It’s all fun and games until someone dies – “The Last of Sheila” – Warner Archive Collection

Updated: Mar 3


BLU-RAY REVIEW / FRAME SHOTS

Movie producer Clinton Green (James Coburn) invites six of his movie world acquaintances – Philip (James Mason), Alice (Raquel Welch), Lee (Joan Hackett), Anthony (Ian McShane), Christine (Dyan Cannon) and Tom (Richard Benjamin) – to a mysterious gathering aboard his yacht docked on the French Riviera.


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“THE LAST OF SHEILA” – WARNER ARCHIVE COLLECTION

Blu-ray, 1973, rated PG

Best extra: Only one: A commentary by co-stars Richard Benjamin, Dyan Cannon and Raquel Welch










CO-WRITTEN by the extremely unlikely duo of Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim – who recently passed away – and Anthony Perkins, “The Last of Sheila” is a film that, if you sit back and take it for what it is, will completely entertain you. The 1970’s expressions, hair, clothing and humor – edgy at the time – also provides amusement, as well. Directed by Herbert Ross (“Footloose,” “Steel Magnolias,” “Play it Again, Sam”), with an all-star ensemble cast, the film has an Agatha Christie-style whodunit vibe.

James Coburn (with his fabulous teeth and gravel voice) plays Clinton Greene, a Hollywood movie producer whose wife, Sheila, is killed by a hit-and-run driver in the first scene. A year later, Clinton invites six of his movie world acquaintances to a mysterious gathering aboard his yacht, which happens to be named “Sheila,” to sail along the Côte d’Azur.

His guests are Tom (Richard Benjamin) and his wife Lee (Joan Hackett); Christine (Dyan Cannon); Alice (Raquel Welch); her husband Anthony (Ian McShane); and Philip (James Mason). Clinton insists they all take part in an elaborate scavenger hunt-type game, where it soon becomes clear his goal is to discover who drove the car that killed his wife. The film, which is itself an elaborate game, is full of clues about each guest and his or her dark secrets and, of course, hints about who it was who did the evil deed. Along the way to the denouement are plenty of red herrings, more murders, and lots of snarky, campy fun.


(1) Sheila Green was killed along a dark Hollywood Hills road. (2) The 165-foot yacht used in the production was owned by famed producer Sam Spiegel. (3&4) Clinton announces an elaborate game played one day at a time involving his guests, as he dispenses of a series of secret cards containing a gossip item.





VIDEO/AUDIO

This Warner Archive Blu-ray looks terrific. It’s sourced from a new 4K scan of the 35mm camera negative, with deeply saturated colors, gorgeous vistas of the south of France by night and day, as well as some luscious interiors. Details are clear and crisp, and skin tones always natural.

The DTS-HD 2.0 audio is also good and clean, with the snappy dialogue usually clear, and the understated score by Billy Goldenberg providing a nice backdrop. English subtitles are available.

EXTRAS

The commentary by Benjamin, Cannon and Welch, which is the only extra on the disc, was carried over from Warner’s 2012 DVD. Don’t expect a lot of insights into the making of the film from this trio, although they share some interesting bits of trivia. For the most part, it’s a lot of small talk, especially when Benjamin and Cannon chat about their varied experiences as directors.

There are way too many comments about the way hairdos and clothing look, or how beautiful or handsome someone was. Everybody in the film smokes, and Benjamin points out how awkwardly he smokes his cigarette, seeing as the only time he ever had one in his mouth before the shoot was when he was an adolescent.


(1) Clinton’s guests begin their first scavenger hunt, as they’re ferried from the yacht to the seaside town. (2) They’re each given a mysterious key. (3) Lee searches a phone book for hotels, guessing the key is for a hotel room. (4) Christine and Anthony share notes as they search for the hotel. (5) Tom is first to discover the room with the clues, which include a mannikin and a bottle of perfume.




More interesting is discovering that the original yacht that was supposed to be used in the film sank. At the last minute, it was replaced by one belonging to legendary producer Sam Spiegel (“Lawrence of Arabia,” “Bridge on the River Kwai,” “The African Queen”). We also learn that co-writers Perkins and Sondheim (neither of whom ever wrote another screenplay together) were, in real life, avid game-players who would throw parties based around scavenger hunts and other group games.

Cannon notes that her character, a theatrical agent, was based on Sue Mengers, “the most powerful agent in Hollywood.” The three talk about how wonderful it was to be on location in the south of France for almost four months, as well as the difficulties of shooting on a boat: “It’s always moving!”

They point out that the costume designer for the film was Joel Schumacher, who went on to a successful career as a director of “The Client,” “The Lost Boys,” and “Phantom of the Opera.” Welch says she saw the film as a way of proving she was more than just a sex symbol, something she says she was “trying to live down.” She adds that if she had it to do over again, she would have played her part “a lot differently … less submissive and subdued.”

The three recall having been assigned bodyguards after a bomb threat from a radical group called “Black September,” and how, if that happened today, the reaction would have been much more extreme. Cannon points out the many clues to solving the mystery that are hidden throughout the movie and declares, “You really have to think to watch this film!”

— Peggy Earle


(1) Clinton prepares to dive as Alice looks on. (2) Anthony and Tom lift Christine back onto the yacht after she was nearly killed when someone started the engine and the propeller pulled her off a raft. (3) Clinton is furious at the crew for a near-miss fatal accident.


 



(1) Clinton accompanies the group to the next setting for the scavenger hunt. (2) It’s an old abandoned abbey, and the guests are given monks’ cowls to wear, as part of the game. (3) The next morning, aboard the yacht, the guests discuss the events that took place at the abbey. (4) Clinton is discovered dead -- was he murdered? (5) Each guest owns up to accusations written on the game cards. (6) Tom bares some of his secrets. (7) Philip points out the hints to the cards, from a group photo.

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