The Last of Sheila
|The Last of Sheila|
|Directed by||Herbert Ross|
|Written by||Anthony Perkins|
|Produced by||Herbert Ross|
|Edited by||Edward Warschilka|
|Music by||Billy Goldenberg|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|Box office||$2,200,000 (US/ Canada rentals)|
The Last of Sheila is a 1973 American whodunnit mystery film directed by Herbert Ross and written by Anthony Perkins and Stephen Sondheim. It starred Richard Benjamin, Dyan Cannon, James Coburn, Joan Hackett, James Mason, Ian McShane, and Raquel Welch.
The film was released to positive reviews, and has garnered a solid following over time. Perkins and Sondheim's script was later novelized by Alexander Edwards.
On a one-week Mediterranean pleasure cruise aboard the yacht of movie producer Clinton Greene, the guests include: actress Alice Wood; her talent-manager husband Anthony Wood; secretary turned talent agent Christine; screenwriter Tom Parkman and his wife Lee; and film director Philip Dexter. The trip is in fact a reunion; with the exception of Lee, all were together at Clinton's home one year before, on the night a hit-and-run accident resulted in the death of Clinton's wife, gossip columnist Sheila Greene.
Once the cruise is underway, Greene, a parlor game enthusiast, informs everyone that the week's entertainment will consist of "The Sheila Greene Memorial Gossip Game." The six guests are each assigned an index card containing a secret that must be kept hidden from the others. The object of the game is to discover everyone else's secret while protecting one's own. Each night, the yacht anchors at a different Mediterranean port city, where one of the six secrets is disclosed to the entire group. The guests are given a clue, then sent ashore to find the proof of who holds the card bearing that secret. The game for that night ends when the actual holder discovers the proof. Following the first day's game, suspicion begins that the "pretend" secrets are, in fact, true. This is confirmed when Alice is talking to a man off camera, whose identity is hidden. She says that the first card, "YOU are a SHOPLIFTER", applies to her and that she was caught shoplifting before she became famous. She downplays the incident, telling the mysterious man that she has his secret and shows him her card, "YOU are a HOMOSEXUAL". She says she will keep his secret, and there are hints of an affair. She is eager to know what the other secrets are, and a bit scared of the whole game.
On the second day, Christine is nearly killed when someone turns the boat's propellers on while she is swimming near them. Christine becomes hysterical with shock when the rest of the guests come to her rescue. The second game secret is revealed to be "YOU are a HOMOSEXUAL." In the evening, Greene goes ahead to the designated island and prepares for the "game" ahead of the guests. It takes place in a monastery, with all guests dressed in hooded monks’ robes; in addition to the robe, Greene is dressed up as Alice, with a wig and makeup. Greene falls out of a confessional box with bloody wounds on his face, dead. Later that evening, when the guests gather together on the yacht to discuss the game, they notice that Greene has not returned. When Greene hasn’t show up the next day, the guests return ashore to the monastery, and discover his corpse. Although the group initially assumes that Greene died when a stone column collapsed during the storm, Parkman points out several clues that suggest otherwise.
Parkman suggests that Greene has been murdered by one of them. Playing detective, he points to clues that he and Dexter found at the crime scene. He suggests that everyone should literally put their cards on the table. Five cards are revealed: YOU are a SHOPLIFTER, HOMOSEXUAL, EX-CONVICT, INFORMER, and LITTLE CHILD MOLESTER — and Parkman delays revealing his card. Alice reveals she was the shoplifter, and Parkman says "YOU are a HOMOSEXUAL" applies to him, since he had a brief encounter with Greene years ago, before he was married to Lee. All these secrets are from the past; Anthony reveals that he is the "EX-CONVICT" and is shocked how Greene has come to know so much about them — either since Sheila was a gossip columnist, people confided in her, or due to common industry gossip. Dexter gets nervous as accusations point to him being the child molester, and mumbles nonsense trying to cover it up. Christine reveals that when she was a secretary in the film industry, during the Second Red Scare she informed on left-leaning actors to further her career and become a talent agent. Out of guilt, she says that she now tries to help them find work.
