The Last of Sheila Reviews
The movie comes out of a fine heritage of murder puzzles from such as Agatha Christie and Patricia Highsmith. In fact, it's a little rare to see this material showing up first as a movie. It feels like the sort of story that would start life as a play. Bringing seven people together and then doing the old "one of the people sitting here amongst us is a murderer" schtick is inherently stagy. Nevertheless, it functions well as a movie, perhaps since the screenplay has as much to do with characters as with crime. The movie was written by Stephen Sondheim and Anthony Perkins, and they flaunt an apparent sense of showbiz manners and dialogue. They've also play Name That Tune with us: We can enjoy speculating who the bitchy agent was motivated by, or the director on the skids, or the centerfold, each played respectively by Dyan Cannon, James Mason and Raquel Welch, two out of three of whom kept me watching purely just to watch.
I like the concept of a murder mystery set among showbiz types because Hollywood is often thought to be shy about death and shrink from it. Genuine sorrow seems quite rare. The movie opens as a watchful-waiting stratagem concerning Coburn and the killer, which is latently intriguing though it rambles too far away from the point of tension and plays more like a '60s romp than an expository double-blind. Yet it makes a striking hairpin halfway through. And it actually is a game to them; they don't spend time mourning when somebody dies, just clean up the blood and tally one more loser against their competition for a win. And yet it's barely started until just two of these characters spend a great deal of time deliberately hammering out the true significance of the clues, a scene so tight, well-acted, well-written and loaded with sharp wit that it makes the whole package worth it.
A better part of the performances are pointed and mercenary, and very good, particularly James Mason with his typical cultured obstinacy. Dyan Cannon as the agent. Joan Hackett is beautiful and tender, and Richard Benjamin treads a fine line between voice of reason and a screenwriter trying to think in formulas. Coburn is always entertaining owing to his sheer presence and it's interesting watching an Ian McShane so much younger than anyone my age is aware he ever was. Welch is quite wooden by comparison, but as I said beforeâ?¦