The Last of Sheila is a 1973 mystery movie that I first saw somewhere in the early ’80s, during a long summer, and indeed, what’s better than a good chiller on a hot summer night?
Or in a cold winter night – and so I re-watched the movie last night, to see if it was as good as I remembered.
Well, mostly it was.
The basic premise: Sheila was killed in a hit-and-run accident. One year later, her husband reunites a number of friends on his yacht to play a game. How the game is connected to Sheila’s death is part of the mystery.
Today The Last of Sheila is mostly remembered because it was directed by Herbert Ross, it was written by the unlikely due of Stephen Sondheim and Anthony Perkins, and for its stellar cast: Richard Benjamin, Dyan Cannon, James Coburn, Joan Hackett, James Mason, Ian McShane, and Raquel Welch.
That, and the fact that the film was a sort of satire of Hollywood, and some characters are based on real characters – james Mason portrays a movie director freely inspired by Orson Welles, Dyan Cannon’s character is based on Hollywood agent Sue Mengers, Richard Benjamin is Anthony Perkins, Raquel Welch is actually playing herself (but apparently they did not tell her). A lot of references and ideas are simply lost today, almost fifty years on.
Given these considerations, The Last of Sheila could well be one of those movies that would have been more fun had they just filmed the actors and cast chatting around a table, but it is not. It is an ingenious – if also a little contrived – nasty little mystery, peopled with despicable characters and with a cold core of cynicism at its heart. It is also a movie filled with games, and crime novels, and watching it on a PC screen offers the extra perk of stopping along the way to check all the stuff the set designers placed on set.
Like, the number of paperback Ngaio Marsh mystery novels scattered around.
Also, much as Raquel Welch’s presence in the movie was used in the film publicity, I must say Dyan Cannon has a more interesting part, and her looks are none the worse…
And as a game designer and game player, the gimmick at the core of the movie – the fact that the characters are playing a mix of charade, scavenger hunt and live roleplaying game – is quite interesting.
All in all, a good movie, and a nice way to spend two hours wrapped in a blanket with a big cup of hot tea.