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Film / My Favorite Year

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"I'm not an actor, I'm a MOVIE STAR!"
Alan Swann

A 1982 comedy film directed by Richard Benjamin and set in New York City in 1954, My Favorite Year is the story of Benjy Stone (Mark Linn-Baker), a comedy writer on King Kaiser's (Joseph Bologna) TV Variety Show, who is tasked with keeping his childhood hero, swashbuckling English actor Alan Swann (Peter O'Toole), sober enough to perform that week. In addition to this daunting task, a union boss objects to the show's parody of him, and has plans to stop the show. Hilarity Ensues.

The film is a highly fictionalized account of when Errol Flynn guest starred on Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows, and the characters are almost all based on Real Life people.

Adapted into a 1992 Broadway Musical by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty (Ragtime), with Tim Curry starring as Swann.

My Favorite Year contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Absurdly Sharp Blade: Mainly in that the blade of a prop sword would be sharp enough to cut through anything.
  • Adapted Out: The character of Boss Rojek and the entire mobster subplot was cut from the musical version.
  • Alliterative Name: King Kaiser, though a conversation with Leo reveals that his real first name is Stan.
  • All Part of the Show: The studio audience think King Kaiser getting beat up by Rojek's men and Alan swinging to the rescue is the first sketch.
  • Alcohol Hic: Swann.
  • The Alcoholic: Swann, played for both laughs and drama, depending on the scene.
  • Amazingly Embarrassing Parents: Benjy reluctantly brings Swann to a family dinner with his mother Belle, her second husband "Rookie" Carroca the former Filipino boxer, and his Uncle Morty and Aunt Sadie. All of them are openly starstruck, Belle starts calling him "Swannie," Morty demands autographs and later inquires into a paternity suit Swann was involved in, and Sadie turns up in her wedding dress.
    Sadie: I only wore it once!
  • Becoming the Mask: Swann laments that there is no longer any distinction between his screen persona and his real self.
  • Bedmate Reveal: Swann's first scene is wrapping his arms around his companion and pulling her close. Then a look of wide-eyed shock as he lifts it away from his face because it's actually a teddy bear.
  • Big Applesauce: The entire film takes place in the Golden Age of Television, which was centered in New York (alongside the radio stations which founded the three networks.)
  • Big Bad: Karl "Boss" Rojeck, despite having only one scene in the movie, acts as a dire threat towards King Kaiser and his production. Because he can't handle being mocked in the "Boss Hijack" sketch he decides to have Kaiser get into an "accident" or have his goon squad take care of him.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Swann pulls off one of these in typical swashbuckling style during the finale.
  • Big Good: King Kaiser is this of the movie, aside from his nickname "King," he is the employer of Benjy, who he left in charge of taking care of his guest star Swann, and believes comedy to be Honor Before Reason when he refuses to bow down to Rojeck to take his skit off his show.
  • Blessed with Suck: Swann and Benjy have the following exchange after Swann gives Benjy advice on how to woo a woman:
    Benjy: Is that what you do?
    Swann: No. I don't have that luxury. The women who are interested in me know exactly who I am and what they want, and nine times out of ten, they get it.
    Swann: You'd be surprised. You see, no matter what I do, I can never fulfill their expectations.
  • Broken Pedestal: Benjy grows disgusted with many aspects of Swann's irresponsible and cowardly behavior, especially his minimal contact with his daughter. Swann does redeem himself at the end, though.
  • Bullying a Dragon: King Kaiser is constantly warned that continuing with the "Boss Hijack" sketch and standing up to Boss Rojeck is considered this and a Too Dumb to Live move on his part and against his safety.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Swann.
  • Cannot Tell a Joke: K.C. Dowling. Her attempt to repeat back the joke Benjy tells her is hilarious for all the wrong reasons.
  • The Casanova: Swann. His charm and swashbuckling ways are part of his reputation, for both good and bad.
  • Casting Gag: Of the production sort. One of the writers of Your Show Of Shows, Mel Brooks, executive produced the film.
  • Cigarette of Anxiety: Swann grabs Alice's cigarette, takes a puff of it, and gives it back when he learns that he's going to be performing live.
  • Chivalrous Pervert: Swann is this, quite often. When told the restroom he's blundered into is "for ladies only," he briefly loses the chivalrous part, unzips his trousers, and replies, "So is this, madam, but every now and again I have to run a little water through it."
  • Comically Missing the Point: When one of the tuxedoed gentleman at the party sees Swann dangling over the balcony, he says in a panic "I think Alan Swann is beneath us!" His friend replies "Of course he's beneath us! He's an actor!"
