sweet scene in which O’Toole dances with an older woman on her wedding anniversary, the role is played by 1930s film star Gloria Stuart (two of her best are Prisoner of Shark Island and The Old Dark House).

This was Richard Benjamin’s first time out as a director, and it shows a bit. The tone and style of the film are not as consistent as what he would achieve in his films as he became more experienced. The script, while funny most of the time, also includes some weak gags and slow spots. Can one extremely charming star leap over such weaknesses in a single bound and keep the audience laughing and cheering? In O’Toole’s case, the answer is clearly yes.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

13 thoughts on “Weekend Film Recommendation: My Favorite Year”

  1. You’re right, it’s a lovely film–my favorite line being the supposed-to-be-seductive, “The two things Jews really know about are suffering and Chinese food.”

  2. This is my wife’s favorite movie of all time.

    Early in our relationship she said, “Let’s watch a movie. Have you seen My Favorite Year?”

    “Nope. What’s it about?”

    “It’s a comedy,” she said.

    So we watched it. What I was unaware of was that it was also a test. I watched the movie, laughed in all the right places and loved it. So I passed the test. One of the fun things to do is to look at the writing staff and try to figure who is who from Sid Caesar’s writing stable.

  3. I love that movie. The young guy, played by (thanks, imdb) Mark Linn-Baker is supposed to be the youthful Mel Brooks. Brooks in fact produced the film. One of my favorite lines, as I remember it, comes when Baker is explaining to Jessica Harper, his romantic interest, how to tell a joke.

    Baker: This guy walks into the doctor’s office,

    Harper: OK. A man..

    Baker: No, no, no! Not “a man.” “This guy!” You have to say “this guy!”

  4. Great pick!

    I’ve never understood how this movie failed to become a classic. My best guess is that it already felt like a movie from an earlier era when it first came out. For me, that is part of its charm but it might have put a larger audience off.

    Any other ‘missed classics’ that people want to recommend?

    With the holidays coming up, one I always recommend is the original We’re No Angels.


    Great cast (Bogart, Ustinov, Rathbone), great director (Michael Curtiz), very funny and surprisingly dark for a Christmas movie.

  5. So Keith Humphries likes a New York Centric Jewish film about early American television? Wow. Over the years, I find that non-Jews on the West Coast who watch that film don’t find it quite as funny, even though it is one of the great films in our house and our family.

    I don’t think we can go a week without quoting some line from that film.

    “You like it? I only wore it once!”

    I even had this played at our temple on Christmas Night last year as the “That other holiday film festival”.

  6. I notice you don’t mention the lead actor Mark Linn-Baker in your appreciation of the film — I thought he was the weakest link as well. He’s way too old for the role and is mugging all the time. His love interest is also way too old for her role. It seems like almost all the casting was done as if they were making a play instead of a movie.

  7. The writers are reading in the newspaper about Swann’s exploits of the previous night:

    Sy [unaware the Swann has just walked in] : Leo, it gets me sick to think we gotta put up with some washed-up jaboni who’s gonna be running around Central Park with his schlong hangin’ out!

    Swann: My dear fellow, it’s my schlong and what I choose to do with it is my business.

    Sy: So how’s business?

    Swann: Never better.

    1. As an aside, I learned earlier this year that Olivia De Havilland, frequent co-star of Errol Flynn, is still alive. Somehow it is difficult to grasp what living until extreme old age (Ms. De Havilland is now 95) really represents. Here I am defining her by a connection to Errol Flynn who has been dead more than 50 years! Every year or so I will hear a news story about the surviving grandchildren of President John Tyler and have a similar reaction.

      1. True, although part of our shock comes because Flynn died at age 50. One other Flynn note: It is widely asserted that My Favorite Year is about Mel Brooks’ experience with Flynn on Your Show of Shows. But I have searched the records of that program and as far as I can tell Flynn was never on it, even though he did appear on other comedy/variety shows of the period. If anyone has the definitive goods on this, please post.

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