First Errol Flynn was the consummate Hollywood action hero, and then he was the consummate Hollywood has-been. The substance abuse, the wrecked relationships, the legal scandals; by the end of his life he was a guy who needed a lot of rehabilitating. "My Favorite Year" is a posthumous rehabilitation of Flynn, and it is also a sweet and funny tall tale about what his redemption might have looked like had it happened during his lifetime. Flynn's actual appearance on the 1950s variety show where Mel Brooks was a young writer came and went without incident, but in "My Favorite Year" that forgettable television moment is reimagined as one huge, crazy, boozy incident worthy of Peter O'Toole in his hellraising days. O'Toole infuses all of Flynn stand-in "Alan Swann"'s lines, every flourish of his hands, every drunken stagger, with a precise mixture of charm and pain.
The story is mostly a buddy comedy of the sort that thrives on the emotional closeness of its characters. Maybe a supremely irresponsible person like Swann, whose insecurities cause him to limit his relationships to the categories of one-night stands and autograph sessions, wouldn't really tolerate the presence of a straight-laced worrywart like the Mel Brooks stand-in for days and nights on end. But in the movies, opposites attract, and here they make a good pair. The young writer gets to meet his hero, and although Swann is a case in point of why it's not always best to do that, the movie argues that the hero is always there, in a way, inside the less-than-heroic has-been. Swann is self-destructive, yes, but with each new failure comes a chance for one more last hurrah, one more horse to jump on and ride into the sunset, one more crowd to win over. O'Toole is heartbreaking when he shows Swann's weakness and vulnerability, and this makes each new triumph, however modest, all the more inspiring. At the high points, the young writer is the necessary sidekick, a witness to a performance that exists solely to be seen and applauded, and when the cycle returns to darkness and doubt he is the hero's conscience. It's an old formula, but it works.
Between the party-crashing, horse-stealing vignettes, there is a by-the- book romance storyline and an organized crime farce. Both are simple fare, but they do a lot to raise the stakes of Swann's television appearance and to set an amiable atmosphere through a vibrant supporting cast and obvious but endearing jokes and set-pieces. The movie's various threads all crash together in a big finish that is predictable, and not believable, but very satisfying, entertaining, and moving--not unlike a great Errol Flynn movie.
Replete with tributes to Flynn's filmography, "My Favorite Year" is a must-see for fans of the Australian-born swashbuckler. "Captain Blood," "Dodge City," and "The Adventures of Robin Hood" are repeatedly and lovingly referenced, under thinly-disguised alternate titles, and the iconic scene from the ending of "Robin Hood" is recreated in astonishing detail, complete with a Basil Rathbone lookalike.