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DVD Reviews: S.O.B. and Skin Deep (1989)

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The late Blake Edwards’ career as a director was a very hit-and-miss affair. While he was in his prime in the ’60s with such classics as The Party and Breakfast at Tiffany’s (a film I have never been able to see the appeal of), his projects definitely started to skid on the Hollywood road once the mid ’80s rolled around — as he cranked out cringe-worthy titles like the appropriately titled A Fine Mess and Blind Date (heh, remember that one?). Recently, the folks at the Warner Brothers have dug into their collection of discontinued releases to add to their Archive Collection, and the titles reviewed here include a hit and a miss — in my opinion, at least.

In 1981, Mr. Edwards took all of the frustrations he had amassed from working in the film industry and rolled them up into one farfetched farce. The result was something called S.O.B., which — contrary to what you think — is revealed to mean “Standard Operation Bullshit” in the film. The story here is an odd one: uproariously funny one minute, haphazardly despondent the next as we learn the fate of one Felix Farmer (Richard Mulligan). A hotshot Tinseltown producer with a string of hits, Felix succumbs into a slump when his latest venture — the most expensive film he has ever made — flops big time. Depressed by his failure and utterly rejected by his wife, actress Sally Miles (Julie Andrews), Felix decides its time to end it all.

Unfortunately for him, such a task is not accomplished very easily in Hollywood. Between the madcap antics of his loyal rebellious director Tim Culley (an aged-to-perfection William Holden, in the last role before his untimely death), anxiety-prone press agent Ben Coogan (Robert Webber, in a truly manic role), and calm physician-to-the-stars Dr. Irving Finegarten (Robert Preston, delivering one of the least over-the-top gay characters in early ’80s cinema), Felix can’t seal the deal to off himself. Instead, his pals host a party/orgy at his house, while the heavily-sedated filmmaker “rests” in the bedroom upstairs. Midway through the evening, though, Felix snaps and figures out how to make his multi-million dollar fiasco into the greatest hit ever: sex.

Taking the syrupy-sweet nature of the movie and twisting it into a sexual nightmare, Felix is determined to erase the wholesome nature of his family musical starlet of a wife by having her play the role as a nymphomaniac and appear in the buff. Meanwhile, studio executives and their subordinates (Robert Vaughn and Larry Hagman) try to find a way to both save the movie and their investment from a decidedly-rabid Felix. And rabid he is: Richard Mulligan proves what the mostly-cast-as-a-comic actor was truly capable of as he goes from being dead silent in the first act of the film, turns into a raving maniac the next (delivering a spine-tingling speech to his bosses on an empty set), and once again manages to dead silent for the remainder of the movie (for reasons I won’t divulge), with his three amigos (Holden, Webber, and Preston) taking over.

Also starring in this depiction of a debacle are Loretta Swit, Shelley Winters, Robert Loggia, Marisa Berenson, Craig Stevens, Benson Fong, and still-green actresses Jennifer Edwards and Rosanna Arquette — the latter of whom takes her top off (as does Julie Andrews herself — yes, this is that film). Larry Storch also appears (under a lot of makeup) as a swami. While it opened to mixed reviews in its day, and earned nominations from the Writer’s Guild of America, and the Golden Globes, as well as the Raspberry Awards (!), S.O.B. has, sadly, become a bit of a forgotten footnote in the genre of Hollywood satires.

This was, strangely enough, my first experience with the movie — and I must confess I loved every second of it. Edwards somehow constructed a bittersweet dramedy that effectively lampooned the film industry (of the time) and its egotistic, inconsiderate residents (some things never change). Regrettably, the surreal euphoria bestowed upon me by S.O.B. came crashing to a halt once I put in the next Blake Edwards film in this wave of Warner Archive Collection titles, Skin Deep.

Shortly before actor John Ritter descended into making movies like Problem Child and Noises Off, he dived into this tale of adultery and alcoholism as Zach Hutton, a former Pulitzer-winning writer whose literary inkwell has dried up completely. When his wife comes home one afternoon only to discover his mistress threatening to kill him because she caught him in the sack with her hairdresser (my, the boy does get around, doesn’t he?), Zach finds himself out on the street — taking up nightly residence at his favorite bar, which is owned by his favorite bartender, Barney (Vincent Gardenia).

Staying in one hotel after another, Zach goes through a slew of different women. From a vengeful spa therapist who burns down her own house because of him, to a muscular bodybuilder with bleached blonde hair, and onto the dejected girlfriend of an angry heavy metal musician (resulting in the film’s most famous scene, wherein Ritter dons a glow-in-the-dark condom — to wit all we see is a phallic-shaped cyan-colored object darting across the screen), Zach just can’t keep it in his pants — nor can he keep sober. Oddly, Skin Deep was branded and advertised as a comedy. While there are several humorous moments throughout the film, it’s adult-themed elements are decidedly serious ones, and very hard to laugh at if you’ve ever found yourself in Zach’s shoes.

In 2007, when the adult dramedy Californication first hit airwaves, the rock group Red Hot Chili Peppers decided to sue Showtime Networks because they had used the name of their album and song — a name they had not invented, nor had any trademark for. It was a preposterous charge, to be certain: if anyone should have sued the producers of the show, it should have been Blake Edwards — for Californication might as well have been called Skin Deep: The Series. The similarities are uncanny at best, and unfunny at worst. Sadly, Edwards must not have bothered tuning in to the series before his death in 2010, and John Ritter had already been dead for four years. Alas, I guess it’s not worth quibbling about — but I had to think of something semi-interesting to say about Skin Deep other than the fact that it’s a real miss as far as I’m concerned.

At first, I thought Warner’s Archive Collection movies were moving up in the world, as I observed these discs had traditional menus and even extras. But then it dawned on me that both S.O.B. and Skin Deep were released on retail DVD in the early ’00s by Warner Brothers, later discontinued (a third Edwards film, the acclaimed Victor, Victoria, was also issued and later withdrawn from the market, and has also been included in this wave of Manufactured-on-Demand titles), and these are DVD-R re-releases of the same discs we saw in stores before (which means fine video and audio presentations overall).

If you’re looking to get either film without paying a steep out-of-print price, these are two very fine bets — though I can personally do without the one film. Both titles (along with Victor, Victoria) are available exclusively from the WBshop.com.

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About Luigi Bastardo

Luigi Bastardo is the disgruntled alter-ego of a thirtysomething lad from Northern California who has watched so many weird movies since the tender age of 3 that a conventional life is out of the question. He currently lives in Chico, CA with four cats named Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Margaret. Seriously.