Hollywood or Bust?
Blake Edwards Satirical Take on Seventies Hollywood with the help of a starry ensemble cast. A successful film director after a recent flop at the box office, takes a big gamble.
S.O.B. (1981) Official Trailer – Julie Andrews, Blake Edwards Comedy HD, Movieclips Classic Trailers
After the hunt for a movie to watch to tribute William Holden – the acclaimed actor, heart-throb and Barbara Stanwyck’s Golden Boy – I rewatched S.O.B (1981). To explain the acronymic title of this film – this (sadly) occurs (too) late on in the movie when a character explains S.O.B. stands for “Standard Operational Bullshit”. Wikipedia adds Standard Operational Bullshit is defined as that spreading false information is normal. This theme suggested by the plot and shown by many of the characters throughout the movie. This seems all the more relevant now with it nowadays defined as fake news.
This black comedy film produced by Lorimar, the company that brought you TV’s Dallas (1978-91). In S.O.B., I believe William Holden, the best of a bunch of a starry line up of acting talent. The line up including Richard Mulligan, Robert Preston, Shelley Winters and Julie Andrews. When I watched this the first time, the cast was superappealing as it included two of my then fave pin ups – Robert Vaughn and Larry Hagman. The satire in the plot, over my head I accepted it more as a slapstick black comedy.
The initial scrolling screen text for this film tells of a highly successful film producer, Felix Farmer (Mulligan). Farmer is now down on his luck after his latest (and most expensive to date) movie, Night Wind is a flop. He falls into an immediate catatonic depression. His actress wife , Sally Miles (Andrews) leaves him with the kids and her entourage in tow. Farmer then attempts suicide, as Miles contemplates if a divorce will harm her film career as America’s sweetheart.
Meanwhile the studio is now almost bankrupt. The studio head, David Blackman (Vaughn) is not a happy man. He holds a meeting with the film’s director (and Farmer’s friend) Culley (Holden) dispatched by him, to talk with Farmer about this situation. En route, Culley picks up some young girl hitchhikers. As Farmer sleeps off his sedation, his friends who initially came to see him out of concern – Doctor Finegarten (Robert Preston), Culley and others – are now holding a party in Farmer’s home. This party rather quickly turns into an orgy.
After trying and failing to kill himself a third time, the morose Farmer accidentally falls through a carpet covered hole in the floor (which was the end result – from suicide attempt no 2 – after he tried to hang himself unsuccessfully from the rafters) finding himself at the party. All are oblivious to him being there. Covering himself up with the carpet, Farmer gets ready with a handy gun for attempt number 4. A young lady in her knickers then joins him under the carpet. With him shortly after throwing off his carpet with an excited yelp of joy. Farmer at his most exuberant, stops all in their tracks.
As following a moment of creativity, he’s decided to buy his movie back from the studio. He intends to reshoot scenes making it an X rated movie musical. He immediately meets with Blackman and his cronies and buys back the film at a major loss. With everything at stake. Needless to say Miles is not happy with any of this, as both his wife and Night Wind’s leading lady. Fearing this will tarnish her squeaky clean, child friendly film career. Then the studios get wind the X rated film may be a success…
Black comic scenes show a side to Hollywood’s film industry where there seems to be no redeeming characters. Everyone from those in the film industry to doctors to cops, security guards and hitchhikers seem to be conniving, two-faced, out for themselves, shameless and no-one can be trusted. With many of the characters phony as hell, and with this showing Hollywood like a grotesque nightmare. Film making roles in the entertainment industry delivered with some OTT performances from the ensemble acting cast.
Richard Mulligan as Farmer doesn’t utter a word for the first hour of the film. But his stance, gait and facial expressions easily show Farmer’s low mood. Later in the film, Farmer turns more maniacal then more stiff in character, these contrasting sights suggested by the script. Loretta Swit plays an irritating gossip writer. Her character injured after Farmer falls through the ceiling on her after his failed hanging attempt. Swit, is an actress I remembered as a more pleasing character in M*A*S*H (1972-83). But here she took her malicious annoying journalist character to extreme levels.
