Sunday 23 December 2018

Movie Review: The Last Of Sheila (1973)

A mystery thriller, The Last Of Sheila is clumsily mounted and poorly executed.

In Hollywood, gossip columnist Sheila is killed in an unsolved hit-and-run. A year later, her film producer husband Clinton (James Coburn) invites six members of the film world, all potential suspects in Sheila's death, to spend a week on his yacht in the Mediterranean.

The invitees are fading film director Philip (James Mason), starlet Alice (Raquel Welch) and her husband/manger Anthony (Ian McShane), talent agent Christine (Dyan Cannon), struggling writer Tom (Richard Benjamin) and his wife Lee (Joan Hackett).

Clinton introduces them to a mystery game they will play during the week, with each assigned a secret card denoting a transgression, with one to be revealed every night through a treasure hunt style contest at successive ports of call. Mishaps start to beset the yacht, and suspicions emerge that Clinton may have a sinister motive related to Sheila's death.

Directed by Herbert Ross, The Last Of Sheila is co-written by actor Anthony Perkins and musician Stephen Sondheim. The lack of writing discipline is evident in a muddled premise, lack of character development, a midway jarring change in tone, and a tired, highly illogical resolution featuring dozens of late-arriving factoids introduced in inept flashbacks. This was a troubled production beset by on-set tensions betrayed by distracted and incohesive cast performances.

The mystery, once revealed, is far beyond plausible, The Last Of Sheila falling into a trap of trying to justify a murder solely for the pleasure of the script. Along the way, the first half of the film rushes towards an ill-defined game, but only plays two out of six find-the-sinner rounds before abandoning the concept altogether in favour of a stage-bound Agatha Christie whodunnit, absent a clever detective.

The morsels of enjoyment are few and far between, and include Mason digging deep to try and salvage the outcome late in the proceedings, with the grounded Joan Hackett the only other cast member appearing to care. A clever clue appears early in the film and offers a late blip of a pulse upon re-emerging towards the otherwise limp finale.

The Last Of Sheila carries some potential, but is fumbled into the murky Mediterranean waters.

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