Blake Edwards’ infamous S.O.B. (1981) has returned to DVD courtesy of Warner Archive.
Edwards’ wife Julie Andrews plays a character loosely reminiscent of her real-life self, an actress best known for her family-friendly saccharine musicals. Richard Mulligan is her husband, Felix Farmer, a producer who’s just made his first flop. (Reportedly, the story was inspired in part by the experiences of Edwards and Andrews making Darling Lili.) Farmer has a nervous breakdown and tries to commit suicide, but after failing multiple times, he hatches an outrageous plan: he will remake his failure of a movie as a porn film, and his wife will appear topless (which, yes, Andrews does).
This is a classic of Hollywood satire, a significant film in the genre of “movie makers make movies about how messed up the industry is”. At the time, it was intended to be black comedy, wicked in its spilling of secrets, but modern watchers of the business won’t find it quite as shocking. Many of its revelations — movie people are crazy, greedy, motivated by sex, on drugs, or all of the above — are now common knowledge, making the movie even darker. (Today’s viewer might snicker, though, at how upset everyone is getting over losing a few million dollars, given the scale of current film disasters.) Instead, what surprises is the casual acceptance of varying sexual partners and business alcoholism; that, the deliberate pacing, and the fashions, especially the one-piece pantsuits on the men, all mark this film as from another era. (So does, more disturbingly, the plot twist that Andrews’ character says no to the nudity until she is drugged.)
None of the characters in this film are likable, but all are entertaining, due to the many strong performances. Mulligan doesn’t even talk until 45 minutes into the two-hour movie, but his expressions are something to behold. S.O.B. also stars Robert Vaughn (as the studio president), Larry Hagman (studio executive), Robert Preston (Farmer’s smoking/drinking/injecting doctor, stealing every scene he’s in), Loretta Swit (gossip columnist), and in his last movie, William Holden (a director). Rosanna Arquette has a small role as a teenage hitchhiker; she also gets topless. It’s an old white man’s world in this movie.
Special Features are minimal, just the theatrical trailer and a list of Blake Edwards’ credits.