We settled down last night for an encore presentation of The Last of Sheila. Isn’t that a great title? Written by Stephen Sondheim and Anthony Perkins, it’s a fabulous high camp whodunnit on the high seas.
The Last of Sheila was inspired by the elaborate party games Sondheim and Perkins designed to entertain their friends in real life. Director Herbert Ross participated in one of their Halloween treasure hunts and he especially loved their murder mystery games, so much so that he came up with the idea of a movie version so the audience could play along.
This was maybe the fourth time I’ve watched it and it’s worth watching again and again because there are so many clever clues scattered about that you missed on the first (or second, or third) viewing.
As The Last of Sheila begins, we see glamourous Sheila Green leaving a late night party and walking down the dark streets of Bel Air where she is killed by a hit-and-run driver. Fast forward a year and Sheila’s husband, movie producer Clinton Green (played by James Coburn with a marvelous graveyard of teeth) is hosting a week long mystery game on his yacht Sheila. The invited guests just happen to be the same people who were at the party the year before where Sheila was killed.
And so the Sheila Green Memorial Gossip Game unfolds. Each player is allocated a card containing a piece of pretend gossip… “Shop Lifter”, “Homosexual”, “Ex-Convict”, “Alcoholic”… and each night the yacht anchors in a different Mediterranean port where the players head ashore to find clues to the player the “pretend” gossip applies to.
The first night’s clue is “Shop Lifter”. It turns out that Raquel Welch’s character Alice had once been charged with shoplifting, so perhaps the secrets aren’t “pretend” after all? Maybe Clinton has some dirt on each of the players and this is his way to make them squirm. Alice is holding the “Homosexual” card, which leads to the wonderful line “Do you really think that there could be a homosexual on board the yacht?” Only one?
Anyway, it’s all very jolly until the second night when Clinton ends up dead and one of the players produces a card for a “Hit-And-Run Killer”. Did Clinton know who killed Sheila, and was the mystery game an elaborate way to unmask the killer? You’ll have to watch the movie to find out.