Finally, Parkman reveals he had the card "YOU are a HIT-AND-RUN KILLER". It is implied that the hit-and-run killer murdered Greene to conceal his or her involvement in Sheila's death. Lee, who has been drinking, tearfully confesses to having killed Sheila while driving drunk the previous year, and to killing Clinton the previous night after he provoked her by blaming her for Sheila's death. Distraught, she locks herself in her cabin, where Parkman tries to reach her, but can‘t. Shortly thereafter, she is found dead, with her wrists slit, in the bathtub in Greene’s cabin, and the case seems to be closed.
On the final night of the cruise, the crew and most of the guests go to a party onshore, but Dexter, who brought no money, remains on the ship. Parkman sees lights on the ship blinking on and off, and returns to find Dexter pondering loose ends of earlier events. Dexter suspects that Lee had "killed" a dead body, and that the real murderer had rearranged the scene to implicate her. Dexter points out that the six "secrets" spell out "SHEILA," and that a picture taken the first day has each of them standing under a letter of Sheila's name that corresponds to their clue, except for the final letter "A", which breaks the pattern.
With this, it becomes clear what had actually happened: after Alice (with whom Parkman had been having an affair) confessed to being a shoplifter on the first night, he changed out his own card – "YOU are an ALCOHOLIC," the missing A – for a more condemning one, "YOU are a HIT-AND-RUN KILLER," knowing both secrets applied to his wife Lee. While he was showering before the second game, he arranged for Lee to see that new card, and think the game's purpose was to expose her for her role in Sheila's death. On the second night, he murdered Greene, and framed Lee for the deed. Then, he spiked her bottle of bourbon with sleeping pills, and after she drank it, carried her body into the bathtub and slit her wrists, making it seem like a suicide. Her estate, worth $5 million, therefore went to him, making him wealthy and free to pursue other romantic interests. Dexter had also attempted to kill Greene with the boat's propellers to prevent his secret from coming out. Parkman then tries to kill Dexter, but is stopped when Christine comes up to the yacht for a sexual rendezvous. Dexter then blackmails Parkman: in exchange for keeping the secret that Parkman killed Greene, Parkman must finance Dexter’s next film with the money from Lee's estate.
- Richard Benjamin as Tom Parkman
- Dyan Cannon as Christine
- James Coburn as Clinton Greene
- Joan Hackett as Lee Parkman
- James Mason as Philip Dexter
- Ian McShane as Anthony Wood
- Raquel Welch as Alice Wood
- Yvonne Romain as Sheila Greene
The movie was inspired by an irregular series of elaborate, real-life scavenger hunts Sondheim and Perkins arranged for their show business friends (including Lee Remick and George Segal) in Manhattan in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Herb Ross also took part in the treasure hunts with his wife, Nora Kaye. Ross said one of the clues was spelled out by icing on a cake which had been cut up into different pieces.
The climax of one hunt was staged in the lobby of a seedy flophouse, where participants heard a skipping LP record endlessly repeating the first line of the Harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer standard "One for My Baby" ("It's quarter to three ... It's quarter to three ..."). The winning team eventually recognized the clue — 2:45 — and immediately headed for room 245 of the hotel, where bottles of champagne awaited them.
Sondheim later recalled:
The idea for the movie grew out of two murder games I devised some time ago. One was for Phyllis Newman; the other for four couples just after I got out of college. A murder game? No, nobody gets murdered. With the four couples, I told each person to think of a way to kill one of the others over the weekend we would be spending together in the country. Then we passed out envelopes and inside one was an 'X'. That person was the only one who was to carry out his plan; the others were to spend the time avoiding being murdered.
Herb Ross made the film for his own production company; it was distributed by Warner Bros. Ross:
If you have a group of people on a ship, the ship becomes a metaphor for existence, you can't help it. It's not a symbol one strives for, but it does happen. It's not a picture about film people, it's about people... I'll tell you what this picture is about. It's about civilisation and barbarism. You cannot make up for the absence of civilisation.
Stephen Sondheim said he and Perkins "thought of the secrets before the characters". The Dyan Cannon character was based on talent agent Sue Mengers.