  • The Comically Serious: Rojeck's bowtie-donning thug is this when one of the actors tap danced by him and delivered several punches across the jaw while he remained stone-faced. Rojeck himself can count during his one scene.
  • Composite Character:
    • Benjy is a combination of a young Mel Brooks (who executive produced the film) and a young Woody Allen, both of whom wrote for Your Show of Shows around this time.
    • Swann is a combination of Errol Flynn and O'Toole himself, whose Real Life alcoholism and off-screen antics mirrors a lot of what happens in this film.
  • Cowardly Lion: Swann is considered one, due to his inability to visit his daughter and eventual Stage Fright that prompts Benjy to call him out for being a Dirty Coward, until Swann redeems himself by saving King Kaiser from Rojeck's henchmen on-set.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: King Kaiser proves himself good at the ole' fisticuffs when facing Rojeck's henchmen until he gets overpowered to a point he cries for help. Also, aside from his drunken antics, Swann is really "that silly goddamn hero."
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Kaiser keeps up the fight for a surprisingly long time considering he's outnumbered four to one, but Rojack's goons eventually overpower him and start punching the crap out of him onstage in front of the oblivious audience.
  • Cursed with Awesome: Benjy thinks that Swann's reputation as a ladykiller is this. Swann feels it's more Blessed with Suck.
  • Dartboard of Hate: Kaiser's writers have one of these with his photo, which they hastily clear off when King enters the room.
  • Defeat by Modesty: Swann inflicts this on one of the goons in the climatic swordfight.
  • Disappeared Dad: Swann avoids seeing his daughter, but still covertly checks in on her — or so he thinks, as she knows when he visits.
  • Dogged Nice Guy: Benjy is one of these in his pursuit of K.C.
  • The Dulcinea Effect: As a result of his personality, Swann is either particularly prone to this, or feels he is expected to be and just runs with it.
  • Expy:
    • Benjy Stone is one for Woody Allen, a non-religious Jew who changed his name (Allen Konigsberg to Woody Allen) doing The '50s sketch show with lead, irrascible comedy star named "Caesar".
    • Of course, King Kaiser is Sid Caesar.note 
    • Alan Swann is one for Errol Flynn.
  • Failed a Spot Check: Apparently, not once during the entire week of rehearsals did Alan Swann realize that "Comedy Cavalcade" is a live broadcast. (Though given how soused he usually is, perhaps it's not that surprising.)
  • Failed Attempt at Drama: After King Kaiser throws Rojack's coat out the window, Rojack declares that this is simply Round 1 of the fight—and dons the comically oversized Boss Hijack prop hat when he walks out the door.
  • The '50s: As this takes place in 1954. Benjy's opening voiceover waxes full nostalgic about the clothes, the cars, and the comedy shows.
  • Flynning: To get an idea of what Swann's acting is like, the show's writers are watching one of his swashbuckling films, which includes some really over-the-top swordplay. Swann, clearly three sheets to the wind, walks in during the showing of the film, looks at the villain on screen his image is fighting, and says,"I thought I killed you," as him image proceeds to do exactly that.
  • Foreign Queasine: Rookie's special ingredient in his meatloaf is parrot. Cue I Ate WHAT?!
  • Funny Background Event: Rojack demonstrates that he's in the "removals business" by throwing a plaque of the show's logo out the open window—cue tire screech. King Kaiser responds by tossing Rojack's expensive cashmere overcoat out. Cue another tire screech... and in both cases the two keep on talking without taking any notice.
  • Gentleman Adventurer: Swann plays these in all of his movies, and does his best to live up to the image in his public appearances.
  • Gentleman Snarker: Even as himself, Swann usually speaks with the exaggerated nonchalance and penchant for quips that the typical swashbuckler hero employs.
  • Get A Hold Of Yourself Man: When arguing with an increasingly hysterical King about the set Rojak's men stole, Leo eventually smacks him on the head with a newspaper. This makes King stop dead, agree to do the runthrough, and deal with the sketch problem later.
  • Groin Attack: "See, Sy? This kid's got balls!" (*grab*)
  • Guttural Growler: Rojak. He has a low, gravelly voice and even snarls and growls like a dog when he's angry—which Kaiser parodies in the Boss Hijack sketch.
  • Handshake Refusal: Boss Rojak stands like a statue and doesn't even make eye contact when Leo Silver tries to shake hands.
