Monday, January 16, 2012
From the Rental Vault (1982): My Favorite Year
Complicating Benjy's mission is his own personal quest to woo the lovely K.C. Downing as well as the threats that mob boss Karl Rojeck has been making against the show for lampooning him in its sketches. Complicating it even more is that Swann wasn't born yesterday and his abilities to elude Benjy for to partake of the random debauch far outweigh Benjy's nursemaiding skills.
Although the story is important to Year, the movie is more or less a showcase for Peter O'Toole as Alan Swann. The role earned him one of his eight Academy Award nominations, although he lost to Ben Kingsley's Gandhi (The others nominated were Paul Newman for The Verdict, Jack Lemmon for Missing and Dustin Hoffman for Tootsie. 1982 gave the Academy three of the best performances of many years, and voters bravely chose the fourth best of the year as the winner). Year asks O'Toole to range between more or less straight-up slapstick to anguish to charming to wordless introspection and he pretty much never hits a false note. Despite his character's well-known lament towards the end of the movie, O'Toole is an actor and a movie star, and one without many peers.
As Benjy Stone, Mark-Linn Baker doesn't stink up the joint. He manages to keep Stone a nicely- wrapped collection of nervous jitters as he rides herd on his movie hero. Although he is not really up to some of the emotional confrontation required of him to set up the movie's great finish, those scenes go pretty quickly and anyway, Baker would soon have much more to atone for by starring in eight seasons of Perfect Strangers.
Year is littered with great "small roles" that help fine-tune its impact, such as Selma Diamond playing a cigarette-puffing wardrobe mistress, Lanie Kazan as Benjy's mother, Bill Macy as the spineless head writer Sy Benson and Joseph Bologna as comedy legend King Kaiser. Jessica Harper as Benjy's love interest K.C. is mercifully outside the main line of the plot and thus not onscreen for any great length of time.
Executive producer Mel Brooks helped shape the movie based on his years as a comedy writer for Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows, and Dennis Palumbo used the idea of Errol Flynn's appearance on a Show of Shows episode as the basis for his script, although Flynn's guest-star turn was actually uneventful. Year was director Richard Benjamin's first movie behind the camera and it benefits from his long experience as a comedic actor. But the real draw as well as the real center on which the movie turns is O'Toole, in one of the best of a slew of great performances in his distinguished career. Although as he himself noted in wavering about accepting an Academy Honorary Award in recognition of his body of work, he's still "in the game" and so there's no telling what he might produce between this stage and the one to come.