Herbert Ross | 1973 | 120 mins | USA
I love gambling in a video store on something I've never heard of that either has an interesting cast, an curious sounding description or some other factor that will, on the basis of the box alone, compel me to rent it (or, if it's a dollar rack in a used store, buy it - see: Impulse, for an example of how this strategy can be incredibly successful).
The Last of Sheila was just such a video store gamble, and one that worked out amazingly well. The all-star cast and intriguing plot were enticing, but I wasn't really and truly sold until I discovered on the back cover of the video box that this film was co-written by Stephen Sondheim and Anthony Perkins. Just the thought of those two drunk queens sitting around some beachside villa and coming up with the story for this Hollywood insider whodunit was so appealing, I couldn't resist.
The story goes like this. James Coburn is Clinton Green, a rich, mean (but oh so funny) producer whose wife Sheila was killed in a hit and run accident a year earlier. Incredibly wealthy and clearly successful, Clinton has invited all the people who were there on the night of Sheila's death to spend a week on his yacht (aptly named Sheila), discussing the possibility of making a film about her life. In attendance are Philip the director (James Mason); Tom the writer (Richard Benjamin) and his rich wife, Lee (Joan Hackett); Christine the talent agent (Dyan Cannon), Alice the sexy starlet (Raquel Welch) and her rough-around-the-edges Brit boyfriend, Anthony (Ian McShane).
All six cloying guests are a bit too desperate to work on a hit picture, so they naturally go along with Clinton's desire to play a little game. Each is given an index card which reveals a secret crime that occurred in the past. The others must discover the identity of each "criminal" through a series of clues and activities while they are in port. Soon the guests start to realize the game may be more than a bit of fun, as real secrets from their own pasts start coming out to haunt them.
Is any of this connected to Sheila's death, or is the host just playing a cruel joke on his travel companions? As tensions and suspicion rise on the boat, everyone starts to wonder whether they've seen or heard the last of Sheila.
This film really made me wonder where the hell Richard Benjamin's been lately. Shouldn't he be playing all the roles that keep going to Alan Alda?