The Last of Sheila is a1973 whodunit film that has achieved cult status. It’s not currently available on DVD in the UK, and I’d been searching for it for some time when, by chance, I spotted it on a TCM schedule. And I found that, if not a masterpiece, it is at least very watchable. And, unlike some films of its type, it improves as it goes along, rather than the reverse, since the build-up is lengthy before the plot elaborations really kick in (though you might think otherwise if you are better at spotting in-jokes than me.)
The screenplay was written by the very unlikely but rather wonderful pairing of Stephen Sondheim and Anthony Perkins. Sondheim in particular is a mystery and puzzle fan, it seems, and has dabbled more than once in the crime genre. On this evidence, it's a pity he hasn't devoted more time to mysteries. The cast is impressive, and includes James Coburn, Ian McShane, James Mason, Dyan Cannon, Richard Benjamin and Raquel Welch. Mason is an actor I've long admired; in a rather different way from Raquel, he is always very watchable. Joan Hackett was the only suspect I wasn't familiar with; it seems she died sadly young of cancer. Here, she puts in a good performance in a rather tricky part.
Coburn plays a movie producer whose wife Sheila was killed in a hit and run accident. A year later, he invites a group of friends – which includes, he is sure, Sheila’s killer – to join him on a yacht called “Sheila” which is sailing around the Mediterranean. He proposes a series of games that will reveal his guests’ secrets – but events take an unexpected turn, with a murder followed by a suicide.
After the apparent climax of the movie, there are further twists, and I felt these compensated for the slightly laboured start to the film. There are not many truly successful whodunit movies, but I’d say this is one of them. I’m sure I missed many 70s in-jokes in the script, but that didn’t really matter. Good fun.