Last of Sheila, The (1973): Herbert Ross’ Neo Noir Mystery, Starring James Mason, Dyan Cannon

Herbert Ross directed The Last of Sheila, a self-conscious neo-noir mystery written directly for the screen by Anthony Perkins and Stephen Sondheim.

It starred Richard Benjamin, Dyan Cannon, James Coburn, Joan Hackett, James Mason, Ian McShane, and Raquel Welch.

On a Mediterranean pleasure cruise aboard the yacht of movie producer Clinton Greene (Coburn), the guests include actress Alice Wood (Welch), her talent-manager husband Anthony (McShane), secretary turned talent agent Christine (Cannon), screenwriter Tom Parkman (Benjamin) and his wife, Lee (Hackett), and film director Philip Dexter (Mason).

The trip is a reunion for the members who were together at Clinton’s home on the night a hit-and-run accident resulted in the death of Clinton’s wife, gossip columnist Sheila Greene. (Yvonne Romain).

Once the cruise is under way, Clinton, a parlor game enthusiast, informs everyone that the week’s entertainment will consist of “The Sheila Greene Memorial Gossip Game.”

The six guests are each assigned an index card with a secret that must be kept hidden from the others. The game’s goal is to discover everyone else’s secret while protecting one’s own.

Each night the yacht anchors at a different Mediterranean port city, where one of the six secrets is disclosed to the entire group.

The movie was inspired by a series of elaborate scavenger hunts Sondheim and Perkins arranged for their showbusiness friends in Manhattan.

Dyan Cannon’s character was based on talent agent Sue Mengers. Herbert Ross originally offered the role to Mengers herself, but she turned it down, claiming too many of her clients were out of work. Instead she pitched her client, Dyan Cannon, for the part.

Raquel Welch played a movie starlet and Ian McShane her manager-husband. Welch claimed the two were based on Ann-Margret and her husband, Roger Smith. Sondheim later said the part was actually based on Welch herself and her one time husband Patrick Curtis.

Richard Benjamin as Tom Parkman
Dyan Cannon as Christine
James Coburn as Clinton Greene
Joan Hackett as Lee Parkman
James Mason as Philip Dexter
Ian McShane as Anthony Wood
Raquel Welch as Alice Wood
Yvonne Romain as Sheila