Sunday, November 16, 2014

Trying to solve a 30 year mystery

There was a 1973 movie called THE LAST OF SHEILA. It was a murder mystery written by, of all people, Stephen Sondheim and Tony Perkins. More surprising, Tony was not in the movie and Stephen didn’t do the music. Producers really need to check out writers’ resumes.


Anyway, it was an intricate whodunit very well received. I didn’t see it. I was too busy that year watching SWITCHBLADE SISTERS, THEATER OF BLOOD, and Oscar favorite HELL UP IN HARLEM.


A bunch of years later I saw that Channel 2 was going to play it at 11:30 that Saturday night. I had just purchased a VCR so set the timer. This was in the early days of VCR. They weighed as much as a Kia, tapes were ¾ inch not ½ inch, they only recorded at one speed, and maximum length of tape was two hours.


But that was no problem. The movie was scheduled from 11:30 – 1:30. So I taped it and the next night my wife and I watched the movie and enjoyed it very much.


Until the end.


Stations dump a lot of extra commercials in the middle of the night. Who cares if a show runs a little long?


Us!!!


Right at the part where they’re just about to reveal the killer – and the tape ends. AAAAAA!!


The next few days we frantically called around to friends asking if they saw the movie and remembered who did it? Nobody did. Like I said, it was a very complicated screenplay. Thank you Stevie and Norman Bates. We finally gave up.


Several years later we were on vacation at a resort on St. Thomas. It was a rather rustic resort. Little huts, no phones, no TV’s, not even Wifi. You walked around at night with flashlights. Your evening entertainment was finding your hut after leaving the dining hall. I bet every morning the sun would come up and three couples who had given up were sleeping on the beach.


So one day we saw they were having movie night and the featured film was THE LAST OF SHEILA. We were ecstatic. Finally we were going to learn the murderer.


So we’re the first two people in the Activity Room. Another four sauntered in and the film began. Only one problem.


The film was dubbed into Spanish.


Neither of us spoke Spanish. Nor did any of the other couples. So they left. We stayed and tried to decipher what was going on. Not a chance.


And then about nine years ago I was in New York at a play reading and there was Stephen Sondheim. He sat right next to my daughter Annie. During intermission I asked her to ask him who killed Sheila. She of course was mortified and refused. Curses! Thwarted again!


So my point: People ask me why I bother to maintain a blog, updating it every day, since it pays me nothing. Well, here’s one reason –


Who the fuck killed Sheila???!!!


Thank you.

37 comments:

AndrewJ said...

Joan Hackett killed Sheila, and then Richard Benjamin (who played Hackett's wife) killed Hackett and made it look like a suicide.

Jonathan said...

SPOILER ALERT:


You'd have loved it. Joan Hackett had killed Sheila, by accident, but it was the WRITER, Richard Benjamin, who killed Joan Hackett and James Coburn. He saw Joan Hackett's card and figured out the game, so he raised the stakes by creating a new card that said "Hit and Run Killer." (The original was Alcoholic.) What he didn't realize (but James Mason eventually did) was that the first letters of the original six cards spelled out "SHEILA" and the photo Coburn takes at the beginning (posted throughout the movie) shows each player under his or her correct letter. The joke at the end is that after Mason confronts Benjamin with the truth, Benjamin tries to kill him but Dyan Cannon happens in and, instead of exposing Benjamin, Mason plans to direct the movie version from Benjamin's script.

Scooter Schechtman said...

"SWITCHBLADE SISTERS, THEATER OF BLOOD, and Oscar favorite HELL UP IN HARLEM". Bub, you just named three of my favorites. Coincidentally I saw "Support Your Local Sherriff" yesterday which starred Hackett.

Johnny Walker said...

Ken, THE LAST OF SHEILA is actually available on DVD for $11 at Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/Last-Sheila-Richard-Benjamin/dp/B008RNYMPG/

You can even stream it instantly over the internet, if you prefer that. Might be more satisfying than trying to remember the intricacies of a movie you watched decades ago (unless you have a Henner-like memory, of course).

