The Last of Sheila (1973)
“The Next Move Is Murder”
The Last of Sheila (1973)
Director: Herbert Ross
Cast: Richard Benjamin, James Coburn, James Mason
Synopsis: A year after Sheila is killed in a hit-and-run, her multi-millionaire husband invites a group of friends to spend a week on his yacht playing a scavenger hunt-style mystery game. The game turns out to be all too real and all too deadly.
James Coburn (Waterhole #3) is an eccentric, games-loving movie producer who invites a motley crew of has-beens and wannabes onto his yacht for a week of elaborate puzzles approximately one year after his wife – the Sheila of the title – was mown down by a hit-and-run driver who was never traced. The invitees comprise of a movie director reduced to making cheesy TV ads (James Mason – A Touch of Larceny, North by Northwest), an unsuccessful screenwriter and his alcoholic wife (Richard Benjamin and Joan Hackett – Assignment to Kill), a starlet and her parasitic husband (Raquel Welch – One Million Years B. C. – and Ian McShane – Snow White and the Huntsman, John Wick), and a no-nonsense agent (Dyan Cannon) – all of whom have some dirty secret from the past that Coburn has somehow managed to uncover.
The week’s games get under way, and it looks like we’re in for an elaborate game of cat-and-mouse as Coburn has his guests running around exotic city back streets and deserted monasteries looking for clues. However, half-way through, the host of this bizarre gathering turns up dead, apparently murdered by one of the guests, and the story heads off in an entirely different direction.
The Last of Sheila plays like a 1970s version of an Agatha Christie story, with a compelling mystery and cast of suspects gathered in one place. It’s written by the odd couple of Stephen Sondheim and Anthony Perkins, both of whom were apparently intrepid puzzlers. They’ve certainly conjured up a convoluted plot which demands the viewers’ complete attention and still leaves you scratching your head until the final showdown between a dogged amateur sleuth and the culprit. Looking back, the clues are all there but they are so subtly placed that it’s impossible for the viewer to be able to put the pieces together for themselves.
It feels a little too self-satisfied at times, but always remains intriguing and its logic is irrefutable. The performances are variable. Mason cruises as the down-on-his-luck director but still delivers a quality performance, easily outshining the rest of the cast once the toothy James Coburn is out of the picture. Benjamin struggles manfully with a role for which he’s unsuited (it’s a mystery why Perkins didn’t cast himself in the role). Cannon also gives a feisty performance, and looks yummy in a bikini – while Raquel Welch forgoes the feisty bit and just looks yummy in a bikini.
(Reviewed 13th February 2012)