Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 22, 2017)
Back in 1979, ”10” became one of the biggest successes of Blake Edwards’ career, and he followed it with 1981’s SOB. A barbed take on Hollywood, filmmaker Felix Farmer (Richard Mulligan) enjoys a terrific career – until his expensive flick <>Night Wind bombs.
This leaves Felix suicidal and in desperate need of a hit. To fix matters, Felix proposes that he rework Night Wind to make it into a soft-core porn flick, one that promises a big reveal when his Oscar-winning actress wife Sally Miles (Julie Andrews) sheds her “G”-rated image and goes naked.
I was 14 in 1981 and remember that SOB earned a whole lot of hype due to the scene alluded to in that last sentence. Obviously the Miles character acted as a doppelganger for Andrews herself, and the notion that squeaky-clean Julie would show her boobs attracted a great deal of attention.
36 years later, does anyone remember SOB for any reason other than Andrews’ toplessness? Probably not, as it offers a scattered and limp satire.
As I mentioned, Sally acts as a clear extension of Andrews, so it doesn’t take much to view Felix as a stand-in for Blake Edwards himself. Aspects of SOB clearly reflect the professional relationship/careers of Edwards and Andrews, though unlike Felix, Blake hadn’t enjoyed a non-stop run of success.
One irony about SOB relates to that subject. As I mentioned at the start, ”10” became a big hit, so it seems odd that Edwards make a movie about a failing filmmaker when he was at the top of his commercial game.
It adds to the irony that SOB itself failed to do much at the box office. With a US gross of $14 million, it earned about 80 percent less than ”10” and fizzled commercially. Given the financial realities of 1981, $14 million wasn’t disastrous, but it still was pretty weak, especially with all the publicity that accompanied the film.
I suspect SOB didn’t find much of an audience because it exists as a gimmick movie. The ads sold it with the attraction of Andrews topless, and that element accounts for pretty much all of its appeal, as the film fails to find other ways to entertain.
Edwards may have intended SOB to create a vicious attack on the hands that fed him, but the result lacks punch. Couldn’t the filmmaker’s many years in movies generate more bite than this? Edwards delivers a limp, bland attempt to mock Hollywood without any real cleverness.
This occurs because SOB boasts little real sense of darkness. It seems cynical but not incisive, which means its barbs fizzle and fail to dig too deep.
A lot of this stems from Edwards’ inability to abandon his MO. With a few exceptions, broad physical comedy remained Edwards’ bread and butter, and his tendency to go down that path undercuts whatever potential SOB boasts.
This means the odd juxtaposition of attempts at cynicism with silly jokes/slapstick. It feels like a Saturday morning cartoon take on the material, so Edwards’ goofball proclivities leave it without power.
It doesn’t help that SOB comes without much of a coherent plot. While Felix’s downfall and attempted resurgence act as general themes, the movie mainly flits from one silly comedic scene to another, none of which contribute actual laughs.
All of this wastes a pretty strong cast. In addition to Mulligan and Andrews, SOB features William Holden, Robert Preston, Robert Vaughn, Shelley Winters, Larry Hagman and a slew of other well-known actors.
Not a single one can overcome the laziness of their roles. SOB tosses out a ton of characters, none of whom develop beyond basic outlines. They feel thin and uncompelling.
As does SOB as a whole. Blake Edwards tries to deliver a cynical view of Hollywood, but he never makes the movie more than a compilation of silly comedic scenes with little cohesion or punch.