Warner Archive Instant Review: S.O.B. (1981)

A bleak, but funny, tale of Hollywood's love/hate relationship with itself.
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I’m a sucker for satirical movies about the vanity and prestige of Hollywood.  Movies like The Player, Tropic Thunder, etc. cast a dark eye on the cast of characters who provide us entertainment on a daily basis.  Blake Edwards’ S.O.B. is a semi-autobiographical skewering of Hollywood movers and shakers which simultaneously netted him a Golden Globe and Writers Guild nominations, alongside Razzies wins for Worst Screenplay and Worst Director.  I came to the movie with a more prurient history: S.O.B. is the movie where Julie Andrews bares her breasts, and maybe for some readers that’ll be enough to get them to watch the movie.  Thanks to Warner Archive Instant, I ended up discovering one of the best send-ups of Hollywood ever conceived.

Felix Farmer (Robert Mulligan) was once a successful producer until a flop called Night Wind sunk his career.  Desperate to kill himself, a group of handlers including his squeaky clean ex-wife (Julie Andrews) become responsible for how to turn profit on the picture first, and keep Farmer from killing himself second.

I can understand where the Razzie love comes from because Edwards is perfectly content kicking the film into outright absurdity in a way not even the house blowing up at the end of Inside Daisy Clover managed to do.  The movie’s cast of characters, several of which were Golden Age stars on their way out, are all zany and hedonistic with little rhyme or reason.  The movie is cartoony here and there, but only to keep the audience from becoming too disgusted with what they're watching.  Robert Vaughn plays a Robert Evans-type character who parades around in lingerie and high heels, while Robert Preston (who was delightful in Edwards’ Victor/Victoria) plays a Dr. Feelgood constantly indulging in his own supply.  It sounds ridiculous but I could buy things like this happen in Hollywood.  The industry is so excessive and determinted to push directors/stars/producers from hit to hit, that I’m certain there's real-life inspiration for every event depicted.  

The script is black as night with lines inspiring humor as well as tragedy and revulsion.  When Robert Preston allows a woman to inject him with something based on her credentials as a former junkie, the irony isn’t lost on those who remain saddened every time an actor is lost to drugs or something similar while also casting an eye towards how indifferent these characters are to vice.  Edwards and crew want you to laugh at them, while at the same time condemning their actions and remembering this happens with no consequences (a Wolf of Wall Street for the Hollywood set?).  Sad sack Felix Farmer attempts to kill himself no less than four times, each becoming more ridiculous.  In one scene he falls through a hole in the floor, crushing a gossip columnist played by Loretta Swit.  

It all culminates with Julie Andrews’ Sally Miles debating whether to go topless in a movie or not.  Julie Andrews’ was riding high for her legendary roles as Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music (Sally Miles’ claim to fame in the film is being Peter Pan), and while she’d played parts in serious films she was still constrained by a persona reliant on her presentation as chaste and innocent.  Andrews sails through the role comfortably, sensible considering the film is based around her life with Edwards, despite the shock to the system that is the character of Sally Miles.  When she curses, even her husband has to take note of the audiences’ presumed gasps: “Sally Miles says ‘shit!’”  The tension leading up to Andrews/Miles scene is keenly felt, to the point where Miles has to be doped up to do it.  A loopy Miles presents a  rallying cry to the entire audience before getting naked: “Are you here to see my boobies?”  Mary Poppins popping out of her clothes is definitely something to experience.

S.O.B. features a cavalcade of stars, many coming off comeback work in Irwin Allen disaster features.  Andrews, Mulligan, and William Holden are the anchors to the ensemble cast; Mulligan as the suicidal sad sack and Holden as the womanizing director.  Holden played several older womanizers towards the end of his life and his Tim Culley isn’t the flashiest, but at his age he still possesses infinite charm.  Sadly, Holden died after filming making this his last feature, and thankfully it isn’t an elegiac farewell.  Other stars, like Shelley Winters, Vaughn, and Larry Hagman already broke past their personas and play despicable in their own, inimitable way.  

S.O.B. is an acquired taste because it refuses to pull punches and/or prettify the dastardly deeds of Hollywood.  Everyone loves you when you’re making money, and S.O.B. typifies that.  Give it a watch; just don’t cry to me when seeing Julie Andrews topless makes you bawl. 

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