Dir: Richard Benjamin
Star: Mark Linn-Baker, Peter O’Toole, Jessica Harper, Joseph Bologna
While light and disposable, this still proves eminently amusing, thanks mostly to the performance you’d expect from O’Toole. Set in the 1950’s, he plays alcoholic swashbuckler Alan Swann, sent to New York to take part in a variety show, entirely for tax purposes, since the IRS will take 50% of his fee, in exchange for not deporting him. Looking after him is long-term fan and junior writer Benjy Stone (Linn-Baker), who has to try and keep his charge out of trouble – and, probably even harder, sober long enough for his part on the show. [Although most of the scrapes are fictional, it’s inspired by a true event, where executive producer Mel Brooks was a writer for Sid Caesar’s TV show, and Errol Flynn was a special guest]
Meanwhile, Benjy has to cope with his Jewish mother and woo a co-worker, while the show comes under threat from a mob boss, upset at the unflattering portrayal of him in a series of sketches. O’Toole kicks ass. He’s perfect as the dissolute star, charming in his inebriation and you can see why he got an Oscar nomination, losing out for Best Actor to Ben Kingsley in Gandhi – the seventh of eight such nominations for O’Toole, over a span of 44 years, without winning any of them. And you thought Scorsese was patient.
Linn-Baker is okay: it’d take someone special not to be massively overshadowed by his co-star, but he has some decent moments, tiptoeing through the minefield of a Jewish mother and Philippino boxer step-father. I can’t say the gangster side of the plot is even the slightest bit convincing, though it’s probably a necessary evil to give the film an actual climax, after Swann suddenly realizes the show is not recorded but live, and comes down with stage-fright, leading to the immortal line, “I’m not an actor! I’m a movie-star!” The chasm between the two is what inspires most of this film’s charm.