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Son of a bear

Warner Bros.
Sally Miles (Julie Andrews) is embraced by a man-bear in the dark comedy "S.O.B." (1981)
Fertile Ground Compost Service
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OKLAHOMA CITY – In the 2012 movie Room 237, a fascinating documentary about different theories surrounding director Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film The Shining, we are urged to watch The Shining again and again to unravel more layers of Kubrick’s alluring onion.

And while I did not watch The Shining today, I did rewatch Room 237, as I have been having some interesting “237,” “42” and Kubrick synchronicities in my life. Something that is clearly obvious in both Room 237 and The Shining is that death hangs over both films in a very serious fashion. The dead. The past. The “cloud of witness.”

And since I had a little time to watch another movie, quite inexplicably I sensed I was needing to watch a film I had seen portions of as a 9-year-old and one that came out in 1981 – S.O.B., written and directed by Tulsa-born filmmaker Blake Edwards, born on July 26, 1922 – six years to the day before Stanley Kubrick was born in New York City.

I distinctly recall the film being on while I was at a neighbor’s house. The star of the film, Julie Andrews of The Sound of Music fame, was quite familiar to me, as that film/musical was a popular one in our household.

But for some reason, it stayed in my mind. Just as the trailer from The Shining, which I had seen a year earlier while watching the William Holden / Ricky Schroeder drama The Earthling at the theater with a different neighborhood friend. S.O.B. was Holden's last film to appear in. The Australian Outback-set film The Earthling was his second to last.

So, why did I put S.O.B. in my film queue? Why now, after over 30 years? I really didn’t know what to expect. And beyond Julie Andrews, I didn’t even know who else was in it.

But I soon found out – Robert Preston (The Music Man), Richard Mulligan (Soap, Empty Nest), Larry Hagman (Dallas, I Dream of Jeannie), Robert Vaughn (The Man from U.N.C.L.E.) Shelley Winters (Lolita, Alfie) and the actress/model Marisa Berenson.

That last name caught my attention. Her role is fairly limited, but the name “Berenson” led me to Berinthia “Berry” Berenson Perkins. Berry Perkins had been the wife of actor Anthony Perkins and the two had children – Oz Perkins and Elvis Perkins. Anthony Perkins (Norman Bates in Psycho) would die from complications related to AIDS on September 12, 1992. Berry Perkins would die a day short of 9 years later – September 11, 2001 – at age 53, as a passenger aboard American Airlines Flight 11, which hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

Strangely enough, in the funeral scene at the end of S.O.B. an Indian spiritual guru (looking similar to the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi) gives a long speech. Sally has become a student of his. Marisa Berenson’s character is in the room and something she has said that changed her life was Transcendental Meditation. Berenson once told a reporter about TM: “India changed my life, because I was searching for my spiritual path, and I ended up in an ashram in Rishikesh with Maharishi and the Beatles. We’d sit on the floor at night, and George and Ringo would play the guitar, and we’d meditate all day, and have meals together, and become vegetarians, and live in huts. But it was just normal,” she said. “It wasn’t like, ‘Oh, here are the Beatles.’ The most important thing was my transcendental meditation.” Also at Rishikesh with the Beatles and Marisa Berenson (and Donovan and Mike Love of The Beach Boys) there were Prudence ("Dear Prudence") and Mia Farrow (Rosemary's Baby, directed by Roman Polanski). Berenson's characer actually says "You son-of-a-bitch" (S.O.B.) at one point.

We recently noted John Cleese in a Dust Devil Dreams piece. Cleese co-wrote the film The Magic Christian, with Terry Southern and others. It stars a veritable synchromystic “who’s who” with Peter Sellers, Ringo Starr, Raquel Welch, Christopher Lee, Richard Attenborough and Roman Polanski. It is said that Sellers did those Pink Panther sequels in hopes of making money, a theme in The Magic Christian, ironically enough.

But back to Edwards’ S.O.B. …

In fact, reading a 1981 review of the film from The New York Times online archives, the reviewer, Vincent Canby, calls it misanthropic and “nasty, biased, self-serving.”

