Monday, November 14, 2016

Mary Poppins bares her breasts!

I mentioned the other day after Robert Vaughn died that he was in S.O.B., which I have on my DVR. So I made a point of watching it over the weekend. It's available from the TCM Shop, so I'm comfortable doing a full-length post about it.

The movie starts off rather creepily, with Sally Miles (Julie Andrews) doing a rendition of "Polly Wolly Doodle" on a movie set; obviously, this is a scene in a movie-within-the-movie, as intertitles helpfully tells us after the opening credits. Producer/director Felix Farmer (Robert Mulligan) has just directed his wife Sally in "Night Wind", and the movie has been not just his first flop, but a spectacular flop. Meanwhile, Sally is preparing to divorce Felix. The result is that Felix goes nuts and decides to try to kill himself.

The suicide attempt fails when the gardener, trying to shut off the ignition in Felix' car, accidentally shifts it into gear, sending the car through the garage and ultimately into the ocean. This brings a whole lot of attention in the form of gossip columnist Polly Reed (Loretta Swit), as well as getting Felix' bosses at the studio to try to find him.

Studio head Blackman (the aforementioned Vaughn) wants to take control of the picture, while Felix' lawyer Culley (William Holden, in his final film role) just wants Felix to live. Things get complicated at Felix' beach house, until they wind up holding a party there with a whole bunch of people who got invited heaven only knows how. Felix is still trying to kill himself, but when an attempt to shoot himself goes awry, he gets a sudden insight: the way to rescue "Night Wind" is to turn it into a softcore porn movie!

Remember that scene at the beginning of the movie of Julie Andrews doing "Polly Wolly Doodle"? Apparently it was a dream sequence from "Night Wind", and now it's going to be an erotic dream sequence detailing the sexual horrors Sally's character had to face. Or something like that. The result is that Sally is going to have to bare her breasts as part of the scene. Except that she's a pure and virtuous as Julie Andrews' image supposedly was. (Not that she's impure; it's just that she was, after all, willing to do whatever it took to make a movie work.) Sally isn't sure she wants to do it, but she owns half the movie since she's in a community propery state, and dammit she's going to protect that property.

This is the basic plot of the movie, but it really just serves as a hook on which to put Blake Edwards' satire of all things Hollywood. The plot actually goes all over the place, with only about a third of the movie going from the time Felix gets his idea to the resolution in which Sally actually does go topless. (And yes, we see it. The way it's handled makes Sally look rather less erotic than any of the other characters in the dream sequence.) And after the resolution of that plot strand, there's still another third of the movie to go.

The result is something that reminded me of the Norman Lear/Bud Yorkin movies, Divorce American Style and The Night They Raided Minsky's. All three movies have some good ideas, and some of those ideas are very well executed. But I found S.O.B, like the earlier movies, to be less than the sum of its parts. Among the things that work are a running joke about a man who's suffered a fatal heart attack while jogging on the beach with his dog just outside the Farmer beach house, and nobody noticing the poor dead man. Loretta Swit does well in her part, as does Shelley Winters as Sally's agent. Andrews is perfectly acceptable, although you have to wonder how she/Sally wound up with all these nutcases. I'd say the same for William Holden, except that he'd already done Network and probably drank prodigiously with enough people in Hollywood for him to fit in to Blake Edwards' satire.

As for what doesn't work, there's Sally's servant who wants to be an agent, and the Chinese cook; the attempt to satirize the way Hollywood treated Asian servants just falls flat and is grating. There's also the doctor who comes to treat Felix after the original suicide attempt (Robert Preston); he's obnoxious. And much of what happens in the final third of the movie just makes no sense, as though Edwards ran out of a coherent plot, but still had punchlines for how to satirize Hollywood.

Overall, I think people who like movies in the "Hollywood on Hollywood" genre will like this one, while people looking for an introduction to any of the actors in the movie, or even the "Hollywood on Hollywood" genre, would be better served with other movies.

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