The Last of Sheila
It seems that Anthony “Norman Bates” Perkins and Stephen “Into the Woods” Sondheim had a fairly lengthy affair in the ‘70s. They were both deeply into puzzles and mysteries, and one of the things they liked to do was arrange elaborate parties, masquerades, scavenger hunts and the like for their friends, who included most of the celebrities in New York. This film, co-written by this unlikely-sounding team, was the result of that. It is a classical whodunit, involving a billionaire who invites six people onto his huge yacht for a week of fun and games. His hidden agenda is that one of them killed his wife in a hit-and-run a year ago. He intends to unmask the killer. From there we are off to the races, with puzzles and clues and liars and secrets galore, several reversals, and a big twist in the end. No way I would ever get into it all more deeply than that. You’re on your own, and remember, they are out to confuse you, all the time.
One thing I will mention is that traditionally, at the end, the culprit is led away in handcuffs by the clueless local cops, no doubt shouting “Curses! Foiled again!” Not here. In this case the un-masker, being neither Hercule Poirot nor Jane Marple, has his (or her, no clues from me!) own agenda and sees lots of possibilities in the situation he or she has uncovered. I thought that was delightful, as was the whole film. The cast is great, including a devilish James Coburn as the billionaire, James Mason, Dyan Cannon, Joan Hackett, Ian McShane, Richard Benjamin, and Raquel Welch. One of the best of this type of film I’ve ever seen.