  • Hollywood Costuming: Subtly (and not-so-subtly) lampshaded. The portrayal of swashbucklers in classic film is spot on, and cranked up to eleven for the Variety Show finale. Also, King Kaiser's costume in the Union Boss sketch.
  • Honor Before Reason: Rojak implicitly threatens to kill King Kaiser if he continues performing the "Boss Hijack" sketches. King Kaiser refuses as he believes that "you never cut funny" in his line of work.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Immediately after lamenting that everyone lets him get away with everything and he's sick of it, Swann decides to steal a police officer's horse.
  • I Ate WHAT?!: While having dinner at Benjy's mother's house, Swann asks what kind of meat they're eating, noting it's a bit pungent. The answer was parrot. Cue Spit Take.
  • Ignorant of the Call: Alan Swann continually insists that he's not the hero he plays in the movies, that he's just a man and a flawed man at that, and he gets really mad at people who insist otherwise... but he doesn't hesitate to rush in to save the day when the time comes.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: Swann (are we seeing a pattern here?)
  • Incoming Ham: "PORTHOOOOSSSSS!!!!
  • Insistent Terminology: "Stone, ladies are unwell. Gentlemen vomit."
  • Jerkass: Sy Benson, who constantly ridicules Benjy and his other co-workers but can't stand up to King.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: King Kaiser frequently goes into hysterics, running around the corridors yelling at people because he thinks he's in the wrong costume (when he's usually not) or has the wrong script. He tries to make up for it by buying his staff strange gifts, like whitewall tires. He also rejects Swann at first and threatens to fire Benjy when Benjy tries to appeal with a "Not So Different" Remark, but later admits that Swann is pretty good.
  • Literal Metaphor: During the gatecrashing scene, the following exchange takes place between two bystanding stockbrokers:
    Stockbroker #1: [looking over the edge of the balcony] I think Alan Swann is beneath us!
    Stockbroker #2: Of course he's beneath us. He's an actor!
    Stockbroker #1: No! I think Alan Swann is beneath us right now!
  • The Mafia: Union boss Karl Rojek is portrayed as a a mob boss on the King Kaiser show in this style. Given his reaction, it's as heavily implied as it can be without flat-out saying so that he is one.
  • Match Cut: The scene cuts from King Kaiser donning the hat and chomping a cigar for his "Boss Hijack" costume to Boss Rojak, with hat and cigar, in Leo's office.
  • Mood Whiplash: The dinner at the apartment goes from outrageous (with Rookie's cooking, Uncle Marty asking inappropriate questions, and his wife turning up in her wedding dress), to somber when Belle shames Alan for not having seen his daughter in a year, back to outrageous when they find that the entire apartment building has turned up to see the famous movie star off.
  • The Musical: There was a musical adaptation starring Tim Curry as Alan Swann.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Alan Swann and King Kaiser are Errol Flynn and Sid Caesar in all but name.
  • No Hero to His Valet:
  • Noodle Incident: It's never explained just exactly what happened at the Stork Club.
    Alfie: You sure you want the Stork Club, Mr. Swann?
    Swann: It's been a year and a half. Surely they've repaired the wall of the bandstand by now.
  • Nostalgic Narrator: Benjy.
    "My name is Benjy Stone, and 1954 was my favorite year. Not my best year, not the year I had the most success, but my favorite year. Its the year that separated my life into before and after."
  • Not So Above It All: Though Benji is terrified of bringing Alan to Brooklyn, Alan proves he's equally at home and charming in a lower class setting. He recognizes Lou immediately, knowing his boxing stats and having appreciated his boxing skills at a match he attended, and smoothly answering an embarrassing question from Benji's uncle about a paternity suit.
  • Not So Stoic: Boss Rojeck's Villainous Breakdown during the end of the whole "Removal Business" scene before putting on the prop hat on his way out.
  • Peking Duck Christmas: Invoked by Benjy:
    Benjy: Katherine, Jews know two things: suffering and where to find great Chinese food.
  • Pen Name: Benjy declines to use his real, Jewish surname of Steinberg and is instead credited as Stone, something which irritates his mother.
  • Performance Anxiety: Swann is upset to learn that The King Kaiser Comedy Cavalcade is broadcast live in front of an audience.
    Swann: Damn you! I'm not an actor, I'm a movie star!
  • Playboy Has a Daughter: Swann avoids meeting his teenage daughter out of shame of his public exploits; she just wants a father, however.
  • Polka Dork: "Anyone who plays the accordion professionally" is on Benjy's list of people who cannot be funny. When K.C. completely muffs the joke he gave her to tell, he hands her money. When she asks what's it for, he replies "Accordion lessons".
