Wednesday, January 20, 2010

My Favorite Year

Year 2, Day 19 - 1/19/10 - Movie #384

BEFORE: Part of last night's movie took place behind the scenes of Buddy Young, Jr.'s 1950's TV show, so tonight we're behind the scenes at "Comedy Cavalcade", another fictional TV variety show, in 1954. Tonight's film was directed by Richard Benjamin, who starred in "The Sunshine Boys".

THE PLOT: A dissolute matinee idol is slated to appear on a live TV variety show.

AFTER: I've heard a lot of good things about this movie over the years, but in the end I just wasn't feeling it. It sort of reminded me of the show "30 Rock", especially since it takes place in Rockefeller Center, the (implied) location of NBC Studios.

In an odd coincidence, I spent the evening in Rockefeller Center, across the street from where this movie was set - I go to monthly beer-pairing dinners at Rock Center Cafe, a restaurant right next to the famous skating rink there...and after a two-month break for the holidays, it's nice that they started right up again in January. But I digress...

The movie stars Mark-Linn Baker as Benjy Stone, a junior writer for the show "Comedy Cavalcade", who is put in charge of a movie-idol guest star, Alan Swann (Peter O'Toole) to make sure that he stays sober, stays out of trouble, and shows up for rehearsal and the live telecast. He attempts this by taking Swann to his very-Jewish family's home in Brooklyn for a stereotypically Jewish dinner, cooked by his mother's second husband, a Filipino bantamweight boxer. Ummm...what?

But he doesn't manage to keep the star out of trouble, instead he helps him steal a girl away from her boyfriend in a club, which leads to a sex scandal in Central Park. I guess he wasn't too clear on the meaning of "out of trouble". Swann also manages to go on a few benders while in town, so I guess he didn't really understand the meaning of "keep him sober" either.

It was all just a bit too madcap, though not nearly as bad and slapsticky as "Radioland Murders", another behind-the-scenes nostalgia effort. There's a subplot where the star of the show, King Kaiser (Joe Bologna) refuses to stop doing sketches that make fun of a notorious labor leader/mobster, so his life is constantly in danger from mob hitmen trying to stop the show.

We're led to believe that making TV is one big ball of wacky fun, but it's also dangerous fun, and the show must go on, and it all works out in the end, yada yada yada. I suppose one could also learn that rehearsals are pointless, because the guest-star doesn't even understand the concept of "live" TV, so whatever happens on show night happens, and that's your show.

Also featuring Bill Macy (the guy from "Maude", not William H. Macy), Lainie Kazan, character actors George Wyner and Selma Diamond, and a quick appearance by Gloria Stuart (yes, the old lady from "Titanic")

RATING 4 out of 10 dancing cigarette cartons

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