Adds Canby: “Because this film is an all-out farce, everything in S.O.B. is exaggerated, souped up and bent gloriously out of shape. From what we see of Night Wind (the failed film that is remade into a soft-porn piece where Andrews’ wholesome character Sally Miles is made to bare her breasts) – one production number in which Sally Miles, wearing fake freckles, sings ‘Pollywolly Doodle’ to some toy soldiers and a jack-in-the-box-the film-within-the-film represents no movie ever made by anyone at any time, except perhaps an early Shirley Temple-Darryl F. Zanuck masterpiece.”

The switch, in S.O.B., from the wholesome, family-friendly Night Wind, to the debauchery of the new-and-improved Night Wind is a statement about the dark turn Hollywood had taken over the past 10-20 years (this, again, was 1981). Curiously, like The Shining, which had premiered just months earlier, in S.O.B., the Peter Pan-like Andrews character never seemed to grow up and was uncomfortable with herself. In the original production of the “film-within-a-film” of Night Wind, the tomboyish woman/child played by “Sally Miles” is dancing around toy soldiers and is also grabbed by a man (or woman?) in a bear costume. This immediately brought to mind the “man-bear” in that unsettling scene in The Shining. And of course you have the "bear," as in Russia, making unexpected moves these days ...

A little help from a “Dr. Feelgood” character (played wonderfully by the aforementioned Robert Preston from The Music Man, and later in Victor/Victoria, the 1982 film featuring Julie Andrews and directed by Edwards).

And yet Blake Edwards (who was also married to Julie Andrews at that time and tried to overcome her “goody-goody” Maria/Mary Poppins persona in the 1970 Edwards film and notorious flop Darling Lili – the experience that inspired the making of S.O.B. – which is said in the film to stand for “standard operating bullshit” – and reminded audiences that he, Blake Edwards, had made some good and popular films, including Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), Days of Wine and Roses (1962) and all those  (highly popular) Pink Panther films with Peter Sellers as the bumbling Inspector Clouseau.

Sellers, who had appeared in Kubrick’s films Dr. Strangelove and Lolita, was a difficult actor for Edwards to direct throughout the Pink Panther series. And at one point, Edwards suggested he get a facelift. He did not. Although did he get one for Being There?

In S.O.B., Richard Mulligan’s character Felix Farmer, is a suicidal mess after Night Wind is considered a bomb, costing his studio millions (just as Darling Lili had 10 years earlier). The new film will go on to do well, as it turns out. Perhaps Edwards was more optimistic and less misanthropic than the Times critic realized.

Towards the end of S.O.B., after Farmer’s son hands him a water pistol, which is later thought to be a real pistol by the police and they shoot and kill him, there is a farcical scene where his studio buddies steal his body (it's like an absurd cross between Weekend at Bernies, the theft of Gram Parsons' body in Sept. 1973 and a dash of "Paul McCartney" as he appears on the cover of Abbey Road) and put him in a dinghy out in the Pacific (complete with Viking helmet given to him after some Viking-themed picture he did) and they set it on fire. It’s a Viking funeral, it would seem, black smoke rising over the Pacific between the coast and Catalina.

Death. A common theme in The Shining and S.O.B. And just as Room 237 gives us possible insights into Kubrick and the issues that motivated him and appeared in his cinematic art, his birthday-sharing contemporary Blake Edwards gave us a real insight into 1970’s-era Hollywood and the cutthroat nature of how things operated. This is something Kubrick was quite familiar with, particularly after 2001: A Space Odyssey when he sought to make his Napoleon film, and instead made A Clockwork Orange because the studio wouldn’t go for a costume drama with an enormous budget.

As I was writing this, the doorbell rang. Going out to see who it was, I found the postal carrier putting mail in the mailbox. I asked her if she had rang the bell. She said no. I said, well, that’s why I came to the door. She laughed and as she did the “doo-do-doo-do” Twilight Zone theme music, she said “poltergeist.”


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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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