Imagine you are a young Mel Brooks, writer on one of the hottest shows on television: Your Show of Shows. Then imagine your job this week is to babysit guest star Errol Flynn, to make sure his womanizing and heavy drinking doesn’t keep him from ruining the show.
Actually, you don’t have to imagine it, because they made a movie about it. That movie, My Favorite Year, was a nostalgic look at the early days of live TV, where the actors and writers worked themselves ragged to make America laugh (Your Show of Shows had a grueling 39 episode season – an hour-and-a-half, for seven months straight). Making Your Show of Shows gave star Sid Ceasar a nervous breakdown, but also produced some of the brightest comedy writers of all time: Neil Simon, Larry Gelbart, Mel Tolkin, Woody Allen, Carl Reiner and the aforementioned Mel Brooks.
Obviously, the characters and the story is highly fictionalized, and some of the plot (the host being threatened by a local mob boss) is clearly implausible. But knowing that a lot of what was on screen is actually what happened and how things worked makes it a mini-time machine.
Peter O’Toole plays aging swashbuckler Alan Swann, who is washed up and lives mostly in a bottle. This is the second Peter O’Toole film I’ve revisited for this series, and it won’t be the last… O’Toole has had an incredible career, and more than a few of his performances are in seldom-scene and underappreciated films such as this one.
Mark Linn-Baker, best known from TV’s Perfect Strangers, plays Buddy, the Mel Brooks stand-in who has to chaperone Swann the week of his appearance. He exasperated performance against the aloof O’Toole really elevates the material; they have terrific chemistry together. The supporting cast is rock solid, From Joseph Bologna playing Sid Caesar stand-in King Kaiser to Bill Macy, Jessica Harper and Lainie Kazan playing key roles.
This is a fun movie with a lot of heart, and definitely stands up to repeated viewings. Try it in a double feature with The Rocketeer… and you get bonus geek points if you know why I recommend watching both films together.