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Film / The Last of Sheila

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The Last of Sheila is a 1973 neo-noir mystery film directed by Herbert Ross and featuring an All-Star Cast.

Sheila Greene, Hollywood gossip columnist, angrily stalks out of her Malibu home during a cocktail party one evening, and is struck and killed in the street by a motorist.

Cut forward one year. Her husband, wealthy movie producer Clinton Greene (James Coburn) hosts some of his movie acquaintances on his yacht for a Mediterranean cruise. The guests are all people who were at the party the night of Sheila's death. They include:

  • Once famous, now washed-up film director Philip Dexter (James Mason).
  • Hollywood super-agent Christine (Dyan Cannon).
  • Frustrated screenwriter Tom Parkman (Richard Benjamin) and his independently wealthy wife Lee (Joan Hackett).
  • Glamorous actress Alice Wood (Raquel Welch), and her would-be movie producer husband Anthony (a startlingly young Ian McShane).

Clinton offers up to all these movie hangers-on and rejects a part in his new film, The Last of Sheila, about his late wife. Because Clinton is an arrogant jerk, he doesn't just offer them jobs or anything. No, he arranges an elaborate scavenger hunt in which each of his guests are given cards with true-life secrets of a different guest. Whoever wins the game, by discovering the most embarrassing secrets about the other guests, will get to work in the movie.

However, a shocking, tragic event interrupts the second scavenger hunt. As the guests wonder what to do next, they show each other the "secret" cards and discover that one of the secrets is "You are a Hit-And-Run Killer." Tom figures out Clinton's true intention—the whole scavenger hunt routine is actually a clever ruse to expose the identity of the person who killed Clinton's wife.

The Last of Sheila was written by the oddball duo of Anthony Perkins, best known for playing Norman Bates in Psycho, and Stephen Sondheim, world-famous as the creator of Broadway musicals like Into the Woods. It is the only screenwriting credit either Perkins or Sondheim ever received.


  • The '70s: This movie is very '70s. How '70s is this movie, you ask? One of the five secrets that are thought to be no big deal, definitely not worth killing over, is child molester. Another of the five secrets is 'informant' — not for turning someone into the police, but for giving names to the House Committee of Internal Security — formerly known as the Un-American Activities Committee. note 
  • Accidental Murder: Subverted. Lee accidentally ran over Sheila while drunk driving, and believes she accidentally murdered Clinton in a fit of rage, but he was already dead before she hit him, and she actually "murdered" his corpse.
  • The Alcoholic: Lee — not really Lady Drunk as she's not old and sad and bitter, she just drinks way too much.
  • All for Nothing: Tom kills Clinton, successfully frames Lee for the crime, and also murders her to cover his tracks so he can keep having a discreet affair with Alice and get access to Lee's net worth of $5 million. After Lee's apparent suicide, not only does Alice want nothing to do with him because he's now no longer married, but Philip figures out what Tom did and forces him to invest Lee's estate money into the budget for Clinton's proposed "The Last of Sheila" film, so Tom won't have the money he inherited to himself either.
  • All There in the Manual: The tie-in novelization reveals Tom and Lee's last names are Parkman. Christine's last name isn't revealed in the novel or the film.
  • Amateur Sleuth: Philip and Tom both do a decent job during their respective summations. However, Tom is faking his and Philip also tried to kill Clinton himself.
  • Asshole Victim: Clinton's appalling behavior might be justified if it was just an act to catch the killer of a woman he truly grieved for. However, it wasn't, proving that he was just a Jerkass all along.
  • The Atoner: Christine admits that she informed on other Hollywood professionals during the Red Scare and now that it's over she does her best to get them work to make up for that. However, she says there are still people who, if they see her on the street, will cross the road to avoid her.
  • Awesomeness by Analysis: Philip unravels Tom's extremely well concealed murders of Clinton and Lee by seeing the group picture of them posed under the Sheila's nameplate, and the six secret cards the group was presented. He uses both to analyze and figure out each intricate step of Tom's murder/frame-up plot.