Eduardo Jencarelli said...

What in the world happened to the text's font size?

AndrewJ said...

Richard Benjamin is basically impersonating Anthony Perkins himself. Dyan Cannon's spoofing Sue Mengers.

Mike Botula said...

It's on Amazon, Ken. I'm gonna watch it later. (Not looking at any answers among the comments). But, as an old mystery fan myself, and knowing your fascination with all things Natalie Wood....I think I know where you are going with this. And it ain't just a mystery about an old mystery movie.

VP81955 said...

What in the world happened to the text's font size?

We should rename this mystery "The Last Of The Shrunken Sheila."

Anonymous said...

The point of the title "the LAST of sheila" is in the photograph. The person standing under the last letter, the A, is the killer.

Bill Taub said...

The end of a blog! Is this your way of walking offstage? Are you oulling a Jack Paar? Now that you know is this the end of the Levine ramblings? I hope not. There's still "Rosebud" to consider.

Tudor Queen said...

I've loved "Last of Sheila" since it first came out. It's beautifully plotted, well acted and lots of fun. (I actually solved part of the mystery - Joan Hackett's death - from a clue that ended up not counting! BTW, Hackett was a wonderful actress with a distinctive voice who died much too young).

One minor correction to one of the 'whodunnit' answers above - Mason nixes Dyan Cannon's idea that Benjamin should do the script, saying it requires a more detached point of view, and acknowledges that Benjamin - whose career has been reduced to rewriting other, more successful writers' work - could be effective on the... and Benjamin says "rewrites" with all the resignation in the world.

Derek said...

Never heard of SHEILA, but I love THEATER OF BLOOD!

CarolMR said...

Raquel Welch was in this movie, right?

Mike said...

I love THEATER OF BLOOD!

Oh, me too. Vincent Price as a mad Shakespearean actor, murdering the members of London's most elite group of critics, using methods drawn from the works of the Bard. It's a lot of fun.

Jonathan said...

It occurred to me that, as this is Sunday, this might have been a repost. (It was.) I don't usually object to reposts, but I do feel like kind of a yutz for having answered a question that you had answered four years ago...

James said...

Jonathan--that's okay. I'd seen portions of The Last of Sheila but never the end (thank you late night tv), and I'd missed the original post. So it was useful to me.

Tudor Queen said...

Yes, CarolMR, Raquel Welch was in the movie - and pretty good, too, as Alice, a sexy movie star with a complicated marriage Ian McShane, who I adore, played her husband, Tony, and Dyan Cannon's hysterically funny Christine was her agent - at the end, Christine volunteers Alice to play Sheila in the 'movie' she and Mason plan.

Jonathan said...

Glad to hear it, James. Still a great movie if you have the chance to see it in its entirety.

Rus Wornom said...

It's also available to watch on Comcast Xfinity for $2.99. Never seen it, even though I remember when it came out. Theater of Blood...AWESOME.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Carol MR and Mike: ...and Diana Rigg playing myriad roles, too...

wg

Cap'n Bob said...

I remember seeing this at a drive in in California some time in the seventies. I remember nothing about it but I do know I liked it a lot at the time.

Anonymous said...

Johnny Walker said...
"Ken, THE LAST OF SHEILA is actually available on DVD for $11 at Amazon:"

Perfect example of how the internet can screw the hell out of a great sitcom premise. You could throw that premise into any sitcom and let it play out.

Before the internet.

Anonymous said...

Bill Taub said...
"...Are you oulling a Jack Paar? Now that you know is this the end of the Levine ramblings? I hope not. There's still "Rosebud" to consider."

"Rosebud" was a pet reference to Marion Davies clitoris.

Orson Welles was a complete asshole back in the day. Even he admitted it.

And now you know the rest... of the story.

Bill O said...

Perkins and Sondheim were obsessive game-players, and held presumably non-lethal versions of the Sheilah game in real life. Even the movie line,"Who does your decorating, Parker Brothers?" was actually said to them. Had the movie gone over, they had another mystery screenplay set in the thirties.

