Something of a headache at the time, although a sizable hit, Blake Edwards presents a dog’s dinner of a film, yet something to behold for cineastes; a scabrous, bitter, no-hold-barred dissection of the idiocy of Hollywood as a boy’s club, realised via a lavish all-star Hollywood production. It’s a two-faced, broken-backed, chaotic, undisciplined film with a slew of memorable moments; I didn’t like it in 1981, I don’t like it now, and yet I keep coming back for one more celebration of male egotism and excess, unwisely positioned as a satire on male egotism and excess.
The title here is an acronym for Standard Order Bullsh*t or Son of a Bitch; either way, something that the film’s central character, director Felix Farmer (Robert Mulligan, frantic), is a walking embodiment of. Edwards lived high on the hog of Hollywood for several decades, and by 1981, couldn’t really see much of interest in terms of any subject other than himself. So, a director in need of a hit makes a film about a director in need of a hit; both men, fictional and real, are married to Julie Andrews. Farmer decides to reshoot his costly flop Night Wind, starring his wife, as a pornographic movie, losing his sanity and eventually his life in the process; the last twenty minutes of this lengthy film feature two funerals, one Hollywood style vapid, the other a maudlin Viking affair organised by his friends, played by Edwards’ friends William Holden, Robert Preston and Robert Webber.
This is utter self-indulgence; the death of his regular star Peter Sellers left Edwards spinning like a top, pulling in stars and spitting them out in all directions. Robert Vaughn turns up in a bra and suspenders, Loretta Swit from MASH appears in traction, Larry Hagman in Dallas mode and Rosanna Arquette as a hitchhiking sunbather. At the film’s centre is Andrews performing a lavish musical number to the children’s song Polly Wolly Doodle, the first time straight, the second time drugged and exposing herself for the camera. Edwards seems to imagine that this degrading of his own real-life wife is the absolute height of wit; bystanders look as stunned as if aliens have just parted the red sea when she bares her breasts. As if unsure how to top this, Edwards follows up with a Smokey and the Bandit car chase, executed with grand-standing skill like a circus show and utterly irrelevant to whatever SOB’s theme was ever meant to be.
SOB was part of a run of venal self-indulgence from Edwards, with films like That’s Life which also features Jack Lemmon as a self-indulgent film director married to Julie Andrews. SOB does land a few good punches at Hollywood amongst all the screaming, cursing and vulgarity, and it’s never boring to watch; Preston is particular is in good form as an immoral, loquacious doctor. But it’s also a sloppy, careless mess; it’s remarkable that in Edwards’ utter distain for everyone and everything, and specifically the cash cow he fed upon, the director has no sense of how ridiculous such this wildly self-regarding project might seem. SOB lives up to its title, and like the central character it describes, it’s a hot, sticky mess that’s hard to scrape off your shoe.