Herbert Ross originally offered the role to Mengers herself, but she turned it down, claiming too many of her clients were out of work. Instead she pitched her client, Dyan Cannon, for the part. Mengers stated, "But they came and took pictures of my office to see what a lady agent's office looks like ... It's filled with ferns and plants. They want to construct a set just like it over in Nice."
Cannon later said she had not wanted to do the film at first as she disliked the role, "[t]he script seemed too broad, everybody caricaturised, especially my part. I mean, Sue Mengers is wild, but not that wild. There seemed to be no humanity in the women's roles." She said Mengers talked her into it as "it'll be a chance to show them you've got something more than your obvious assets." Cannon said she gained 19 pounds to play the role and the part was "finally changed, deepened. I still had to bring a lot to it, and I think the result's unlike anything I've ever done."
James Mason played a washed-up film director, who was reportedly based on a composite of two real-life directors. "Steve and Tony insist they wrote the part for me", said Mason. "If they did, they did it for a ready-made image. If the passé director is played by someone who makes constant appearances on The Late, Late Show, it helps. Consequently I'm playing it as everybody's idea of James Mason."
Raquel Welch played a movie starlet and Ian McShane her manager-husband. Welch claimed the two were based on Ann-Margret and her husband, Roger Smith. Sondheim later said the part was actually based on Welch herself and her one time husband Patrick Curtis. In a 1975 interview, Welch said she thought she had been "good" in Kansas City Bomber, Myra Breckenridge and The Last of Sheila.
The movie was shot in the south of France. In an interview for a fortieth-anniversary screening of the film, Cannon said that filming on an actual yacht proved to be too difficult, and so production was halted, stranding the cast on location: "So we had to wait in the south of France while they built a set at the Victorine Studios [in Nice] for us. We had to spend our days lying on the beach and going to lunch and shopping. It was a hard job!"
The shoot was not easy; according to Cannon the first cameraman was fired and the yacht sank. This required reshooting early in the process. There were also complaints about Welch's behaviour. In turn, she announced she was suing Herbert Ross for assault and battery as a result of an incident in her dressing room. She claimed she had to flee to London during the shoot "to escape physical harm". However she then returned to Nice to shoot the film's final scenes, although she was provided with a bodyguard. Warner Bros later issued a statement supporting Ross and criticising Welch for her "public utterances". Mason told a newspaper at the time that Welch was "the most selfish, ill-mannered, inconsiderate actress that I've ever had the displeasure of working with".
Joel Schumacher worked on the film as costume designer.
The original music score was composed by Billy Goldenberg. The Bette Midler song "Friends" plays as the final scene transitions to the end credits.
Critical reception for the film was mostly positive. On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, 89% of 18 critics' reviews are positive, with an average rating of 7/10. Vincent Canby of The New York Times called the film "an old-fashioned murder mystery" that "makes murder, as well as life, more interesting." Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film three and a half out of 4 stars, praising the cast and script, and saying, "It's the kind of movie that wraps you up in itself, and absorbs you at the very time you're being impressed by its cleverness. And it leaves you thinking maybe Sheila got off easy, after all."
In a 2007 review for Empire, Kim Newman gave the film four stars, writing "It remains an underrated pleasure, a rare original film mystery (most whodunits are adapted from novels – which means your target audience already knows the solution) with dialogue as precisely turned as one of Norman Bates's twitches or Sweeney Todd's razor-rhymes."
Filmmakers Edgar Wright and Larry Karaszewski have extolled the film in recorded introductions for Turner Classic Movies and Trailers from Hell, respectively.
Beau Flynn and Joel Silver were attached to a 2012 announcement that New Line Cinema would remake the film, though the project never was never produced.
Director Rian Johnson cited The Last of Sheila as an inspiration for his 2019 film Knives Out, as well as its 2022 sequel Glass Onion, which includes Sondheim's last film appearance.
Perkins and Sondheim won the 1974 Edgar Award for Best Motion Picture from the Mystery Writers of America. They went on to try to collaborate again two more times, on The Chorus Girl Murder Case and Crime and Variations, but the projects were ultimately unrealized.