Igor said...

Ken, was that resort on Water Island, in the bay at Charlotte Amelie? And if so, was there a gregarious mule there?

(At first I thought you were maybe on St John's at the camp ground.)

D. McEwan said...

Hey! Theater of Blood is one of my top favorite movies (I have two DVDs of it, and await a shortly-to-be-released Blu-Ray of it that a friend of mine co-does the commentary track for), and it is my favorite Vincent Price movie. It's a great movie, with a brilliant, witty script, and an spectacular cast.

Plus, it contains a real-life love story. Vincent Price and Coral Browne fell in love as he electrocuted her while impersonating a camp, gay hairdresser. (That's the way for Vincent Price to fall in love.) They commenced an affair, Vinnie divorced his wife, and Coral became the third and last Mrs. Price. How long has it been since I last watched it? A week and a half.

Well, I'm glad I saw The Last of Sheila in a theater. Of course, the clever thing is that who done it is actually what the movie title is telling you, once you understand what the title really means. And I love the subtle casting gag that James Mason, Kubrick's Humbert Humbert, once again plays a molester of little girls.

James Van Hise said...

The marriage between Vincent Price and Coral Browne turned out to end on an odd note. After she died, Vincent was shocked to learn that her estate was worth five million dollars (she'd never told him) and her will left all of it to cancer research (she died of cancer). Vincent basically felt like she had never trusted him, perhaps because of his penchant for collecting modern art.

Bill O said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bill O said...

Coburn admired James Mason, and had him cast in two other of his films. Another in-joke was Coburn's character snidely referring to an Italian western as a "Fistful of Lasagna". Coburn had just made "Fistful of Dynamite". One of its titles anyway.

Jeffro said...

I'm sure you don't want to watch the whole thing over again, so it's on Dailymotion, in two parts. It's for free, so I won't specify the direct link. But by just doing a search for THE LAST OF SHEILA, it will return both parts as the top 2 search results, in order.

If you don't want to see the freebie (for ethical reasons, of course, or for whatever else...), then you can rent it from YouTube for $2.99 (as long as you start watching within 30 days of purchase, and subsequently finish within 48 hours), or buy it for $9.99.

Cheerio,
Jeffro

Belle said...

Am I safe to assume that, if nothing else, this trauma spawned an episode of MASH?

Greg Ehrbar said...

A few notes:

• Merv devoted an entire show to THE LAST OF SHEILA, "the movie OF the year."

• Joan Hackett was also in TREASURE OF MATECUMBE with Robert Foxworth and Peter Ustinov, in which the last scenes were filmed at Disney World. In the lake scenes, the Contemporary Resort is just out of camera range; the cannibal chase was filmed near Fort Wilderness campground, just a few steps from the Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue.

• Price listed THEATER OF BLOOD as a favorite film and that the actors clamored to be it because it was a series of murders of critic. Regarding the Robert Morley sequence, without spoiling it, when my Italian mother tries to force us to eat tons of food, the family phrase is "Get the funnel."

Anonymous said...

I saw the movie while a kid in my old neighborhood theatre. A little too adult for my tastes back then, but I always loved watching it since then. Starred some of my favorite actors.

Vincent Price's family invented baking powder and he went to Yale. Don't think he was hurting too much.
Janice B.

Bill O said...

Price worked almost til the day he died, partly choice, partly necessity. He'd lost his contract at AIP, and was very bitter that he jumped at easy money for Michael Jackson's Thriller instead of holding off for a percentage.

D. McEwan said...

"Anonymous said...
Vincent Price's family invented baking powder and he went to Yale. Don't think he was hurting too much.
Janice B."


Yes, and he made a nice living, but he was addicted to buying art. his feeling was that money existed to buy art with.

carolinagirl79 said...

I am a lawyer and have friends. I know who killed Natalie Wood. And that guy has no heart at all. He is mortal though and I believe in karma.

J.R. said...

I'm a librarian here for a city in Orange County, and we have a copy of the movie on DVD!