  • Bait-and-Switch: The film opens with Clinton's wife Sheila being accidentally run over and killed by a drunk driver. The audience is led to believe that the film is going to be an elaborate mystery to figure out Sheila's killer. It isn't.
  • Bath Suicide: Lee is found in the tub, having slit her wrists right after she confesses to killing Sheila and Clinton. Eventually subverted when we find out that she didn't actually kill herself.
  • Bathos: In the climax, Philip gives Tom a rundown on how Philip worked out that Tom was the mastermind behind Clinton and Lee's deaths. The tension mounts as he tries to discreetly either summon help (unsuccessfully) or find a way out of the main saloon (also unsuccessfully). Tom then approaches Philip with deathly intent in his eyes, whips out his hands from behind his back... which are wearing the hand puppets that Anthony was wearing earlier. Tom apologetically mutters that he 'didn't bring gloves', and then proceeds to strangle Philip.
  • Beneath Suspicion: Initially, Tom seems to pursue the investigation into Clinton's death because he doesn't suspect his wife's involvement at all. The others seem shocked as well when she reveals she ran over Sheila and confesses to killing Clinton. Subverted in Tom's case because he knew she'd killed Sheila and he allowed her to believe she killed Clinton when Tom himself was Clinton's murderer.
  • Blackmail Backfire: Subverted. The game Clinton has devised seems to be all about outing the person he suspects ran her over and killed her. When Clinton is murdered, it seems that the game has gone awry and that he was murdered by the person who ran Sheila over because of his attempt to out them as Sheila's killer. In the end, this was just a ruse devised by Tom to kill Clinton, and frame his wife for Clinton's murder.
  • Blowing Smoke Rings: Clinton does this in one scene as he savors the prank he's pulling on his guests.
  • Brick Joke: After boarding, Christine is not very subtle about wanting to get into cabin boy Guido's pants. After she reveals she's also on board the yacht at the end when she interrupts Tom's attempted murder of Philip, Guido pops up beside her, revealing that she was on board because she was successfully getting into Guido's pants.
  • The Cameo: Yvonne Romain, an actress from Hammer Horror films, appears briefly as Sheila.
  • Casual Danger Dialogue: When Philip realizes Tom doesn't intend to let him leave the main saloon alive, because Philip knows too much, Philip casually tries to talk Tom out of what he knows he's planning. Though by the end of his speech, he's almost goading Tom for his fallacies.
    Philip: If you're thinking of setting up for another fake suicide sequence, I must warn you of the dangers of improvisation. This last exploit had far too many loose ends, even though you had four days to prepare it. You'd even planned for the obligatory confession scene the morning after the murder. You knew that she would need some fortification when you started turning the screws. You felt you were safe because no one else on-board drank bourbon. Which, incidentally, you don't pour out of a porthole and then toss the bottle overboard. You pour it down a drain. Unless there's something else you're anxious to get rid of like..SECONAL?
  • Casting Gag: Dyan Cannon plays a character based on her real-life agent, Sue Mengers. Also, Alice is played by Raquel Welch, who, unknown to her, was playing a character that was actually based on Welch herself.
    • James Mason plays a director who is also stated to have been a child molester. He played a similar role years earlier as Humbert Humbert in the film adaptation of "Lolita."
  • Celebrity Paradox: The TV in the room where Clinton is waiting for his guests is playing 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, which stars James Mason, the actor who plays Philip.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The photo Clinton takes of his guests before they set sail (as seen in the page image). Also, the actual name of the movie itself! The 'last of Sheila', taken literally, is the letter 'A', which is the card that Tom swapped out to make his spontaneous plot work, and later gives Philip the clue he needs to work out the real story. In addition, the hand puppets that Anthony plays with early in the film come back at the climax when Tom tries to strangle Phillip with them, as does the intercom that Clinton uses to eavesdrop on his guests, through which Christine is alerted to Tom's attempt to strangle Philip, and stops him from doing so.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Philip. For most of the film, he seems to be along for the ride, and then in the middle act, it seems that Tom is the one that has figured everything out. Then Philip spends the last act of the movie explaining to the real killer (Tom) how they did it and how he figured it out.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Tom's uncanny ability to mimic Clinton's voice, seen in one idle conversation, turns out to be crucial to the solution.
