The Last of Sheila (1973)

PG | 120 or 122 mins | Mystery | June 1973

Director:

Herbert Ross

Producer:

Herbert Ross

Cinematographer:

Gerry Turpin

Production Designer:

Ken Adam

Production Company:

Warner Bros., Inc.
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HISTORY

The sequence depicting the death of the character "Sheila" appears before the opening credits. According to a statement in the end credits, the film was made on location in the South of France and at La Victorine Studios, Nice. An Oct 1972 Box news item reported that shooting began at Villefranche port, and a Warner Bros. publicity release added Cannes, Nice, St. Pierre and Mougins as location sites. An 8 Nov 1972 Var news item reported that the yacht originally intended for use in the film foundered on its way to the shooting site, after which the filmmakers arranged to shoot on the Malahme , a yacht owned by film producer Sam Spiegel, who was otherwise not involved in the project. The MPAA website lists Murder Game as an alternate title for the film, although that may have been a description and not an actual working title.
       A Dec 1972 HR news item reported that Ross bought 204 puzzles and games from a London shop to use as props and decor aboard the yacht. The news item also reported that The Last of Sheila was based on a murder mystery game that Ross and co-writers Stephen Sondheim and Anthony Perkins were creating. Sondheim, considered one of the greatest composer-lyricists of American musical theater, is renowned for his passion and talent for designing crossword puzzles and mental challenges, some of which appeared in New York magazine. With his close friend Perkins, a film and theater actor, Sondheim gave parties for which they had created elaborate, competitive games, similar to the one ... More Less

