The Last of Shiela (1973) a (very) Belated Review

I saw the clever murder mystery film The Last of Shiela a very long time ago and recalled only one element, the murder of one character (I’ll not say which) but otherwise remembered not much of it. Here’s the film’s trailer:

The Last of Shiela is an interesting curio: It features the only screenplay credits of Stephen Sondheim (known mostly for his work in theater and musicals) and Anthony Perkins (best known as playing Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock’s classic Psycho). The two were apparently fond of creating murder mystery games they played with their friends and used this to write the screenplay for this film.

The Last of Shiela is a Hollywood dog-eat-dog story through and through, where the “beautiful” people are revealed to be anything but.

The movie opens with the hit and run death of Shiela (Yvonne Romaine) who leaves a party held by her husband Clinton Green (James Coburn, extremely good as a powerful Hollywood broker and oddball) after getting into an argument with him. As she walks around the Hollywood hills, she’s hit and killed and the driver of the car, after seeing what s/he’s done, drives off.

A year later, Green arranges a party with five of his “friends”, frustrated script re-writer Tom (Richard Benjamin) who’s been out of the game and fears he won’t again get any significant work and his rich wife Lee (Joan Hackett), vicious and nympho Hollywood agent Christine (Dyan Cannon), famous and beautiful “it girl” actress Alice (Rachel Welch) who the paparazzi follow and her rough hued -and far less successful- husband Anthony (Ian McShane) she keeps wrapped around her finger, and veteran director Phillip (James Mason), who may have an unhealthy thing for underage girls.

As in the best of Agatha Christie murder mysteries, while they may outwardly look like beautiful people, its all a mask. None of the characters is particularly noble or nice and they accept Green’s party invitation because each of them hopes that by getting close to Green, they may advance their career.

Thing is, the game Green has planned, which involves getting these five isolated and together on his yacht, seems to be a means of revealing which one of them might have been the one to kill his wife Shiela the year before.

The game, eventually, takes a deadly turn.

The Last of Shiela is a fun, at times nasty murder mystery which rewards those who pay attention to the movie’s details.

While I saw the film before, again, I didn’t recall any details except for the murder of one character. I did, as I watched it again, notice one thing early in the film which revealed to me who the murderer was (I’ll not say what!).

If you catch the details, you’ll figure it out too because the movie doesn’t hide any of its clues and, by the end, reveals all.

This is a pretty great Agatha Christie-like murder mystery. For a film that’s nearly fifty years old, it moves well and is a fun watch.