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  • Benjamin May

The Last of Sheila (1973) Review

On the first anniversary of his wife's death, wealthy film producer Clinton Greene hosts a week-long get-together aboard his yacht, the Sheila; named in honour of his late love. His guests include actresses, directors and screenwriters- all of whom were present the year before when Sheila kicked the bucket. Greene, an avid parlour-gamesman, informs his guests that the week's entertainment will be the 'The Sheila Greene Memorial Gossip Game,' in which everyone is assigned a secret which they must keep from the others. Soon, it transpires that Greene's sinister competition is based more on fact than fiction, and there may be a murderer among his guests; facts which transform the proceedings into a crazed game of cat and mouse where the stakes are life or death.

Written by Anthony Perkins and Stephen Sondheim, Herbert Ross's 'The Last of Sheila' is a camp mystery comedy that holds entertainment value, though is really rather convoluted. Inspired by real life scavenger hunts Perkins and Sondheim would arrange for their friends in the late 60's, the film takes elaborate steps to concoct a narrative seeped in intrigue and suspense, but overwhelms with its attempts to mystify; coming across as needlessly- rather than satisfyingly- cryptic. Unlike the best whodunnit mysteries, the film's twists and turns seem arbitrary when they're not predictable, and are frequently both.

Perkins and Sondheim's characters are also problematic, with most being unlikable and dimly illustrated caricatures of little to no depth (an issue only heightened by the performances from the cast, which vary in quality). While the camp comedy works for the most part, a lot of it feels forced, and despite some clever lines of dialogue and a few suspenseful sequences; one is left rather disappointed by the time the credits roll. Had Perkins and Sondheim tightened up the core mystery and added dimension to some of the characters, they could have had a fine film on their hands; instead of the mildly amusing, slightly banal one 'The Last of Sheila' turned out to be.

Shot in Nice, the cinematography from Gerry Turpin is surprisingly mediocre, considering the beauty of the surrounding area. Turpin's approach is too straightforward, lacking flair and seeming flat and uninspired. 'The Last of Sheila' is the kind of film that requires stylish, unconventional cinematography in order to match the camp, mysterious and borderline over-the-top subject matter; Turpin's work is sadly lacking in this regard.

As is Edward Warschilka's editing, which is loose and haphazard, dooming the film to the realm of the unevenly paced. John Jarvis's set decoration isn't lacking, however, with his work being rich and highly detailed. The locations are brimming with intricate knick-knacks and props, seeming most authentic and intriguing. Joel Schumacher's costume design is also of note (and arguably more interesting than his directorial features later in life), while Billy Goldenberg's score is atmospheric and thrilling.

'The Last of Sheila' is a muddled movie that doesn't quite make it, an underwhelming though amusing mystery-comedy that doesn't make many waves or break any new ground. Featuring an all-star cast and a screenplay from Anthony Perkins and Stephen Sondheim, the film should- and could- have been much more intriguing and humorous than it is. Though there are some bright spots in the screenplay and from the cast, it's mostly an underwhelming, convoluted caper that is easy to watch and easier to forget.


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