If you like a good whodunit—and who dudn’t? —then this acerbic and bitchy puzzle of a film is de rigueur viewing. In the best tradition of the genre, a group of suspects is plopped down in an isolated locale and the murderous hijinks ensue as clues, red herrings, and bodies pile up in the Last of Sheila.
James Coburn plays a conniving Hollywood producer who gathers a group of his movie biz friends for a weekend of parlor games on his swanky yacht off the coast of France. But there’s an air of malice among the festivities; see, exactly one year prior all the attendees were present the night Coburn’s gossip columnist wife (the titular Sheila), was wickedly run down by a hit and run driver. Perhaps that murderer is now among the revelers? As the games progress, someone’s not playing fair, and the body count starts to rise. This was the first and only produced screenplay by the estimable Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim, a famous lover of word games, anagrams, and puzzles (his co-writer was Anthony Perkins-yes, that Norman Bates). The fascinatingly knotty plot (don’t even try to deduce the killer), is kept buoyantly afloat because it’s also a biting lampoon of all those awful denizens of La La Land. There’s the vapid starlet (Raquel Welch) and her leeching manager (Ian McShane), the has-been director (James Mason), the dried-up screenwriter (Richard Benjamin), and his mousy wife (Joan Hackett). Best of all is Dyan Cannon doing a lethal caricature of real life monster agent Sue Mengers. She’s got one terrific mad scene where her evil cackle curdles into a cry for help. Director Herb Ross keeps things moving along nicely in the stunning St. Tropez locations; there’s just the right amount of disturbing menace amongst the twisty doings and tart dialog. Kind of like what you’d expect at a Hollywood party filled with beautiful people…don’t turn your back or you’ll get stabbed. And who can resist a final ironic Bette Midler tune as the credits roll and you’ve just realized the answer to the caper has been staring you in the face all along?
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