  • Cigarette of Anxiety: Lee has to sit down and have a smoke right after she kills Clinton in a fit of rage, though we later find out she actually "murdered" Clinton's corpse, and he was dead before she even got there.
  • Closed Circle: After Clinton's death, the rest of the party is stuck aboard Clinton's yacht until the yacht can make port and meet the police.
  • Convenient Photograph: Invoked in the photograph that Clinton takes of his guests before they set sail, which is set up by Clinton to clue them in on the solution to his game. It later helps Philip unravel the entire mystery.
  • Cruel Mercy: After Tom is revealed to be the killer and his attempt to murder Philip is thwarted, Philip decides not to turn him over to the police... in return for Tom being forced to finance the production of The Last of Sheila (with the money he obtained by killing Lee), but being creatively relegated to script "rewrites" (which he loathes doing) and serving as a lowly technical advisor on set.
  • Crusading Widow: Subverted! In the end, Clinton's game was related to Sheila's fate only in the most tangential way — one which leaves the viewer in doubt about whether he even really cared about her death at all.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Clinton, to a tee.
    Clinton: Tell us about the rewrite you did on "Fistful of Lasagna," or whatever the hell it was. You never talk about your work. Why is that?
    • Alice also gets a nice zinger on Christine after Christine sleeps with Clinton and while they're laying in the sun the next day, says she has to sun her front for 25 minutes.
      Alice: Oh, to make up for the 25 minutes you spent on your back last night?
  • Decoy Protagonist: And how. The entire first act of the movie sets up the film as Clinton's efforts to flush out the person who killed Sheila. We see the flashback to her death, he specifically invites (save for Lee, though she was invited, she just never showed up) people who were at the party he threw the night of Sheila's death, and every line he speaks is often dripping with innuendo. He's even played by James Coburn, who aside from James Mason is arguably the biggest name in the film's cast at that time. Clinton just screams that he's the film's protagonist. Then he gets killed at the halfway point of the movie, leaving the rest of the characters to sort out who killed him, and also seemingly determine who killed Sheila. This is even a further decoy when we find out that Clinton's purpose was to just be a jerk to his friends and he wasn't trying to flush out Sheila's killer at all. In fact, his death was more or less collateral damage so the killer could get rid of his wife.
  • Destroy the Evidence: After believing she killed Clinton by striking him in the face, Lee drops a large stone on his head to cover up that damage and make his death look like an accident.
  • Detective Mole: Played with. In Philip's final deduction of the real truth behind Clinton's murder and Lee's suicide, Philip recruits Tom as his Dr. Watson, not realizing at first that Tom is the actual killer. Once he figures out that Tom was behind it all, he drops the facade entirely.
    Philip: I've had the beginnings of an idea, too, for a scenario. It's about a middle-class writer who is married to a beautiful and wealthy young woman....After a few years, she begins to bore him. Not her money, she herself. And then, while rewriting a picture in Rome, he renews his acquaintance with a cheap, but...Not untalented young actress.
  • Development Hell: In-Universe, this is the hold Clinton has over Tom Parkman; Clinton bought the option to one of Tom's screenplays but has no interest in actually making the script into a film.
