I never thought of The Lion In Winter as a Christmas movie, but it is. Well, it’s certainly set at Christmas time. Henry II inviting estranged wife Eleanor of Aquitaine over to his vast Norman castle for gift exchange and feasting and fucking in High Medieval style. He even lets her out of jail for the holidays though sends her back come the New Year. There’s murder and mayhem and some gloriously wrought English (which almost none of them could speak, actually) and an enormous meal with apalling table manners. Still, it’s hardly a film that brings to mind tree trimming or Silver Bells or waiting for Santa to bring the presents from Amazon. But there it is on TCM, between Christmas in Connecticut and Holiday Affair. Perhaps there is Christmas in it. Katherine Hepburn’s Eleanor saying “he came down from the north with a mind like Aristotle and a form like mortal sin; we shattered the Commandments on the spot” could be an earthier I Saw Mommy saw kissing Santa Claus when you think about it, if you’re sleazy enough, and Peter O’Toole’s Henry bellowing “I hope we never die!” in the final scene could stand for the immortality of Santa Claus, who doesn’t, though Santa is more likely to bellow a “Merry Christmas to all”, which is what I’ll say too, in this tawdry plague year.
(Another lost essay…apparently I didn’t care for My Favorite Year…)
I saw My Favorite Year once all the way though. I started watching it again sometime later and gave up after a few minutes. Tonight I tried harder and got about a third of the way though it before I wanted to shout what the hell is Peter O’Toole doing in this loser movie? I mean it stinks. Everything about it stinks except Peter O’Toole. All the other characters stink…I don’t care about any of them, except the ones I actively dislike. All of the infuriating subplots stink…I don’t give a damn about these people’s storylines, their lives, their romances…all I care about is the Peter O’Toole character.
And who the hell told the writer he was funny? He’s not. He’s not a funny guy. He thinks he’s funny, He took a course on how to be a funny. He studied comedy in college. He’s analyzed jokes. But he’s not funny. You wanna know how not funny he is? Let the writer explain it himself:
K.C.: Do you think there are funny people and not-funny people?
Benjy Stone: Yes. Definitely. On the funny side there are the Marx Brothers, except Zeppo; the Ritz Brothers, no exceptions; both Laurel *and* Hardy; and Woody Woodpecker. On the unfunny side there’s anyone who has ever played the accordion professionally.
The Ritz Brothers? He thinks the Ritz Brothers are funny? And I don’t mean kinda funny, but quintessentially funny, funny as the Marx Brothers are funny. After sitting through that moronic and utterly predictable Storke Club scene I hear him say Ritz Brothers and bells go off and oh man, yes, that was the Ritz Brothers. I’m watching a movie written by a guy who thought that the Ritz Brothers were, without exceptions, as funny as funny can be.
And then there’s the setting. He is one of the writers for a guy who is obviously Sid Caesar. Which means, in 1954, that he would be writing for the Show of Shows. So he’s set himself up as a writer in maybe the greatest television comedy writing room of all time. Those people in that room were incredibly funny. Crazily funny. Savagely funny. The competition was deadly, the timing perfect. The jokes this fool lays out so predictably here would never have survived that room. Would never have survived Sid Caesar. Sid was not the buffoon portrayed here. Sid Caesar was probably the funniest man in America in the 1950’s. This kid would never have even got in the door. Not with this material. They would have eaten him alive. Humiliated him. It would scar him till the day he died. So what’s he do? He brings that room down to his level and then makes himself the funniest guy in that room. The egomania is overwhelming.
Ya know, if you’re gonna be funny you better be really fucking funny. There’s no room for mediocrity. What a gem of an idea this movie was. And how perfect Peter O’Toole was for the role. It’s too bad that such a sad script, low brow humor, piss poor casting and hamfisted direction turned out something not much funnier than your average inane sitcom. None of you would watch more than a minute or two if it weren’t for Peter O’Toole. Without him it’s just crap. With him, it’s a treasure since O’Toole made so few film appearances.
Yeah, people will always love My Favorite Year because Peter O’Toole is so funny in it. The movie itself is lousy, but Peter O’Toole sparkles, he really does, he’s wonderful in this. So people will be watching this film for generations long after far, far better comedies are long forgotten.
It ain’t fair, it just is.