From the classic screenwriting team of Anthony Perkins and Stephen Sondheim (?) comes The Last of Sheila (1973), which at first glance looks like a grubby B movie but is actually a solid, cleverly plotted whodunit with an A-list cast. The set-up is a travelling bottle show: Hollywood producer Clinton Greene (James Coburn) invites six of his closest industry friends to his yacht for a Mediterranean pleasure cruise. The guest list includes struggling screenwriter Tom (Richard Benjamin), his wealthy wife Lee (Joan Hackett), spirited agent Christine (Dyan Cannon), has-been film director Philip (James Mason), starlet Alice (Raquel Welch), and her husband, aspiring producer Anthony (Ian McShane). Greene, an avid gamer, requires everyone to participate in a puzzle-solving contest: he hands out cards that provide each guest with a different “secret identity,” and at each port of call, the goal is to uncover a different person’s identity. It’s all fun and games, at first, but the cheerfully abusive Greene has a hidden agenda, and it most certainly involves the mysterious, long-ago death of his girlfriend Sheila.
The Last of Sheila feels like an old-fashioned Agatha Christie murder mystery, revamped for cynical, 1970s film-making sensibilities, which makes it something of a double relic — in a good way, I think. Alas, it looks like the film stock was run over by a truck, and the cinematography is middling, somehow making its European location work look dirty and unappealing. Nonetheless, it’s an entertaining ensemble piece with an engaging puzzle-solving core, and lots of nice, twisty layers to its plot. Both the acting and the editing are fast and chaotic, contributing to a usefully disorienting pace, and the performances are fun, especially from Cannon and Coburn. Its unique brand of “Hollywood ending” is pretty satisfying, too. A fun throwback diversion, especially for fans of such obscurities.