Matinee darlings, it's been too long and the reasons are banal, so let's get right back in action. Our matinee The Last of Sheila is a solve-along riot with all star cast, even all star screenwriters (Anthony Perkins and Stephen Sondheim---hello!!) and live action murder mystery on the Mediterranean Sea.
Our wickedly bitchy brainteaser begins with a flashback of a fatal hit-and-run with the victim being the titular Sheila Greene (Yvonne Romain), omniscient gossip columnist in Hollywood.
We then cut several months later to her husband Clinton (James Coburn) a character who is also a comical debunking of legendary director John Huston. In fact, the entire film is not only a legit whodunit with clues embedded for the viewer to collect and solve, but is also a sort of a Hollywood insider's satire of the industry machinations---agents, stars, money, image and dirty, DIRTY secrets. Anyway, rabbit trail end. Return to focus.
Clinton Greene invites a motley crew of "friends" to his yacht for a cerebral live action mystery tour, to honor his wife's death and her legacy of uncovering the dark secrets of entertainment's elite.
Richard Benjamin as Tom
Joan Hackett as Lee
Dyan Cannon as Christine
modeled after real life, super agent Sue Mengers
(who literally steals the show for me, total girl crush post this flick)
James Mason as Philip
(a Sunday Matinee star par excellence)
Racquel Welch as Alice
and Ian McShane as Anthony
On the first day, each player is given a card, each different from each other, with allegedly truthful dirt on their fellow players. These are the dirty secrets that Sheila knew before her untimely death and players must now match the gossip to the correct player.
Crib Notes for YOU, gentle matinee viewer
(a clue card relevant to Sunday Matinee)...
"You are an INFORMER."
The Players imbibe a seemingly endless supply cocktails on the yacht (i saw like no food on the entire yacht and sort of had a hangover just watching the copious champagne and rose chased by bottles of bourbon and whiskey---did no one need water or food? lounging under the Capri sun? 70s stars were made of stronger metal, for sure) and meet nightly to play the "game" at whatever port of call they dock at...
Murder and massive mis-direction follow and screenwriters Perkins and Sondheim have created a real puzzle, a delightful treat which kicks Clue's ass. The locales are gorgeous, and fashion even better.
I give nothing away, but will beckon you gentle matinee viewer to know that just when you think it is over and solved---it. is. not.
And the finale? Soundtracked to a tongue-in-cheek Bette Midler tune that i refuse to title, because when it started, i giggled at the lyrics. Just feel 1973 in your core and delight in the decadent, campy gorgeous glory of The Last of Sheila.
Trivia: Sondheim and Perkins won the 1974 Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for Best Motion Picture Screenplay. The screenplay was based on scavenger hunts they used to host for their friends in NYC in the 1960-70s.
Here is an excerpt from The New Yorker, detailing a real life Sondheim hunt.
“Stephen Sondheim’s most famous game took place in Manhattan on Halloween, 1968. It required twenty people (preferably young theatre Turks like Herbert Ross, Nora Kaye, Lee Remick, Mary Rodgers, and Roddy McDowall), four limousines, complicated maps full of numbers and arrows, and a sack of perplexing props: scissors, bits of string, pins. Each team of five had to drive to a spot designated on the map, and there they would find a clue telling them where to go next; the trouble was, the clues were numbers, and there was no way of knowing how they might be revealed. One destination was a bustling bowling alley in which the last lane was curiously empty; there stood a single enigmatic pin, which you had to bowl over in such a way that you glimpsed the number written on the side. Another site proved to be nothing but a nondescript door with a mail slot. But if you stuck your ear near the slot, you could hear the faint voice of Frank Sinatra singing “One for My Baby” – which might still have stumped you unless you recognized that the lyric begins, “It’s a quarter to three.” A quarter to three: the number was 245. Then there was the vestibule of a brownstone, where a small elderly woman (actually, the mother of Anthony Perkins, Sondheim’s fellow game designer) would beckon you upstairs for some coffee and a slice of cake. Those who actually ate the cake stood no chance of winning: the clue was drawn in the icing.”
From "Deconstructing Sondheim", The New Yorker, March 8, 1993, by Stephen Schiff.