Julie Andrews bore all for her art and hubby/director, Blake Edwards in S.O.B. (1981); a satirically petulant and not altogether successful farce of Hollywood’s hoi poloi. For the record, Ms. Andrews ‘all’ is fairly attractive. The movie, populated by a spurious roster of n’er do wells, including a lace panty-wearing movie mogul, deranged director whose catatonia snaps back as fetishistic sadomasochism, an uber-bitch gossip columnist, and, needle-jabbing Doc ‘Feel Good’ knockoff, are anything but entertaining. S.O.B.’s outrageousness – angry, crude and hitting hard and well below the belt, if decidedly closer to the truth, or rather, truth as skewed by Edwards after having endured the slings and arrows of his own series of high-profile flops, will likely be lost on a contemporary audience. However, it does not take much to interpret S.O.B. as Edwards carping at a system and an industry he so clearly understands from the inside out, but whose mythology he rather insincerely wants to debunk; the sour grapes of his poisoned pen knowing better and having done far better work elsewhere. If only S.O.B. were as caustically erudite, witty and nail-biting as Edward supposes it to be, the movie might have attained a level of razor-sharp, back-biting clarity on par with the likes of Sunset Boulevard (1950). But what’s here is rather transparently obnoxious and thoroughly rotten to its core. Even the film’s premise - transforming a $40 million dollar road show musical into heavy-handed porn – just seems mean-spirited. Ditto for seeing everyone’s sugary-sweet English nanny go au naturale in a pointless vignette as shockingly gratuitous and self-serving as seeing one’s own mother drunk.
Edward likely wanted revenge on the system here; the same powers who had made him a success, but were now holding him accountable when his war-themed romantic musical/comedy, Darling Lili (1970, also starring Andrews) did a belly flop at the box office. Lil’s implosion directly impacted Edwards’ ability to continue writing his own check in Tinsel Town. Retreating to some lucrative, though decidedly subpar Pink Panther sequels, before rising from the ashes with the more astutely playful and ribald spoof, ‘10’ (1979), in hindsight it now appears Edwards never quite forgave Hollywood for the smack down endured after he went way over budget on Darling Lily. But S.O.B. is just spiteful; its barbs, bitchy instead of brazen; its transparent ‘fictional’ characters, decidedly more curmudgeonly caustic than comedic. This isn’t the sort of good-natured farce we are used to seeing from Blake Edwards - not at all, but a decidedly unvarnished, full-on assault with Edwards’ pit bull precision clamping down and biting hard on the hand that feeds him. The picture isn’t so much an exposé or even a tack-sharp reflection of Hollywood as it is, but Edwards’ vitriolic condemnation and hard-liner determination to dismantle its credibility even when credit isn’t due, to make it as terrible a place no one in their right mind would want to visit, much less aspire to become a part of its inbred community of toadies and phonies. His stereotypes are uglier, dirtier, more callous and soulless. As such, Edwards resorts to a sort of cardboard cutout philosophy in spinning this yarn; no character development at all; just one smart ass begrudgingly grumbling and/or indiscriminately stepping on the head and testicles of another smart ass in his midst; neither of them wickedly clever enough to afford the price of a packet of tea. Straight scotch would likely suit these characters better, chased down with a shot of pure white vinegar to distill the ice water already running through their veins.
It makes for a fairly unappealing movie – more fanatical than funny. We are not entertained so much as indoctrinated by Edwards into accepting Hollywood as that big, bad den of iniquity where not even the strong survive while everyone else squirms and slithers to whatever tune the puppet masters on high are currently playing. Adding jibes to gibberish and wit to wallowing self-pity is merely applying lipstick to the proverbial piglet being marketed herein and inclusively for its bacon; all of it singed in that 70’s laissez faire yen for ‘tits and ass’ whore-mongering. It spanks of a first-time director of lowbrow smut – Edwards devolving his camp from homage to the lowest common denominator. Yet, even as garden variety ‘kick in the crotch’ humor, S.O.B. fails to entertain. Ralph Bakshi cartoonish is the best way to describe the characters that inhabit his scenarios: Robert Vaughn’s butch/transvestite studio mogul, David Blackman; Larry Hagman’s perpetually flustered ‘yes-man’ Dick Benson; Shelley Winters’ boozy and blowzy lesbian agent, Eva Brown, Robert Webber’s ulcer-forming press agent, Ben Coogan, Benson Fong’s passé Chinese chef, Larry Storch’s even more grotesquely timeworn concept of a guru, and, Loretta Swit’s crocodile-smiling gossip maven, Polly Reed are cameos a la a Mike Todd, though decidedly without Todd’s air of showmanship to carry them off.
