Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Movie review - "The Last of Sheila" (1973) *** (warning: spoilers)

It's not hard to see why theatre and film buffs dig this - it's based on a script by Stephen Sondheim and Anthony Perkins, no less, based on their real life passion for scavenger hunts and games in New York City involving their friends from show biz. It's a murder mystery shot in the South of France with an all star cast playing show biz types, some of whom play characters based on real life types.

It's a very clever story with plenty of twists and turns and you have to pay attention to follow what's going on - I admit I got lost in places and had to look up the story on various websites. It's not like a traditional mystery in that it doesn't have a detective character per se although the last act Richard Benjamin and then James Mason take over.

I think that factor may have prevented this becoming a bigger success at the box office - there's no hero to invest in. And yeah yeah I know that's old school, and I'm sounding like a studio suit, but it's something you're used to having, so when you don't, it throws you off. And the person who figures it all out - James Mason - doesn't turn the killer in; he blackmails him into financing a film. And Mason is revealed (I think, anyway) to be a little child molester - so our detective is a pedophile. (Maybe they were meaning late teens or something.)

Another flaw is the characters - only a few really stand out. I know it's hard in an ensemble piece but one feels with a little more fleshing out it could have been done. The stand outs: James Coburn as the super confident, Machiavellian producer; Dyan Cannon's blousy, fast talking, sexually voracious agent based on Sue Mengers (Cannon supposedly gained 19 pounds for the role but she looks pretty good in a bikini); Raquel Welch as a shallow starlet; Richard Benjamin's mysterious screenwriter (with a gay past but now straight... is this based on Herbert Ross? Or the then-recently-turned-straight Anthony Perkins?). People who have less of a chance to make an impression include Joan Hackett (not really her fault - she has to play drab), Mason and Ian MacShane (Welch's husband/manager). Everyone's a good actor, I just wish they'd had more to do.

Pleasing views of the south of France. Raquel Welch and Hackett don bikinis too.

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