Saturday, January 21, 2017

Retro Movie: The Last of Sheila

In the intriguing mystery tale The Last of Sheila (1973) film producer Clinton Greene (James Coburn) invites a group of friends aboard his yacht for a week-long cruise. The onboard activities include a special "Gossip Game" in which everyone is given a card containing a secret. The object of the game is to discover everyone else’s secret, but protect your own. As the contest continues, it quickly becomes clear that our host has a far more serious & challenging sort of game in mind. It turns out that everyone on the cruise was present on the night Clinton’s wife was killed by a hit & run driver a year ago. Is our host looking to unmask the killer & get revenge for her untimely death?

As the story unfolds, we get to know the other passengers (or are they suspects?) including a once powerful agent (Dyan Cannon), a director (James Mason) who’s fallen on hard times, and a starlet (Raquel Welch) who's too big for her britches. Everyone seems to have a hidden agenda, a real secret outside of the game, or both. The friends (and sometimes enemies) interact & toss icy barbs & bon mots at each other as the game continues. Did one of the guests kill Sheila on that terrible night a year ago? Or was it really an accident? Will even more deaths result from this tricky & revealing game of cat & mouse? If there is a killer in the group, how far will he or she go to protect their secrets? What may have started as only a game is going to turn out to be very real, and very deadly.....very quickly. The excellent cast also includes Ian McShane, Richard Benjamin & Joan Hackett. Everyone is at the top of their game and throws themselves into their roles; you can see they're all having a great time.

There’s a lot of witty dialogue, courtesy of the script by Stephen Sondheim & Anthony Perkins, which pokes knowing fun at the movie business & its stars. Many of the characters are thinly disguised versions of real-life personalities. For example, Dyan Cannon's role is patterned after Hollywood super-agent Sue Mengers. The film's clever plot twists & turns are also a highlight for whodunit fans. Sondheim & Perkins were real life puzzle & mystery buffs. Both men used to host real-life event nights featuring intricate puzzles, murder mystery games & scavenger hunts. The Last of Sheila is an engrossing thriller that will keep you guessing throughout the story. I really enjoyed the movie when I first saw it on late night TV back in the 1970s, and its a title I tend to re-visit every so often. Even though I know the solution to the mystery, enjoy the rich performances & sharp writing. There was talk of a second collaboration between Sondheim & Perkins, but sadly, that project never materialized.

Director Herbert Ross is probably better known for movies like Funny Girl, The Sunshine BoysThe Goodbye Girl & Steel Magnolias, but he also directed the film version of the Nicholas Meyer Sherlock Holmes novel The Seven Percent Solution, which was released in 1976. That's the story where Holmes teams up with Sigmund Freud to solve a case. That movie is also worth a look for genre fans. But for now, sit back, relax, fix yourself a drink, and enjoy The Last of Sheila. You’ll have a lot of fun trying to figure out whodunit. The Last Of Sheila is available on DVD from the Warner Archive collection. The disc features an informative commentary track with stars Richard Benjamin, Dyan Cannon & Raquel Welch. The film also turns up occasionally on Turner Classic Movies. Here’s a link to the film’s trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EPLgmD_RTLU. And a note to music fans: yes, that is the one & only Bette Midler singing "Friends" over the movie's closing credits.

1 comment:

  1. 70s movies aren't my thing however I am intrigued by your description and will have to check it out. Thanks for sharing at the Classic Movie Marathon Link Party.

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