This leaves the real heavy lifting to a handful of Hollywood stalwarts; Robert Preston’s jaunty charlatan, Dr. Irving Finegarten (a riff on the rather insidiously renowned Max Jacobson - the German-born New York physician who hooked his high-profile clientele from the worlds of entertainment and politics on a steady diet of amphetamines and other addictive medications) herein, joyously jabbing his unsuspecting clientele with syringes loaded in his own homemade ‘seven-percent solution’ of anesthetizing drugs, with an ebulliently wicked ‘keep ‘em happy/keep ‘em quiet’ mantra. Preston, moustached and synched into his Velour leisure suits, is obviously having a very good time with this silly caricature and manages to rise above its rank cliché to make something more sincere and satisfying of the part. William Holden’s beleaguered producer, Tim Culley, has his moments too; ogling Babs (Rosanna Arquette), an ex-junkie/hitchhiker he has just picked up by the side of the road, along with her cohort, Lila (Jennifer Edwards) as she playfully strips from the waist up to nude sunbathe, hoping hunky police officer, Phil Buchwald (Joe Penny) will come around to arrest her.
Regrettably, it is the central performances in S.O.B. that leave one feeling flat: Richard Mulligan as distraught director, Felix Farmer, on whom the entire narrative hinges, gives a perversely over-the-top performance as a man whose ego is so utterly fragile, his tenured success in movie-making is completely wiped out by one flop; the bloated family musical, ‘Night Wind’; starring his famous actress/wife and America’s sweetheart, Sally Miles (Julie Andrews, who is anything but in private). Even so, Sally has her misgivings when Felix, brought forth from his suicidal and self-destructive state of catatonia by one of Irving’s injections, decides with manic lucidity to gamble their entire life savings, buy back Night Wind, and juice it up as a bitter and sleazy softcore sexploitation, celebrating kink in lieu of wholesome glamour. Sally’s attorney, Herb Maskowitz (Robert Loggia) thinks it’s a terrible idea. But her agent, Eva Brown flips her own Janus-faced coin in favor of the idea. The rest of Hollywood’s glitterati sweat bullets while Variety declares Farmer’s turkey the biggest singular misfire in movie-making history. Eager to cash in on Felix’s reaction to the news, vapid gossip maven, Polly Reed arrives to pick at the bones of his reputation, but is delayed in her investigation by Culley and Dr. Finegarten; sent by the studio at to do damage control and keep Felix’s ‘condition’ hush-hush. In the meantime Felix, semi-lucid and yet again trying to off himself (his first suicide attempt by asphyxiation in his garage was repeatedly thwarted by his gardener – Bert Rosario – culminating with the car accidentally put into gear, driving through the back wall of the garage and into the ocean), falls through the upstairs floor, landing on Reed in the living room below. Taken to hospital and placed in a full-body cast to recover, Reed later learns from the tabloids that Night Wind is to be revamped as a semi-pornographic exploitation movie with Sally making the big announcement she will bare her breasts for her art.
Others sharing in this collective nervous breakdown include yes-man, Dick Benson whose wife, Joyce (Mimi Davis), is teetering on the brink, trapped in their loveless marriage while her father/ studio head, Harry Sandler (Paul Stewart) is only marginally concerned for her welfare. Meanwhile, Blackman’s trophy wife, Mavis (Marisa Berenson) is having an affair with actor, Sam Marshall (David Young); Hollywood’s latest hunk du jour on the cusp of super-stardom. Of course, it all culminates in an orgasmic house party at Felix’s Malibu beach house, riddled in the sort of casting couch clichés that would make even a trailblazer like Elinor Glynn, or smut-monger like Norman Mailer blush – or vomit. Amidst all the heavy groping and drug use, Felix is stirred from Doc Irving’s stupor with a venomous new concept for Night Wind: take the tepid musical mélange and transform it into a taut and tawdry sexploitation flick for Sally to flash her ‘boobies’. While many in the Hollywood community thinks Felix is clearly off his nut, David Blackman is at least willing to entertain his insanity when Felix offers to buy back Night Wind’s negative to the tune of $40 million, thus pulling the studio out of the hole while seemingly digging himself – and Sally – into another by draining their bank accounts to bankroll the acquisition. Sally’s attorney, Herb Maskowitz begs her indulgence. If she sues Felix now she will appear to the public to be cruel and heartless, hardly the image of a scrubbed and tubbed movie queen with a squeaky clean image. However, if she proceeds to take her estranged hubby’s advice, appear in the raw, and Night Wind is still a flop, she will have sacrificed herself for the good of the cause and the public will side with her, should she decide to divorce Felix thereafter and sue.
