The Last of Sheila

One of the best and most overlooked movies of the `70s, The Last of Sheila (1973) also is among the cleverest mysteries ever written — with good reason, since the screenwriters were Anthony Perkins (yes, that Anthony Perkins) and Stephen Sondheim.  Despite the fact that it starred James Mason, Raquel Welch, James Coburn, Richard Benjamin, and Dyan Cannon, all major box office draws at the time, with Herbert Ross (Footloose, Steel Magnolias, and a lot of others) as director, it didn’t make much of a splash with the public.

I love it, both for its writing and its acting.  The script is replete with snarky witticisms, Hollywood references, and genuinely unanticipated twists and turns, and, as one character tells the others, you can figure out the mystery’s solution “if you’re smart enough.”  That’s what this movie is: a thinking person’s murder mystery.

Here’s the story (not a logline but a teaser summary):

A movie producer whose wife was killed a year earlier in a hit-and-run incident arranges for a some of his frenemies to join him for a week of game-playing (similar to a scavenger hunt) on his yacht off the French Riviera.  Among them are an agent who ratted out her friends and colleagues to HUAC in the `50s; a pedophile director; a vavavoom movie star and her “manager” husband; and a struggling screenwriter (is there any other kind?) and his mousy but wealthy wife.  Things go swimmingly enough until one of the characters is murdered.  And that’s when things get really interesting.

Here’s the scene about ten minutes in where the producer (James Coburn) explains the game’s rules to the others:

This movie blew me away when it was released, and I couldn’t understand why more people didn’t go to see it.  I also fail to comprehend why it took so long for it to show up on DVD; as of this writing, it’s still not on BluRay.

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