The sequence depicting the death of the character "Sheila" appears before the opening credits. According to a statement in the end credits, the film was made on location in the South of France and at La Victorine Studios, Nice. An Oct 1972 Box news item reported that shooting began at Villefranche port, and a Warner Bros. publicity release added Cannes, Nice, St. Pierre and Mougins as location sites. An 8 Nov 1972 Var news item reported that the yacht originally intended for use in the film foundered on its way to the shooting site, after which the filmmakers arranged to shoot on the Malahme , a yacht owned by film producer Sam Spiegel, who was otherwise not involved in the project. The MPAA website lists Murder Game as an alternate title for the film, although that may have been a description and not an actual working title.
       A Dec 1972 HR news item reported that Ross bought 204 puzzles and games from a London shop to use as props and decor aboard the yacht. The news item also reported that The Last of Sheila was based on a murder mystery game that Ross and co-writers Stephen Sondheim and Anthony Perkins were creating. Sondheim, considered one of the greatest composer-lyricists of American musical theater, is renowned for his passion and talent for designing crossword puzzles and mental challenges, some of which appeared in New York magazine. With his close friend Perkins, a film and theater actor, Sondheim gave parties for which they had created elaborate, competitive games, similar to the one depicted in the film, that became legendary and were attended by celebrities. In the audio commentary for the DVD version of the film, Richard Benjamin ( who portrayed “Tom”) described one such party that he attended. Like Sondheim’s lyrics, the film contains many intricate clues, often appearing as puns and other kinds of plays on words, beginning with the film’s title. The Last of Sheila refers to the character “Sheila’s” demise, as well as the last letter in her name, which was the clue that led James Mason’s character “Philip” to solve the mystery.
       According to the Oct 1972 Box news item, producer-director Herbert Ross reported that seven of the characters in the film were based on real-life persons, although he refrained from identifying them. In the audio commentary on the DVD version of the film, Dyan Cannon, who portrayed “Christine,” stated that her character was based on her agent, Sue Mengers, a powerful Hollywood figure at the time. A Jun 1972 Var news item called Ross's production company, Hera Productions, although it is not listed in the credits or other sources. A 22 Nov 1972 Var article reported that the film was made for a little over $2,000,000.
       During production, according to a Nov 1972 Var article, actress Raquel Welch, who portrayed "Alice Wood," took a brief leave from the film to promote her 1972 film Kansas City Bomber (see above). As her absence necessitated a change in the shooting schedule, according to the article, Mason reportedly called her departure "inconsiderate." Her public rebuttal and subsequent criticism of the film, as well as Warner Bros.' disapproval of her comments, were widely reported in the press. A 15 Nov 1972 Var news item reported that production was temporarily shut down due to threats by the Palestinian terrorist organization, called Black September, which took offense at the number of participants in the film who were Jewish.
       The Last of Sheila garnered mixed critical opinions. Several reviews compared The Last of Sheila with a 1972 film based on the play Sleuth (see below), which its playwright, Anthony Schaffer, had claimed was partially inspired by his friend Sondheim’s love of playing games. A remake of The Last of Sheila was announced in 2005, to be produced by Joel Stillerman for release by Warner Bros., with a screenplay by John Hoffman. However, as of summer 2008, the project had not come to fruition. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
16 Oct 1972.
---
Box Office
18 Jun 1973
p. 4600.
Hollywood Reporter
15 Sep 1972
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
24 Nov 1972
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
Dec 1972.
---
Hollywood Reporter
8 Jun 1973.
---
Los Angeles Herald Examiner
22 Jun 1973.
---
Los Angeles Times
17 Jun 1973.
---
New York Times
15 Jun 1973
p. 24.
New York Times
29 Jul 1973
Section II, p. 1, 7.
New Yorker
23 Jun 1973.
---
Newsweek
25 Jun 1973.
---
Time
25 Jun 1973.
---
Variety
21 Jun 1972.
---
Variety
8 Nov 1972.
---
Variety
15 Nov 1972.
---
Variety
22 Nov 1972.
---
Variety
23 May 1973
p. 36.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
Chief grip
Standby supv
Rigging
Stills
Photog equipment by
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
COSTUMES
MUSIC
Mus ed
VISUAL EFFECTS
MAKEUP
Hairdresser
Hairdresser
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod assoc
Prod supv
Unit mgr
STAND INS
Stunt and stunt doubles
SOURCES
SONGS
"Friends," music and lyrics by Mark Klingman and William Charles Linhart, sung by Bette Midler.
PERFORMER
DETAILS
Release Date:
June 1973
Premiere Information:
Cannes Film Festival screening: 16 May 1973
New York opening: 14 June 1973
Los Angeles opening: 20 June 1973
Production Date:
1 September--late November 1972 in France
Copyright Claimant:
Warner Bros., Inc.
Copyright Date:
14 June 1973
Copyright Number:
LP42956
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Technicolor
Duration(in mins):
120 or 122
Length(in reels):
13
MPAA Rating:
PG
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In Bel Air, California, film gossip columnist Sheila Green storms out of a party at two o'clock in the morning to a darkened street, where she is struck down by an unidentified car. On the anniversary of her death, her wealthy widower, the occasionally sadistic film producer Clinton Green, invites six friends to spend time with him on the Riviera aboard his yacht named for his late wife. Invitations are sent to the actress and sex-symbol Alice Wood; her manager-husband Anthony; the brash and promiscuous talent agent Christine; Philip, a middle-aged, "has-been" director now shooting commercials featuring children; Tom, a screenwriter whose career has been reduced to rewriting other people’s scripts; and his wife, Lee, who is the daughter and heiress of a deceased film mogul. All but Lee, who claimed to be out of town that evening, were present at Sheila’s last party. When his guests arrive, Clint makes a show of carefully posing them under the letters of Sheila on the side of the yacht for a group picture. After they have settled in, Clint, while dispensing piercing comments about their lagging careers, mentions his plans to make a film about Sheila’s life. A great lover of puzzles and competitions, Clint explains that the entertainment for the week is a mystery game he has devised, which he calls the "Sheila Green Memorial Gossip Game.” To begin, Clint hands each person a small card, on which is typed what he calls “pretend pieces of gossip," the kind of “dirty secret” his wife would report in her column. ... +


