[Film Review] S.O.B. (1981)

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Title: S.O.B.
Year: 1981
Country: USA
Language: English
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Director/Writer: Blake Edwards
Music: Henry Mancini
Cinematography: Harry Stradling Jr.
Cast:
Richard Mulligan
Julie Andrews
William Holden
Robert Preston
Robert Webber
Robert Vaughn
Shelley Winters
Robert Loggia
Larry Hagman
Loretta Swit
Stuart Margolin
Marisa Berenson
Craig Stevens
Jennifer Edwards
Rosanna Arquette
John Pleshette
John Lawlor
Ken Swofford
Hamilton Camp
Paul Stewart
Benson Fong
Bert Rosario
Larry Storch
David Young
Virginia Gregg
Byron Kane
Herb Tanney
Erica Yohn
Rating: 7.3/10

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An everything-but-the-kitchen-sink satire sending up Hollywood movie industry, Blake Edwards’ S.O.B. (its acronym actually stands for “Standard Operational Bullshit”) is no less blistering than Robert Altman’s THE PLAYER (1992), and gives Coen Brothers’ HAIL, CAESAR! (2016) a good run for its money in its goofiness and campiness.

The ever-high-flying producer Felix Farmer (Mulligan) is hit hard by the first turkey he produces, a movie named NIGHT WIND starring his Oscar-winning actress-wife Sally Miles (Andrews), after many futile suicidal attempts, Felix drinks in the last chance saloon and propositions to rejig the film into a soft-core pornographic picture (an inspiration derived from an orgiastic party held by his friends in his beach house), which requires Sally, a beloved household name famed for her family-friendly persona (aka. Ms. Julie Andrews herself), to go topless, as a desperate stunt to lure curiosity-driven audience, and ergo, salvages the movie from financial disaster. Of course, he has to stake his and Sally’s entire nest egg into the play, because the money-seeking studio, headed by David Blackman (an intimidating Vaughn) wants none of the dud, it is disheartening to see how callously a successful producer falls into disfavor just because one misstep, and when the wind changes, the studio is unscrupulous enough to jump back on the gravy train in a trice.

Self-serving agents, wanna-bees and wire-pullers, lascivious goings-on, plus a brassy gossip columnist (Loretta Swit hamming it up to high heaven), the whole shebang turns morbid when Felix finally achieves what he has attempted, and ironically in the wake of which, NIGHT WIND becomes a box-office record breaker just as he wishes. It looks everyone eventually gets what they want, Sally wins another Oscar, the studio hits a jackpot, only Felix, given a Viking wake by his three loyal friends, director Tom Curley (Holden), doctor Irving Finegarten (Preston) and Sally’s press agent Ben Coogan (Webber), whereas an official ceremony is simultaneously officiated by a spiritual guru (Storch) and attended by the glitterati, only, what lies inside the casket is an under-appreciated character actor, who finally gets its posthumous due honored by oblivious attendees. As per usual, Hollywood is an old boys’ club, Edwards’ celebratory gesture of the ending is nostalgic but also squeezes a flicker of warmth to those poor rich Tinseltown practitioners.

While it is revelatory to witness with one’s own eyes that Mary Poppins goes bare-breasted (Emily Blunt, take up that gauntlet!), Julie Andrews doesn’t go for broke in mining into Sally’s formality-bound impersonality (divorce is issued immediately after NIGHT WIND’s disastrous screening) and gormless duplicity (making deal with Blackman behind Felix’s back), yet the scene of a drug-addled-and-emboldened Sally loses all her propriety is a pure delight. Among the larger-than-usual ensemble, Richard Mulligan cautiously straddles a thin line between mindlessly catatonic and frantically delirious, and Shelley Winters is a gaudy hoot as Sally’s power agent, but it is Robert Preston’s eloquent Dr. Finegarten makes the most splash as he calmly articulates sideswipes, most of which have a nervous wreck Ben Coogan in the receiving end and some pertain to the latter’s excremental movement, it does take some effort to commit oneself to deliver lowbrow matters with a highbrow attitude. Also. S.O.B. is William Holden’s swan song, and his meta-referential image of a sybaritic director makes an apposite valediction to a bona fide Hollywood legend.

Met with mixed reviews upon its release (it might hit too close to home for some), nominated for both Golden Globe and Razzie awards, decades later, S.O.B. enjoys a resurgence of appreciation for its sardonic tone, reckless bravado, and authentic portrayal of a microcosm infested by feeding frenzy, cupidity and, above all, human follies, warning signs are everywhere, still, welcome to Hollywood!

referential entries: Edwards’ THE PINK PANTHER (1963, 7.4/10), THE PARTY (1968, 7.2/10); Coen Brothers’ HAIL, CAESAR! (2016, 7.6/10); Robert Altman’s THE PLAYER (1992, 8.2/10)

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