Tuesday, 6 December 2011

S.O.B. (1981)

Blake Edwards made some amazingly popular and well-loved movies but personally I don’t find those movies all that interesting. You couldn’t pay me to sit through one of the Pink Panther movies again. For me his most interesting works were those that were most reviled by the critics, notably Darling Lili. And of course S.O.B.

S.O.B., Edwards’ hate letter to Hollywood, was undoubtedly partly inspired by his unhappy experiences with Darling Lili. Of all the many “I hate Hollywood” movies that have been made over the years by Hollywood film-makers S.O.B. may well be the most bitter of the lot.

Given the fact that one of the stars of S.O.B. is William Holden, also the star of BiIly Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard, this is clearly a movie drawing on a tradition of anti-Hollywood movies.

Felix Farmer is a very successful Hollywood producer. Very successful until the release of his most expensive and most ambitious film, Night Wind. This movie’s opening is the most disastrous in the history of Tinsel Town.

The response of the studio execs is to panic, try to shift the blame elsewhere, call in lawyers and hope that something might be salvaged by recutting the film. It’s all Standard Operational Bullshit, hence the movie’s title. Felix Farmer’s response is to go mad and try to kill himself.

The response of his wife, much-loved incredibly wholesome G-rated movie star Sally Miles (Julie Andrews), is to file for divorce. Until she realises that might do her career even more harm.

Felix finally snaps out of his suicidal depression when he has a revelation. He now knows how to save his movie. The problem with Night Wind was that it was wholesome and sweet and G-rated. If Felix can turn it into a soft-porn movie it will be a huge success. And he has an even more brilliant idea. Imagine if he could persuade his dear wife Sally Miles to do a nude scene. That would have to be worth a couple of hundred million at the box office.

Of course Sally Miles has exactly the sort of screen image that Julie Andrews had in real life so she’s absolutely horrified by the idea. On the other hand she’s even more horrified by the prospect of losing a great deal of her own money if Night Wind cannot be turned into a hit. So she agrees.

S.O.B.’s humour is dark, vicious, bitter and vindictive, but it is undeniably funny. Blake Edwards, who wrote the screenplay as well as directing, was never particularly subtle when it came to comedy and this time around he adopts a sledge-hammer approach to satire. But given that his target is Hollywood perhaps nothing short of a sledge hammer would do the trick.

There’s a galaxy of stars in the supporting cast. Overloading a movie with stars can be a recipe for disaster but mostly they do a fine job. The standout performer is Robert Preston as dissolute Hollywood doctor Dr Irving Finegarten. Robert Vaughn as the sleazy studio chief and Loretta Swit as the toxic gossip columnist are both amusing. Shelley Winters and Larry Hagman add to the fun. William Holden makes a splendid cynical drunk.

Richard Mulligan is convincingly unhinged as Felix while Julie Andrews has fun trashing her own image.

While it’s mostly notorious as being the movie in which we get to see Mary Poppins bare-breasted this is a thoroughly enjoyable if somewhat out-of-control ride and I recommend it.

The Region 1 DVD is bereft of extras and is somewhat difficult to find. There’s a European DVD release floating around as well but it appears to be a heavily cut version so the Region 1 disc is the one to go for.

1 comment:

The Film Connoisseur said...

Wow, I havent seen this one in years and years! I saw it as a kid and never got any of the jokes cause I was such a kid, I bet if I watch it now it will be hilarious. I love that dry cynical humour..the 80s apparently had the same effect on many movies.