Reluctantly, Sally agrees to this latter scenario. With a little help from one of Doc Irving’s ‘feel good’ tranquilizing injections she performs the strip in a revamped version of the big, bloated production number that originally opened the Night Wind; the once playfully clad soldiers, ballerinas and oversized stuffed animals now replaced with a menagerie of dominatrix, pimps, sex slaves and other fetishistic revelers. Polly Reed is shocked by this display. Alas, Felix’s detractors are proven wrong. The new Night Wind is a hit and Blackman and his entourage elect to connive their way back into the game; gaining control over the movie by convincing Polly to sell back her shares in the production. When Felix learns of this betrayal he flips; driving his Caddie through Sally’s kitchen (this sends her temperamental chef – Benson Fong – into a tizzy), then, barging into studio accountant, Mr. Lipschitz’s (Hamilton Camp) office with a loaded gun pointed at his head, demanding every last reel of Night Wind be returned to him on the double. Previously fired security guard, Harold Harrigan (Ken Swofford) alerts the police of the showdown and, in reply, the LAPD opens fire, killing Felix in Lipschitz’s lobby. The evening before his burial, Culley, Doc Irving and Polly’s empathetic husband, Willard (Craig Stevens) elect to steal Felix’s body from the morgue, thus sparing him the indignation of a real ‘Hollywood’ wake with Sally, incredulously warbling ‘O Promise Me’ while a guru presides over the spectacle of this public funeral. Culley, Irving and Will load Felix’s corpse onto a dinghy, setting it afire and observing in their own moment of silence as the blazing spectacle floats further and further out to sea. In an epilogue we learn Felix’s vision for Night Wind was a colossal success; in fact, the biggest box office money-maker of all time; Sally winning another Academy Award and everyone living happily ever after…well, not Felix…and, predictably, until the next movie!
S.O.B. could have been a seriously ribald farce about Hollywood’s incestuous and thoroughly misguided community of self-loving/self-loathing bastards and bitches. Indeed, the wicked opening gag; Burgess Webster (Herb Tanney – billed as ‘Stiffe’ in the credits), a middle-aged jogger suffering a fatal heart attack and planting his bones at the break of dawn on a plot of sand within earshot of Felix’s Malibu home; his remains virtually ignored thereafter by all but his faithful mutt, Troubles – the dog; the gaggle of sun worshipers later to flock to these sun-kissed shores, all but oblivious to the corpse lying face down in their midst, eventually reclaimed by the tides, is an ingenious metaphor and a fairly funny indictment on these navel-gazing Californians. It’s what follows that proves problematic; Edwards’ perniciousness overtaking the comedy in strides until all that is left is a sort of venom-drenched dreck; Edward’s poop-pounding La La Land into the stone-age with his egocentric contempt. There is not an empathetic creature in the bunch; not a single moment where remorse plays a factor in the cause and effect fate of Felix Farmer. Undeniably, Edwards’ point is that Hollywood en masse has no soul. This we get – in widescreen, no less. This we understand. And apart from the morsel of regret shared between Culley, Irving and Willard that causes Felix to miss his own garishly glamorized send-up to the great beyond, S.O.B. teems with the sort of cadaver-embalming buyer’s remorse put forth by a slowly asphyxiating used car salesman connecting our intellect to the carbon monoxide-emitting tailpipe of his artistic cruelty; adding ‘suck on this, you morons!’. Enough said: S.O.B. did absolutely nothing for me. Actually, it was rather sad to see so many one-time high profile talents succumbing to the bait for an as equally revered director; all of them wasting their talents on this base, crass, backstabbing and thoroughly unamusing tripe. For the record, Julie Andrews has a nice set of ‘boobies’. But she really didn’t need to share them with the rest of us to convince me she is a very fine actress, a wonderful comedian and one hell of a grand singer!
S.O.B. makes its debut via the Warner Archive (WAC). This transfer has its issues, beginning with the opening shot of an over-sized child’s play castle, complete with its quartet of life-sized soldiers lining the columns. The entire upper half of the image judders back and forth, the castles turrets and flags swaying left to right. This credit sequence also appears to have been sourced from a dupe, or perhaps, is merely plagued by primitive optical printing: colors, decidedly muted, fine detail wanting and contrast weaker than anticipated with a heavy patina of amplified grain. Mercifully, all of these shortcomings are corrected once we segue into the body of the film. Here, the palette shows off its dated 80’s vintage with softer pastels. Flesh tones are generally less vibrant than one might expect. Exterior photography looks gorgeous; rich hues, stunning amounts of fine detail, elevating the texture of the image in all its 1080p glory. But indoor sequences just seems bland by comparison; colors, anemic, contrast often waffling between just okay to subpar muddy, and film grain – again – heavier than anticipated. WAC has cleaned up the image. There are no age-related artifacts; but this is not a stellar presentation to be sure; just middling and competent without ever attaining the ‘WOW!’ factor Blu-ray is capable of delivering. The audio is a big fat 2.0 DTS mono and sounds it; dialogue strident and the Henry Mancini score, sparse and never affecting, but rather tinny and dull. Outside of a well-worn theatrical trailer, WAC has offered up NO extras; probably, just as well. I know about all I want to about S.O.B. – code for ‘standard operating bullshit’. You better believe it. Bottom line: pass and be very glad that you did!
FILM RATING (out of 5 – 5 being the best)