  • Didn't Think This Through: Philip unwittingly recruits Tom, the actual killer of Clinton and Lee, to help him unravel the truth behind their deaths, as he doesn't feel Tom's solution to the mystery feels right. Then, after Tom disappears below decks, and Philip deduces what really happened, and Tom's involvement, he simply triggers the button to call the crew from their quarters, assuming they're on-board, makes a drink, lights a cigarette, and smugly starts to explain to Tom how Tom committed the crimes after Tom returns to the main saloon. Unbeknownst to Philip, he and Tom are apparently alone on board, and Tom has locked all the exits from the main saloon from the outside, trapping Philip in there. The more Philip reveals, the more creepily and threateningly Tom begins to behave towards Philip, to the point that Philip realizes the danger he's in and starts actively (and secretly) trying to open the locked doors, and casually gives the all-page tone throughout the crew decks multiple times to try and call the crew for assistance...Which never comes. Philip, finally realizing that Tom doesn't intend to let him live, tries to convince Tom that murdering him on a spur-of-the-moment whim will be nearly impossible to cover up, unlike the murders of Clinton and Lee, but Tom is having none of it and reveals that the entire crew is off-board celebrating the death of Clinton, (Which is why there was no response to Philip's pressing the button to call the crew multiple times) so they are alone, and he also reveals that he snagged Anthony's hand puppets when he went below decks so he could wear them to obscure his fingerprints and murder Philip as well. Philip's resolve breaks and he runs to the one door he hasn't tried, but it's locked, and Tom begins to physically assault him and attempt to violently strangle him. The only thing that saves Philip from being Tom's third victim is when Christine reveals she's also on board with Guido, and Tom realizes he can't murder three more people and get away with it.
  • Dies Wide Open: Clinton's corpse is found this way. Also, in Philip's summation, in the flashbacks we see that he died this way when Tom stabbed him with the ice pick, and Tom used the lack of a visible wound, Clinton's opened eyed and blank expression, and his own ability to mimic Clinton's voice to fool Christine and Lee into thinking Clinton was still alive, as part of his face was obscured by the small confessional window opening.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Clinton's death at the film's halfway point. Not only does it happen off-screen, (And we only see the truth later, in flashbacks) the death is even set up as accidental from a falling stone until it's determined that he was actually murdered. Since the role is played by James Coburn, it's initially an anti-climactic stunner that the big-name Coburn has been quietly killed off-screen, until we see the truth.
  • Dropping the Bombshell: Philip's reveal to Tom that he knows Tom swapped Clinton's secret card with one he made, and thus knows Tom killed Clinton.
    Tom: It's a mistake.
    Philip: Not Clinton's. I remember something else about the first day. You started to crumple your card. This one is smooth. That was dumb, Tom.
  • Dull Surprise: Rather than be horrified at the sight of Clinton's corpse, Philip and Tom immediately and calmly begin looking over the scene looking for clues with the body right there with them. Philip even quips that Clinton's death may be proof there truly is a God.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: While Philip is a bit of a Jerkass who attempted to kill Clinton over the secrets Clinton was revealing, he has a close relationship with Lee, figures out her husband's involvement in Lee's death, forces Tom to give up all of Lee's money to finance Clinton's "Last of Sheila" film, and will only allow him to do script rewrites and serve as a technical advisor during the production. Thus Philip virtually guarantees himself a comeback as a prominent director, while giving Tom the Cruel Mercy of avoiding a life in prison but remaining a penniless has-been who is locked into doing rewrites likely for the rest of his career.
  • Engineered Public Confession: Tom knows Lee ran over Sheila, convinces her that Clinton's game is designed to out her, and, due to her explosive rage in a solo confrontation with Clinton's corpse, gets her to believe she killed Clinton herself. He then plays amateur sleuth with all that knowledge, getting the others to confess which secret cards belong to them, pretending he's unaware that Lee is the killer. When it's down to two cards, one of them being "You Are a Hit-And-Run Killer," Lee drunkenly confesses that she ran Shelia over while drunk and confesses to Clinton's killing, believing she herself killed him.
    Lee: Darling. You're so smart. You didn't think it could be me. He kept whispering. He kept taunting me over and over again. Darling, he was so mean...
  • "Eureka!" Moment: It's unspoken, but When Philip looks at the group photograph, then the secret cards, it's written all over his face that he's got the final solution.
  • Fair-Play Whodunnit: Loaded throughout with clues that might help a viewer solve the mystery, like the group photo taken early in the story, or Tom's Chekhov's Skill, or the ice pick that one character is seen using right before another character can't find it.
  • Fanservice: Alice and Christine spend a goodly chunk of the movie lounging around the yacht in their bikinis. Lee does as well, though her bikini is a bit more modest.