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- ^ a b c Sirmons, Julia (December 10, 2021). "On the Murder Mystry Movie Written by Stephen Sondheim and Anthony Perkins". CrimeReads. Literary Hub. Retrieved March 23, 2023.
- ^ "Last of Sheila". Goodreads. Retrieved December 29, 2022.
- ^ A.H. WEILER (July 9, 1972). "Ingrid's at the Met". New York Times. p. D7.
- ^ a b c d Blume, Mary (January 28, 1973). "Herb Ross Plays a Film Game in 'Sheila'". Los Angeles Times. p. O1.
- ^ Schiff, Stephen (March 8, 1993). "Deconstructing Sondheim". The New Yorker. Retrieved December 17, 2014.
- ^ Stenros (March 16, 2009). "Pervasive Games in Films Part II: The Last of Sheila". Pervasive Games: Theory and Design. Retrieved December 17, 2014.
- ^ a b c "... skillfully steered by Sondheim". Chicago Tribune. July 13, 1973. p. B3.
- ^ "Show Business: Sweet and Sour Sue". Time. March 26, 1973. Retrieved December 17, 2014.
- ^ Haber, Joyce (July 20, 1972). "Client Dyan to Be Agent in New Film". Los Angeles Times. p. G17.
- ^ a b c d Burke, Tom (July 15, 1973). "Life No Longer a Bit Part for Dyan Cannon: Life Not a Bit Part for Dyan". Los Angeles Times. p. 1.
- ^ Smyth, Jeannette (May 8, 1975). "Raquel Welch: A Sex Symbol And Happily: A Sex Symbol And Happily". The Washington Post. p. B1.
- ^ Mackie, Drew (April 8, 2013). "Dyan Cannon Talks 'Last of Sheila', James Coburn, the Lakers". KCET.org. Retrieved December 17, 2014.
- ^ Haber, Joyce (October 10, 1972). "Wanted: A Reliable Rabbit for Paula". Los Angeles Times. p. D11.
- ^ a b "Raquel Plans Suit Against Director". Chicago Tribune. November 12, 1972. p. 26.
- ^ Weinraub, Bernard (March 3, 1993). "With 'Falling Down', Director Savors A New Success". New York Times. p. C13.
- ^ "The Last of Sheila". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved December 25, 2022.
- ^ "Murder Mystery Puts Fun into Format; The Cast Turns Search for Killer Into a Cruise Game". The New York Times. Archived from the original on March 7, 2016. Retrieved July 14, 2015.
- ^ Ebert, Roger (July 19, 1973). "The Last of Sheila movie review (1973)". Roger Ebert.com.
- ^ Newman, Kim (March 1, 2007). "The Last of Sheila". Empire.
- ^ Phipps, Keith (June 23, 2015). "6/23/15: Edgar Wright guest programs TCM". The Dissolve.
- ^ "Larry Karaszewski on The Last of Sheila". Trailers from Hell. October 15, 2009.
- ^ Kit, Borys (June 18, 2012). "New Line to Remake Murder Mystery 'The Last of Sheila' (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter.
- ^ "'Knives Out' director Rian Johnson: 'I'm a whodunit junkie'". austin360.
- ^ Boone, John (November 25, 2019). "'Knives Out': Director Rian Johnson Reveals 3 Movies to Watch Ahead of His Whodunit". Entertainment Tonight.
- ^ Wise, Damon (November 23, 2022). "'Glass Onion': Rian Johnson, Daniel Craig, Janelle Monáe & Edward Norton Reveal The Secrets Of The 'Knives Out' Franchise & Tease Part 3". Deadline. Retrieved November 26, 2022.
- ^ "Last of Sheila (Warner Archive reissue), The". DVD Talk. Retrieved June 28, 2021.
- 1973 films
- 1973 drama films
- 1970s crime drama films
- 1970s crime thriller films
- 1970s mystery films
- American crime drama films
- American crime thriller films
- American films about revenge
- American mystery films
- Edgar Award-winning works
- 1970s English-language films
- Films about games
- Films directed by Herbert Ross
- Films scored by Billy Goldenberg
- Films set in the Mediterranean Sea
- Seafaring films
- Stephen Sondheim
- Warner Bros. films
- 1970s American films