Thursday, November 09, 2017

The Last Of Sheila

This intricate and wicked tale of gamesmanship and murder is the brainchild of composer Stephen Sondheim (A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM) and PSYCHO star Anthony Perkins, who loved puzzles and mysteries and decided to write one. THE LAST OF SHEILA is a true delight for mystery fans that is played with great wit by an all-star cast.

One year after his wife Sheila was killed in a hit-and-run accident, wealthy film producer Clinton (James Coburn) invites six of his Hollywood friends to spend a week on his yacht in the South of France. He suspects one of them of being Sheila’s murderer, and arranges an elaborate game designed to reveal his or her identity.

Each of the six is given a “secret”—an informer, a shoplifter, a homosexual, etc. The object is for each player to discover everyone else’s secret, one per night, in a series of dress-up hide-and-seek scenarios, including one in a spooky abandoned abbey. It doesn’t take long for some of the players to deduce Clinton’s ultimate goal, and when he is also murdered, the pieces slowly begin to snap together.

The six players are down-and-out screenwriter Tom (Richard Benjamin) and his wife Lee (Joan Hackett); Philip (James Mason), a lowly director of TV commercials; wisecracking talent agent Christine (Dyan Cannon); and starlet Alice (Raquel Welch) and her shady manager-husband Anthony (Ian McShane). All have something to hide, secrets that become exposed in the manner of a classic Agatha Christie drawing-room mystery, as the Hollywood sophisticates pour themselves drinks and react to news that would shock a normal person with an urbane elan.

Of course, one key to a successful mystery is that the pieces must logically fit together with a bare minimum of holes (if any), and Sondheim and Perkins have their plot wrapped pretty tightly. Clues are dropped with regular rapidity — even the damn title is a clue — so THE LAST OF SHEILA is as much a game as it is a film. Herbert Ross (THE TURNING POINT) directs his stars with a light touch in the south of France, with only Welch’s usual stiffness out of place among heavyweights like Coburn and Mason.

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