  • Fate Worse than Death: By being forced to finance the production of the In-Universe film The Last of Sheila (with the money he would otherwise have had for himself), but being creatively relegated to script "rewrites" (which he loathes doing), Tom is consigned to a personal hell worse than if he'd been turned over to the police.
    Philip: Oh, well, actually, I'm keen on having the first draft done by a complete outsider. Someone who will bring a naivety to our little inbred circle. Of course, Tom will be needed as technical advisor. And just before shooting, for a few...
    Tom: Rewrites.
    Philip: Rewrites. Exactly.
  • Foreshadowing: The film reveals every one of the character's secrets in subtle ways long before they claim a card.
    • Alice is seen at the airport shop fondling the stuffed toys and seems like she's considering stuffing one in her bag before she's hauled away by Anthony. (Shoplifter)
    • Tom and Clinton in the black and white photograph in an uncomfortbly close pose with their croquet mallets crossed. (Homosexual)
    • Anthony getting fed up with the guy at the airport trying to pawn off the bottle of liquor to Alice as they're trying to leave and knocking the guy down and breaking the bottle. (Ex-Convict. Convicted of assault)
    • After swearing to keep Clinton's party plans a secret, Christine hangs up the phone and immediately tells her associate to leak the story to the press and disguse her voice. (Informer)
    • Philip doing a dog food commercial with child actresses. One even gets into his lap as he's on the phone to his wife. (Little Child Molester)
    • When Lee tells Tom of Clinton's invitation, he asks for a sip of her drink. She quickly moves the glass away, tells him it's ginger ale, and offers to get him glass so he can't sip it and know there's alcohol in it. (Alcoholic.)
    • One bit of foreshadowing seems completely morbid until the film subverts it. When Tom comes to take Lee to bed on their first night on the yacht, Lee says, "I'd kill myself for a hot bath. Clinton has the only tub." Later in the film, she's found dead from an apparent suicide in Clinton's bathtub. Subverted when the flashbacks reveal Tom put her in the bath himself, and slit her wrists to stage it as a suicide.
  • Freak Out: Alice screams and almost collapses when they find Clinton's corpse.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: When the slips of paper are handed out and given milliseconds of screen time, one says "Alcoholic" which doesn't reappear until the end, providing an early hint that one of the secrets is fake.
  • Genre Savvy: Philip, a director, at the beginning of his third act summation of what really happened with Clinton and Lee's death's refers to his own summation as "The Director's Cut."
  • Gentleman Snarker: Philip. He gets a golden moment after they find that Clinton has apparently been killed by a falling piece of stonework at the monastery.
    Philip: Apparently, there is a God.
    • Also, after Tom nearly kills him:
      Philip: Well, I think I'll turn in. I'm almost dead on my feet.
  • Group Picture Ending: The film ends with a Call-Back shot of the snapshot Clinton took of his six guests.
  • Halfway Plot Switch: Starts out as a comedy about a complex Scavenger Hunt-type game, then turns into a murder mystery, then turns into a mystery to unravel the seeming solution arrived at in the film's second act.
  • Hand of Death: During the initial Necro Cam flashbacks during Philip's summation, we just see the hand of the killer as Philip surmises they may have dropped the cigarette they found burned in the priest's box so Clinton would lean forward and they could stab him in the back of the neck with the ice pick, and see that transpire on screen. It's only after Philip deduces Tom is the killer that the flashbacks show the murder sequence with Tom's face visible.
  • Hand Puppet: Anthony the weirdo brings his hand puppets on the trip. Later, Tom tries to use them to strangle Phillip
    Tom: I don't have any gloves.
    Philip: ...Oh.
  • Hidden Depths: Philip, one of the characters who most seems to be along for the ride, is the one who deduces the true solution to the entire mystery.
  • Horrible Hollywood: The main characters are all either selfish, ladder-climbing venal Hollywood types or selfish, successful venal Hollywood types. The film ends with two people deciding to let a double murderer go free as long as they can get a movie produced as part of the deal. To be fair, while they are enriching themselves, they're also sticking the murderer with a Fate Worse than Death.
