Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Last of Sheila (1973)

Retro Active Critique #15

Directed by Herbert Ross, scripted by Stephen Sondheim and Anthony Perkins, 'The Last of Sheila' is a snappy whodunit that's fun from the get-go. Each moment has bite and the teeth belong to the splendid cast, stand-outs being the brilliantly dry James Mason as the burnt-out director, the crackling and buzzing Dyan Cannon as a loud-mouth Hollywood agent, the dour yet dapper Richard Benjamin as a defeated screenwriter and the irrepressible James Coburn as the wild man, Clinton, who pulls all the strings for his little marionettes.

Rounding out the bunch (beautifully) are Racquel Welch, Ian McShane and Joan Hackett. The film is about several friends, their Hollywood trappings, a murder, a colossal yacht, a sadistic host and one heck of a game –– but it's all in good fun. Or so Clinton tells them.
'The Last of Sheila' is so refreshing and it boasts enormous talent, in terms of its writing, direction and performances. Yet it remains rather unknown. Of course, it is from 1973, which explains its being reviewed here 'Retro-Active'ly. A mystery about a mystery –– within a mystery. What a film! 

For me, this is one of the best –– perhaps because it matches my personal preferences on so many levels. But I recommend this gem to anyone who can find a copy (and fortunately, this one is available on DVD, unlike some previous Retro Active recommendations I've made :-))
Indeed, who doesn't love a good mystery? Particularly one that's this tautly-written with a good, healthy dose of psychology mixed in. Each character is fully fleshed out. But what's more, the story is immensely fun and engaging. Interactive, if you will. In other words, if you like to THINK, you'll be sure to enjoy yourself. 

As if that's not enticing enough, you'll also feel as if you are going along for the ride, having a mischievous time on board the yacht. The entire film is a mass of jovial entertainment, but it's worth watching if only to see the masterful James Mason in the final scene. And Dyan Cannon gives a strong performance, particularly in one scene after she nearly drowns and is brought back onto the boat.

I could rave about this one to no end. But I am not just being a cheerleader. I already feel the urge to revisit 'The Last of Sheila' again, as I write this, despite having watched it only a few days ago. That is how much I love it. 'The Last of Sheila' could be one of the most entertaining films you've never seen –– or heard about –– before.

Here is a preliminary viewing to get you started, made with several clips & the song 'Winds of Barcelona' by Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass.


  1. Watching this film is like playing a fun board game w/ good friends - 'takes you back' to when life itself was more interactive.

  2. Love this movie! Just discovered it a few months ago, then watched it again on TCM last week. Pure entertainment through and through and you're right, it is not widely known at all, even among '70s movie buffs like myself. Well-done on noting Cannon's "breakdown" after being rescued from the ship's propellers. I've always known who she was but hadn't really seen her in anything; she was a ribald delight!

  3. Yes, indeed - it's a fun ride. Glad you've also enjoyed the film and it seems to finally be gaining some momentum. I always wondered why more people hadn't heard of it. I'm a classic mystery/Agatha Christie fanatic and this was such a good take on that... and so 70's! Even the characters' wardrobes are quintessential :)

  4. I watched it last night and I am watching it again this morning to better understand all the little things that I didn't get the first time. The movie is that enjoyable! It keeps you guessing even when you know ''whodunit''

    1. Hi Pablo, excuse the delay and thanks for your comment! It is really THAT good. I could watch it again and again, in succession -- and have done exactly what you did, it's so enjoyable! :-D