Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Last of Sheila

So couple of weekends ago I got around to watching The Last of Sheila off of my DVR after having recorded it I think back in November. It's been released to DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive collection and can be purchased from the TCM Shop, so I have no qualms about doing a full-length post on the movie.

James Coburn plays movie producer Clinton, married to Sheila (Yvonne Romain). One night at a Hollywood party, they have an argument and she goes running off. She makes it to what looks like the road leading to their home, when a car comes up behind her, running her down and killing her. The car goes driving off.

A year passes, and Clinton is on his yacht, named Sheila, somehwere off the coast of the French Riviera. He has an idea who killed Sheila, and to prove his hunch he's going to invite the six main suspects aboard that yacht. There's writer Tom (Richard Benjamin) and his wife Lee (Joan Hackett); starlet Alice (Raquel Welch) and her husband Anthony (Ian McShane); agent to the stars Christine (Dyan Cannon) and director Philip (James Mason).

To figure out which one did it, he's devised an elaborate parlor game. Each of his six guests has been given a card stating their "secret"; that is, a dark past that they're expected to play more or less. Each night, Clinton is going to take the guests ashore and set up a game where they have to find where one of the guests has been assigned a particular secret, given the clue Clinton provides each of them. (Would that I were wealthy enough to be able to pull off the logistics necessary to do this, never mind having the yacht.) As an incentive to play the game, the winner will get top billing in Clinton's film about "The Last of Sheila", or, what happened to his wife.

Now, some of the characters begin to get the impression that Clinton actually knows a deep secret about each of them, only he's mixed up the secrets among the various guests such that the one who is given the secret of being a shoplifter isn't actually a shoplifter, but one amongst their number actually is. Worse, things start to go wrong when Christine and Clinton are lounging in the Mediterranean while the ship is at anchor and somebody "accidentally" turns the engine on such that the wake threatens to pull Christine under.

It may not have been Christine who was the target of this, however; on the second night the game takes place at an abandoned monastery on an island, and Clinton winds up dead, having been murdered around the confessional where he was hiding in the hide-and-go-seek part of the game. So now instead of a parlor game, we've got a murder mystery on our hands!

The Last of Sheila is a pretty complex mystery, and one that's hard to decipher, although it turns out that all of the clues are there, if you're attentive. (Presumably, since the guests were spending all their time on the yacht, the clues would have been more obvious to them than to us the viewer.) Once the mystery was explained, I have to admit I found it a bit too convoluted, but that's a minor flaw.

The acting is fairly good; the plot is generally entertaining as long as you pay enough attention. I don't know that anybody in particular stands out among the cast, although Mason does a good job being the analytical one trying to figure out the mystery, while Benjamin seems a little to gung-ho to put out a scenario that fits a little too neatly.

Still, I think anybody who likes murder mysteries will enjoy The Last of Sheila.

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