  • Pretty in Mink: When Swann arrives at the Stork Club, there are a number of women wearing mink wraps.
  • Punny Name: "Kaiser" is the German equivalent of the title "Caesar."
  • Quick Nip: Swann conceals liquor everywhere.
  • Reaction Shot: When Swann enters the ladies' room by mistake and decides to use it anyway he unzips his trousers (with the camera still on his face) and remarks that "this" is also for ladies only. Lil looks down and then back up with an appreciative grin.
  • Ready for Lovemaking: When Swann retreats to his dressing room, we see a showgirl smiling as she lounges on the couch. As he's in the middle of his freakout and simply expresses more dismay on finding her there, she slams out looking affronted a moment later.
  • Reality Subtext: Peter O'Toole's own drinking habits are (or were— he gave it up for health reasons) legendary in themselves.
  • Roman Clef: Benjy is Mel Brooks/Woody Allen, Alan Swann is Errol Flynn, King Kaiser is Sid Caesar, etc.
  • Rousing Speech:
    • Benjy gives one of these when King wants to drop Swann from the show by agreeing that Swann is too much of a risk and then saying that if King may one day be in the same position and need the same help. King is not happy, but then comes back and agrees because he was impressed that Benjy had the balls to talk to him like that. Swann also thanks him for the stirring defense once he's conscious.
    • When Swann confesses to being afraid to meet his daughter face to face, Benjy gives him one of these.
  • Sexy Stewardess: Swann beds two of them.
  • Sitcom Archnemesis: Sy Benson is one for Benjy.
  • Sorry I'm Late: Inverted. King asks "what took you so long?" after Swann swings down onto the stage to rescue him from Rojek's goons.
  • Stage Fright / Studio Audience: The Variety Show is broadcast live in front of an audience, much to Swann's dismay.
    Swann: I haven't performed in front of an audience for twenty-eight years! I played a butler! I had one line!
    Swann: I FORGOT IT!
  • Stock Footage: Swann's movies are illustrated with clips from Peter O'Toole's earlier films, Lord Jim and The Great Catherine.
  • Stress Vomit: After Swann nearly falls off a roof in a drunken attempt to recreate a scene from one of his films, Benjy has to go and throw up in the park.
  • Tag-Along Actor: King Kaiser apparently prepares for his roles by imitating real people. In one scene he's sitting in on a discussion between Karl Rojek, his lawyer, and a studio exec, and Rojek is irritated by Kaiser's constantly imitating his mannerisms.
  • This Is Reality: Swann's plan to gatecrash a party in a skyscraper's penthouse by rappelling down from the roof leads to this exchange:
    Benjy: Let's not do this - it's too dangerous!
    Swann: Nonsense! It worked perfectly well in "A Slight Case of Divorce"!
    Benjy: That was a movie! This is real life!
    Swann: What is the difference?
  • This Is the Part Where...: "I guess this is the kissing part of the movie."
  • Throw It In: In-Universe at the end. Nobody has any idea what Swann is doing in the balcony, but the control booth orders a spotlight on him anyway because well, he's there and the audience is applauding.
  • Title Drop: The first line of narration: "My name is Benjy Stone, and 1954 was my favorite year."
  • Trailers Always Spoil: Want to see the movie in two and a half-minutes? Check out the trailer.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Supposedly based on a time Mel Brooks had to mind Errol Flynn prior to the latter's appearance on Your Show of Shows, with a great deal of creative embroidery.
  • Villainous Breakdown: The usually cold stone-faced Boss Rojeck is sent into a Not So Stoic one provoked by King Kaiser throwing out the former's cashmere coat out the window in defiance of Rojeck's demands to remove the "Boss Hijack" sketch off the air before leaving and absent-mindedly putting on the "Boss Hijack" prop hat on his way out grunting like an Angry Guard Dog.
  • The Voiceless: Herb does all of his "speaking" through Alice. Until he sees Swann swoop down from the balcony and begin fighting, which leads him to declare, "Oh, God, this makes me happy!"
  • "Which Restroom?" Dilemma: Alan Swann enters the ladies' rest room because he's too drunk to tell the difference, not to mention too blasé about it to care.
    Lil the Wardrobe Manager: "This is for ladies only!"
    Alan Swann: (unzipping his pants) "So is this, ma'am, but every once in a while I have to run a little water through it."
  • You Called Me "X"; It Must Be Serious: Leo calls King Kaiser by his real name of Stan when trying to convince him to stop the Boss Hijack sketch, but Kaiser refuses anyway.