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Countdown to Mystery: The Last of Shelia

September 28th, 2020

One strategy for writing an effective mystery: plot backward. Determine the ending, build from there.

I’ve heard that’s the strategy employed by actor Anthony Perkins (Murder in the Orient Express, Psycho) and Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim (A Little Night Music, West Side Story) in writing their only produced screenplay – the intricately plotted who-done-it The Last of Shelia (1973).

The film has a set-up similar to that of Anthony Shaffer’s Sleuth, in which mystery writer Andrew Wyke  (Laurence Olivier) invites stylist Milo Tindle (Michael Cain) to a game-filled mansion in South West England. Similarly, In Shelia, we have film producer Clinton Green (James Coburn) inviting a screenwriter (Richard Benjamin) to his game-filled yacht in the south of France. But he doesn’t come alone. Like Murder on the Orient Express, Shelia features an ensemble cast of eccentric characters – each of whom has something to hide.

Moreover, as with Deathtrap, the ensuing mystery becomes self-referential, with characters discussing a film project titled The Last of Shelia.

It’s great fun, and I dare say no more for fear of spoiling the surprises. (Check out the no-spoiler trailer below if you aren’t already hooked.)

This is the fourth installment in our countdown to Prime Stage Theatre’s release of A Knavish Piece of Mystery – an audio who-done-it that employs many of the tried-and-true elements mentioned above. Nevertheless, as with all of these recommended films, I trust you will find that A Knavish Piece makes something fresh with the mix of classic ingredients.

Like Sleuth, The Last of Shelia is overdue for a home video upgrade. Though available on a Warner Archive’s DVD and a panned-and-scanned VHS (for those nostalgic for the pioneer days of home video), the film has not yet been released on Blu-Ray or 4K. I suspect it has something to do with limiting the film’s circulation in anticipation of a remake, which has been rumored for a few years now.

Streaming is available through Prime (SD only) and Apple TV.

Stop back tomorrow for another mystery recommendation. Three days to go!