Sensational Swashbuckling, 2021

2020 was not, for sure. 1954 – the backdrop year of this surprisingly wonderful film – was for a few characters … especially Bengy Stone, who was assigned the unenviable task of looking after swashbuckling matinee idol Alan Swann. Thirty-six years removed from the previous pandemic (in movie time) and directed by Richard Benjamin thirty-nine years behind this current masking society (in real time), “My Favorite Year” is close to my favorite slice of time so far in 2021.

I first met Richard Benjamin during a Tonight Show re-run a few nights ago. He was, in a word, delightful. His appearance came a few months prior to the release of this film, of course … as all appearances by actors and directors dutifully promoting their wares – sitting to the right of the King of Late Night – did at the time. One mention of Peter O’Toole is all it took for me to begin Netflixing my way through movie queues soon thereafter. A few dollars later, there it was. A movie, previously unknown to me, now beginning as a young Mark Linn-Baker carries a cardboard cutout of Alan Swann through the heavy pedestrian traffic of NYC toward 30 Rockefeller Center. A New York City full of life, energy, and humor.

Bengy is who you would expect him to be – a young, energetic fellow who has quirky, humble comedic tilts in his personality. As a writer among others supporting a one hour t.v. Comedy Hour, he’s under pressure to be funny, yet sympathetic to the bigger egos in the room. None bigger than the soon to be inserted Mr. Swann who, we are quick to learn, has a leaning toward wine and women, – both of which cause highly predictable delays in morning arrivals. This being the case, Bengy volunteers to be a swashbuckler’s man-nanny for the week, guaranteeing safe travels within the city and promptness at all rehearsals.

As with all movies that keep our attention and are entertaining, there are sub-plots and curves here. A small romance, a mafia tie-in that culminates in a “hit” at the end, and charming individual character flaws all come together to make this movie really fun to watch.

Obviously, I’m not a professional movie reviewer. I wouldn’t even qualify to carry the briefcases of Siskel & Ebert from their limo to the Oscars if they were alive today. How to accurately convey the pleasure I got out of watching a thirty-nine year old movie without giving away most of the surprise? I don’t know. Peter O’Toole was wonderful. The story wasn’t campy or overplayed by anyone. The premise wasn’t too far reaching … it could actually be true and believable should an actor relay such a story in an autobiography.

What I kept thinking after the movie credits was: How ironic the title.

Nine days into 2021, and I’ll go back to my first line … 2020 was not, for sure. Maybe I simply needed a 1 1/2 hour hero to jump out of the screen and save me from the bad news of last year. A surprise visitor. Someone different with a message I hadn’t heard in a while – even if it was a fantasy. A swashbuckler slaying all the badness one by one.

I related so well to Bengy. Maybe that’s it. Trying to get through with a bit of quirkiness, dealing with egos much greater than I … making it work, somehow.

That’s what most of us are doing. We don’t have a say beyond our own words. Too many have platforms and audiences greater than ours … probably.

I can’t say 1954 was my favorite. Pre-birth years don’t qualify. Now, 1982 does have significance – it set me on my life’s journey after high school. Not my favorite, though. Up to now, I don’t have one, really. Should I?

Should you? When Norman Steinberg and Dennis Palumbo wrote the story for My Favorite Year, I wonder if 1954 was theirs? Marilyn Monroe married Joe DiMaggio, the Oscar Mayer hotdog car was patented, and Rock Around the Clock was recorded by Bill Haley and the Comets that same year. If you were to write a movie, what year would you pick?

Tell you what year I wouldn’t pick. 2020. Unless the horror genre is your thing, I wouldn’t recommend it for you either. The only advice I will give you is: find a few moments aside to watch this movie. Yes, it’s 39 years old. Sure, there are better “made” movies that will sparkle your special-effects fantasies. However, for a refreshing start to your 2021, sit back and go back sixty-seven years to a NYC full of life, liberty, happiness, joy, …. and most of all – humanity.

As Siskel & Ebert would lovingly say, “See you at the movies!”

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