S.O.B. (1981) Blu-ray Review: Julie Andrews’ Most Revealing Role

For a film director, there surely can be no greater blow to the ego than to have your work re-edited without your consent. In fact, studio interference has had dire consequences in the allegedly “magical” world of motion pictures, resulting in vastly talented filmmakers being reduced to little more than mystical scapegoats when things don’t go the way the people who screwed everything up had hoped for (also see: Politics). There have even been unforgivably unfortunate moments in Tinseltown history where directors have committed suicide after things didn’t quite work out in the favor of the businessmen who thought they understood art.

Now, as awful as that may sound, Blake Edwards’ 1981 comedy S.O.B. opens with such a situation. When previously prominent producer Felix Farmer (Richard Mulligan) learns his latest film has laid a golden egg with screening critics, he decides it would be best to end it all rather than face the critical and financial aftermath an over-budgeted bomb will earn you in Hollywood. Rather than take note of his condition or offer to help him in a moment of need, his famed musical movie star wife Sally Miles ‒ as played by Edwards’ famed musical movie star wife, Julie Andrews ‒ moves out, taking not only their children with her, but the servants, too.

Meanwhile, back at the studio, a gathering of frantic businessmen (as well as a few actual filmmakers) try to figure out how to salvage the disaster before suing Felix. Even after a cavalcade of friends and colleagues ‒ ranging from Felix’s devoted director, William Holden (who receives prominent credit in this, his final film), to Sally’s manic press agent Robert Webber, and even the couple’s personal Tinseltown “physician,” as portrayed by a camped-up Robert Preston (no doubt gearing up for Victor/Victoria) ‒ arrive to cheer Felix up, they instead decide to throw an orgy at the house after sedating their host. Because Hollywood!

The impromptu party, however ‒ replete with drugs, alcohol, two lovely young hitchhikers William Holden picked up on the road, and a pair of policemen who are more than happy to partake in the festivities so long as they keep the peace ‒ accidentally inspires the despondent, suicidal Felix. What his pending family-oriented song-and-dance disaster needs is sex! What better way to sell it than to convince his famous actress wife with the wholesome image to shed her clothes in a saucily re-written fantasy number about her suppressed nymphomania? More importantly, what will the increasingly nervous studio executives do about Felix’s insanity?

While the basic premise of S.O.B. may sound like one of those “good-natured” jabs geared towards the industry’s in-crowd, the very sort of which comes along every couple of years, more often than nought to the chagrin of everyone involved (one example that comes quickly to mind being S.O.B.‘s godawful ’90s equivalent, An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn), Blake Edwards’ oft-neglected masterpiece is ultimately much, much more. The acronymic title ‒ despite standing for “Standard Operational Bullshit” in this instance ‒ is just ambiguous enough to be left open for further interpretation.

In reality, Blake Edwards had faced circumstances similar to the ones parodied here, most notably the troubled production behind his (nevertheless, Oscar-nominated) 1970 miss Darling Lili which also starred Julie Andrews. Indeed, his growing dissatisfaction with the industry ‒ while quite apparent here ‒ only adds to the off-beat absurdity which, ultimately, makes S.O.B. the type of movie anyone with the right sense of humor can enjoy every now and again without fear of it becoming dull and repetitive (as is frequently the case with movies such as, oh, say, An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn).

Plus, you get to see an amazing ensemble cast at their peak here, including Larry Hagman, Robert Vaughn, Loretta Swit, Shelley Winters, Craig Stevens, Benson Fong, and, naturally, Stuart Margolin. Rosanna Arquette and Jennifer Edwards (Blake’s daughter, star of the infamous Heidi film which abruptly ended a football game in ’68) play the hitchhiking hotties. Character actor Larry Storch also has a fine cameo as a mystical guru officiating one of the weirdest funerals in Hollywood. To say nothing of Julie Andrews’ breasts.

Yes, just in case you missed it all before, this is the movie Ms. Andrews shed her wholesome family image with. Just for fun. But if you’re a classic comedy lover with a good idea as to just how backstabbing and corrupt the motion picture industry really is, S.O.B. should make its way to the top of your list for more than Mary Poppins‘ boobies. And there’s even more to see in this beautiful new 2k transfer from the Warner Archive Collection, who present us with something that is as close to flawless as we’re likely to ever see. It’s a stark improvement to all other home video versions, including the 2012 Warner Archive DVD-R re-release.

The WAC has also taken S.O.B.‘s original mono audio soundtrack and transformed it into an equally stellar DTS-HD MA 2.0 selection. This, too, is a huge upgrade from all previously-issued releases, bringing out many subtleties we were unable to make out before. Optional English (SDH) subtitles are included with this Warner Archive Blu-ray. The film’s original theatrical trailer is the only extra here, which is presented in 1080p and is downright hilarious for the way it attempts to market this one to general audiences. But don’t let the lack of any new special features prevent you from seeing this slickly satiric slice of slapstick from one of filmdom’s finest.

Highly Recommended.

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Luigi Bastardo

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