This film has Holden in a starring role as Farmer’s producer friend. His character Culley reminding me of Holden’s similar supportive role to a depressed friend in Network (1977). In S.O.B., Holden gives a solid, natural and calm and measured performance in this slapstick farce of a movie. He comes into his own as the most genuine character in the film, even confessing about lying to Farmer on occasion. His part in the final half hour or so of the film is expanded and showing his character as the most likable. His grounded character sets him apart from the more zany performances from others. I was sad to hear this the last of Holden’s movies with him passing away shortly after this film wrapped.
Robert Vaughn as the film studio head Blackman may be seen as more nasty piece of work. His character seen with a penchant for dressing up in girly undies was allegedly based on a well-known name. He was also made sympathetic as under telephone orders from an unseen superior and with his girlfriend (Marisa Berenson) cheating on him. This girlfriend hoping her other lover would cast as Blackman’s latest leading man. Much praise has been given to Robert Preston’s performance as Farmer’s doctor in this film. Others worth a mention are Robert Webber, Shelley Winters and Larry Hagman. These for their small fun and comic roles as a studio executive, agent and press agent respectively.
With this scathing comic and reportedly biographical story, many of the characters including the studio head, the gossip writer and Farmer and his wife based on real life Hollywood big names. The events reportedly based on Edwards and Andrews joint movie, Darlin Lili (1970). This was the first of Andrews more adult themed films, and one which went over budget and flopped. This film flop was at great expense to Paramount Studios, with the then Head Edwards reportedly almost bankrupting them, the films them completed following studio interference.
Studio editing also occurred in another of Edwards movies and reportedly without his consent. Sound familiar?. And Edwards writing S.O.B’s tongue in cheek script on these events following this. There’s more hints of the similarities to Edwards and Andrews in the film. Shelley Winters as Miles’ casting agent tells how Miles known as Americas darling and of Miles wearing of nun habits – as she did in the The Sound of Music (1965) – in movies. Andrews poking fun at her a family friendly musical roles in the opening credits. A scene where Mulligan is upset at losing the distribution rights to his movie is also shown.
The opening credits scene is later revealed as a scene from Farmer’s failed film. This scene shown later when rewritten with more adult themes. The first with Andrews singing her wee heart out whilst playfully interacting with life-sized toys and very child friendly. The scene showing the rewrite darker with an adult theme, with many of these initial characters now in more erotic attire and Julie not singing. Along a more eerie version of the tune. This appears to allude that Andrews should be taken more seriously in other non singing and adult friendly roles.
This film has many more parallels to Blake Edwards and Julie Andrews film careers. Sally Miles, as Farmer’s wife – with Andrews Blake Edward’s real life wife – is an actress known for her wholesome image on-screen. Andrews the star of many a family friendly musicals ( other musicals included Mary Poppins (1964) and Throughly Modern Millie (1967)). Andrews, as seen in her most fun scene in S.O.B is one with a verbal fight between Miles and Farmer mocking this fact. With Farmer, Mulligan talking to the fourth wall, with a joyful commentary as she swears, shouts and screams at him. This theme cumulating with the rewritten dance scene for the film, has Andrews baring her chest.
It is interesting to see that Edwards cast Andrews (his wife) in a number of those roles in successful films. With Andrews in more sensual parts in his movies with sex thimbles and starlets (10 (1979) with Dudley Moore and Bo Derek) and sexy seventies studs (Burt Reynolds in The Man Who Loved Women (1983)). My final thoughts on this, and surely it’s not just coincidence but her name Sally Miles in this film. When you put this name abreast next to Andrews most well-known musical, The Sound of Music. Then look at the initials for both of these, you have the initials S and M. Just saying…
Weeper Rating: 0 /10
Handsqueeze Rating: 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂/10
Bonus Trailer: No
This film was added to at The Wonderful World of Cinema, The Flapper Dame and Love Letters to Old Hollywood. Fourth Golden Boy, William Holden Celebration. Other films with this cast include William Holden in The Bridge on the River Kwai, Omen II and Network. Larry Hagman stars in Dallas, The Return of the Worlds Greatest Detective and McMillan. Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music and The Princess Diaries. Shelley Winters in He Ran All the Way. Stuart Margolin in Kelly’s Heroes, MASH and Magnum PI. Loretta Swit also appeared in MASH. Robert Vaughn in his tribute HERE, of his film with William Holden, both appearing in The Towering Inferno. Ken Swofford in Annie.