I don’t think William Holden’s presence in this movie is a coincidence, because he almost automatically puts you in mind of Sunset Boulevard, and Blake Edwards’ 1981 movie is obviously meant to make Billy Wilder’s 1950 poison pen letter to Hollywood look like a Shakespearean love sonnet. S.O.B. more closely resembles an angry drunken blog post after a bitter breakup. It wears its bile proudly on its sleeve and wallows cheerfully in low, juvenile, and sometimes scatological humor. I’ll be damned if it isn’t funnier than hell.
The movie opens on a beautiful summer day as we watch Felix Farmer’s (Richard Mulligan) world burn to the ground like Malibu during a Santa Ana wind. His latest big-budget movie, Night Wind, has barely earned enough at the box office to pay for one night’s worth of hookers and cocaine. He’s suffered the Krakatoa of nervous breakdowns and his wife and the film’s star, Sally Miles (Julie Andrews) is taking the kids and leaving.
As people around him enjoy a lovely morning at the beach, a nearly catatonic Felix manages to exhaust every method of attempted suicide you could find on the internet, if it had existed back in 1980, but everyone around him is too interested in getting stoned and/or laid to notice. It’s not until one unsuccessful try at carbon monoxide poisoning lands his Cadillac in the Pacific Ocean that his close friend Cully (Holden), Sally’s press agent Ben (Robert Webber), and Irving, his defrocked doctor/pusher played with relish by Robert Preston, are finally alerted to the problem. Their solution is to keep it out of the press, hit on a couple of cute hitchhikers (Jennifer Edwards and Rosanna Arquette) and throw Felix an orgy, er, party.
It is during this night of debauchery that Felix hits on what is either a brilliant or insane (or both) solution: re-shoot the G-rated Night Wind as an X-rated movie. There are a few problems with this plan, not the least of which is that, as played by Julie Andrews, Sally Miles is a lot like, well, Julie Andrews, which is to say that she’s not exactly famous for showing the goods on camera.
Getting her cooperation gets a lot harder when he sinks all of their money, half of which is hers, into the re-shoot. She could have him thrown in jail, but then she’d probably lose everything. The only way she’ll ever see that money again is to go along with his scheme.
Everyone in Hollywood, especially his partners, is certain that Felix is off his rocker, but they can’t take the chance that he might be right and miss out on a potential windfall if the new fleshier cut of Night Wind is a hit. Part of the humor in this movie comes from the idea that everyone, even your best friend, especially your best friend, is playing an angle, even at your funeral.
Eventually, the only question is how many tranquilizers will it take for Sally Miles to be ready for her close up. Ultimately, they have to resort to invoking the name of Liv Ullman in much the same way that Blazing Saddles invoked Randolph Scott’s.
The raunchy comic energy in this movie never lets up, and if it ever threatens to, Robert Preston can be counted on to deliver some debauched bon mot to kick things back into gear. His cheerfully depraved presence is one of the genuine pleasures of this film. Julie Andrews grounds the picture as the demure but pragmatic Sally, while Richard Mulligan gives a perfectly modulated but over-the-top performance without saying a single word for the first 45 minutes.
There’s no doubt that S.O.B. is the work of a man with an axe to grind. There’s also no doubt that this axe has been ground to a razor-sharp edge and Blake Edwards wields it with surgical precision.
You’d think after all that time in the sun, he’d have a little more color.
Best review yet of this neglected gem, which loses some momentum during the second half but maintains a high level of low comic invention.