review for The Last of Sheila on AllMovie

The Last of Sheila (1973)
by Craig Butler review

The Last of Sheila is cold-blooded fun for fans of cinematic murder mysteries, especially those who prefer them somewhat on the chilly and cerebral side. Not that Sheila is off-puttingly erudite; although the screenplay is witty (not to mention bitchy), it's not the dialogue that will lose some people, it's the intricacy of the plot. Still, that's half the appeal in films of this type, and unlike some other similar movies, Sheila's plot never lets the viewer down by copping out, throwing in too many red herrings or misleading for no real reason. Everything that happens happens for a specific reason. Some will find the characters unpleasant or wish that they could get under their skin more deeply, but these are minor flaws. Herbert Ross's direction is visually uninspired, too often looking like a 1970's made-for-TV movie, but he's on top of his game when it comes to creating atmosphere and to keeping the balls in the air so that the viewers do not guess too early where they will land. Ross seems at a loss as to what to do with Raquel Welch, whose performance is embarrassingly weak, and Ian McShane, who is only slightly better. Fortunately, James Mason's understated thoughtfulness and, especially, Dyan Cannon's sparkling combination of unabashed selfishness, ebullience and blowsiness more than make up for shortcomings in other cast members. Sheila was largely ignored when originally released but has since developed a loyal following, partly due to the involvement of co-writer Stephen Sondheim, better known for his groundbreaking Broadway musicals.