Peter O’Toole died yesterday at the age of 81. The New York Times obituary by Benedict Nightingale recapitulates his remarkable career and captures some of his old-school antics. What an actor.
We can have a constructive argument among ourselves about which of the films was his best, or even with ourselves about which is our favorite. Into the hopper go Lawrence of Arabia and The Lion in Winter as well as The Stunt Man and My Favorite Year.
I’m going with My Favorite Year (screenplay by Dennis Palumbo and Norman Steinberg, directed by Richard Benjamin, with Mel Brooks inevitably in the production mix). In it O’Toole gives us his take on an Errol Flynn character, boozy and washed up, making an appearance on a variety show in 1954 that harks back to Sid Caesar (the film’s King Kaiser) and Your Show of Shows. Brooks had of course written for Caesar and Your Show of Shows. I love that movie and O’Toole in it.
Swann has a panic attack when he learns the show is to be broadcast live. In the climactic scene below, Swann rises to the occasion and saves the day when thugs invade the broadcast to kill a skit that mocks their chief. Life imitates art as Swann performs heroics to rescue the show while the audience applauds what it thinks is a killer skit.
The film is full of good lines, yet without O’Toole I can’t see how that movie would work. As Alan Swann saves the day, O’Toole gloriously saves the film. Somewhere along the way his Alan Swann declares: “I’m not an actor, I’m a movie star!” O’Toole was indisputably both. RIP.