THE LAST OF SHEILA has become a cult film for those who like
deliciously complex whodunits. Its literate and droll
was written by the unlikely team of actor Anthony Perkins and Broadway
composer Stephen Sondheim, another factor in its cult appeal,
especially among Sondheim buffs.
The film begins with a flashback sequence during which arrogant film producer Clinton Greene (James Coburn) and his wife Sheila become embroiled in a shouting match at a cocktail party. Sheila storms out of the house, stomps her way angrily down the road, and is suddenly the tragic victim of a hit-and-run accident. Flash forward to one year later, by which time Greene believes he has gathered enough evidence to prove the so-called accident that killed his wife was premeditated murder, and he has a good idea as to which one of his six friends is the guilty party. He invites them all to vacation with him on his yacht, during which time he hopes to trap the murderer with a series of elaborate role-playing games.
Whodunit films tend to hold up to two viewings: once to enjoy the plot twists and revelation of the murderer, and once more to catch all the clues missed the first time around. But THE LAST OF SHEILA continues to delight over multiple viewings, owing to its great characters and achingly bitchy wit (these people actually hate one another underneath their chummy exteriors). James Mason and Dyan Cannon are the scene stealers among a mostly strong cast. The weak link is Raquel Welch, whose embarrassingly amateurish performance is downright historic in terms of its awfulness. But she sure could wear a bikini. - JL