In Bel Air, California, film gossip columnist Sheila Green storms out of a party at two o'clock in the morning to a darkened street, where she is struck down by an unidentified car. On the anniversary of her death, her wealthy widower, the occasionally sadistic film producer Clinton Green, invites six friends to spend time with him on the Riviera aboard his yacht named for his late wife. Invitations are sent to the actress and sex-symbol Alice Wood; her manager-husband Anthony; the brash and promiscuous talent agent Christine; Philip, a middle-aged, "has-been" director now shooting commercials featuring children; Tom, a screenwriter whose career has been reduced to rewriting other people’s scripts; and his wife, Lee, who is the daughter and heiress of a deceased film mogul. All but Lee, who claimed to be out of town that evening, were present at Sheila’s last party. When his guests arrive, Clint makes a show of carefully posing them under the letters of Sheila on the side of the yacht for a group picture. After they have settled in, Clint, while dispensing piercing comments about their lagging careers, mentions his plans to make a film about Sheila’s life. A great lover of puzzles and competitions, Clint explains that the entertainment for the week is a mystery game he has devised, which he calls the "Sheila Green Memorial Gossip Game.” To begin, Clint hands each person a small card, on which is typed what he calls “pretend pieces of gossip," the kind of “dirty secret” his wife would report in her column. Every card is different, Clint says, and should remain hidden from the other players. He explains that each day he will announce one of the secrets to the whole group, along with a clue, and the players will then try to determine who among them possesses the card with that particular secret. Before sending them by launch to the nearby port, Clint says that one of the guests is “a shoplifter” and provides each person with a silver key. On shore, the guests disperse to solve the mystery individually, and some come to realize that the key unlocks a certain hotel room in which Clint waits with more clues indicating that, for the sake of the game, Philip is the shoplifter. Being innocent of that crime in real life, Philip is amused by this pronouncement, but Alice later confides to Tom that she was once arrested for stealing a coat, and wonders if Clint's game is a way to make public each person’s embarrassing secret. Later that night, Clint and Christine have sex in his stateroom, where she discovers that his sound system is wired to allow him to eavesdrop on conversations in other rooms. On the second evening, Clint arranges for the group to visit an abandoned island monastery, where they must determine which of them is a “homosexual.” Several participants discover that Clint is hiding in a confessional box dressed to look like Alice, who was assigned the card. However, the next morning, Clint is not on the yacht and eventually the others return to the monastery to search where he was last seen. They find him dead, apparently killed by a falling piece of a column, but soon realize that he was murdered by someone among them. As the nearest police are several hours away, the guests wait, speculating about what happened. Questioning whether Clint’s game was the motive for murder, Tom convinces the others to share the contents of the unknown cards, which read “ex-convict,” “informer” and “little child molester.” When Tom reveals that the card he was given reads "hit and run murderer," Lee, a closet alcoholic, confesses that one year ago she was inebriated and driving to the party, when she lost control and accidentally ran over Sheila. Lee explains that she believed Clint suspected her, so she killed him. Lee goes to her room, and when Philip, troubled by details in her story, later goes there to talk to her, he discovers that she has apparently committed suicide by bleeding to death in a bathtub full of water. To await the inquests, most of the guests move ashore to hotels. As Alice departs, she breaks off the clandestine affair she is having with Tom, claiming she has lost interest in him now that he is “available,” and urges him to call her if he remarries. That evening, after the crewmen disembark for a night on the town, Tom returns to the yacht, where Philip, deep in thought, has remained onboard. Perplexed by several inconsistent details that he relates to Tom, Philip confides his belief that Clint was already dead when Lee struck him. Then, recalling something Clint said, Philip retrieves the photograph taken the first day and the cards given to the players, and discovers that the first letter of each card corresponds to a letter in Sheila’s name—except there is no card for “A” and Tom’s “hit and run” card makes an extra “H.” Philip also recalls that on the first day Tom crumpled his card after seeing it, but notes that the “hit and run” card is smooth. From this, Philip suggests that Clint had given him a different card beginning with ”A,” which he guesses was “alcoholic,” because of Lee’s “dirty secret.” Noting that none of the cards written by Clint were worthy of silencing him, Philip concludes that he devised the game for his own amusement and not to reveal Sheila’s killer. When Tom admits that he knew about Lee’s car accident, Philip, aware of Tom’s affair with Alice, guesses that he had tired of Lee, but not her fortune. Philip then outlines how Tom switched the “alcoholic” card with the “hit and run” card that he typed himself and left where Lee would see it, wanting her to think that Clint held her responsible for Sheila’s death. Philip speculates that Tom, after killing Clint, propped him up inside the confessional. Unaware that he was already dead, Lee struck Clint’s lifeless body and Tom allowed her to believe she caused the producer’s death. Philip suggests that Tom later drugged Lee’s drink, and when she was unconscious, carried her to the tub and slit her wrists. Claiming that Philip knows too much to live, Tom tries to strangle him, but is interrupted by Christine and a crewman, who were having sex in Clinton’s stateroom and eavesdropped on their conversation. Recovering quickly, Philip claims that they were discussing how the $5 million Tom will inherit from Lee is enough to finance a “big budget” movie to tell Sheila’s life story. Philip and Christine agree that she will cast the film and he will direct, and that Alice should portray Sheila. As for the script, Philip believes they should get someone outside their circle to author it, but that Tom will be available for rewrites. Resigned to being blackmailed, Tom does not argue. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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