  • Idiot Ball: For all of his intelligence, Philip comes close to running with it when he ropes in Tom (who killed Clinton and Lee) to help him ferret out the true solution to the mystery in the third act. To be fair, he didn't know at the start of his summation that Tom was the actual killer, but after he does figure it out, he simply presses the crew call button to sound the tone in the crew's quarters, smugly makes a drink, lights a cigarette, and waits for Tom's return to explain what he's figured out, not considering that if Tom has already murdered at least once, he won't be afraid to murder Philip to keep his secrets safe if he has to. To his credit, Philip manages to figure out quickly that he's holding the idiot ball and makes efforts to save himself, but the crew is apparently all off board and Tom has locked him in the main saloon so Philip can't run for safety. Tom makes a pretty strong go of throttling Philip once Philip has revealed he knows all. It's only Christine and Guido's surprise presence on the yacht that saves him from being a third victim.
  • Inheritance Murder: Tom initially frames, and then kills, Lee in part so he can inherit the $5 million that she's worth.
  • Inspector Lestrade: Philip occasionally assumes this role during Tom's summation of Clinton's murder. Tom returns the favor as Philip starts to work out the REAL truth behind Clinton and Lee's deaths. In Tom's case, it's extremely intentional, as he is the killer and doesn't want Philip to figure it out.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Philip and Lee. Lee thanks Philip for always being nice to her as a child. Philip lampshades this with a comment that he still remembers her sitting on Olivia De Havilland's lap. Though with the reveal that Philip's secret is that he was a "Little Child Molester," it does shed some questioning light on whether or not that was why Philip is so nice to her. However, Lee and Philip's friendship appears completely genuine, and there's no hint that Philip ever tried to do anything to Lee as a child.
  • Internal Reveal: The audience finds out about the secrets actually being real facts about the players, and the existence of the "hit-and-run killer" card, before all the characters become aware of those things.
  • Irony: The ending of the movie proves just what rotten friends these people are to each other. The final shot and ending credits are set to Bette Midler's song "(You've got to have) Friends".
  • Jerkass: Clinton, who delights in embarrassing and humiliating his guests as he dangles the prospect of work in front of them. Honestly, it's a little surprising that no one murdered him sooner, given that this is noted to be typical of his behavior. In Clinton's defense, he knows everyone except the independently-wealthy Lee all need his money and connections as their careers have either stalled or haven't yet taken off.
  • Jerk Ass Has A Point: While Clinton's game is a bit ruthless in that it is designed to expose a number of the players' darker secrets, they're all hangers on, has-beens or never-weres, desperate to use the successful Clinton to capture, or re-capture, their success, and he knows that they'll play the game because he's promised they'll reap the rewards if they do well upon the successful completion of the game.
    Clinton: Come on, come on, squeeze in close or you'll be out of the picture...And I don't mean this one. Perfect! A study of six hungry failures. Just kidding, gang.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Tony is blunt, and sometimes mean-spirited, but he doesn't hesitate to dive into the water to save Christine from the propeller and out of everyone there, he is the only one who isn't having an affair, plotting a murder or willing to cover up a murder.
    • Also, Philip. Like Anthony, he's also not having an affair, and while he does make an attempt on Clinton's life to keep the secrets from being revealed, but he demonstrates he's very close to the group outsider, Lee, and seems quite heartbroken at her death. He manages to out Tom as her killer, and punishes Tom in a way that is a personal Hell to Tom, while having the secondary outcome of allowing him to enrich himself.
  • Jerk With A Heart Of Jerk: Tom. Not only does he know Lee killed Sheila, he doesn't report it to the police, and ends up using it as a wedge to drive his wife to the breaking point by convincing her the entire purpose of the game Clinton invited them to is to flush her out as Sheila's killer. Not only does Tom murder Clinton, He allows Lee, who hit his corpse with a big floor candlestick, to believe that SHE was the one that killed Clinton. After she successfully makes his death look accidental by hitting the corpse's head with a falling stone from the monastery they're in, Tom muddies her efforts by swapping the stone with one from the bottom of the wall to make it look exactly like what Lee was trying to avoid. A cover up of a murder, because the stone was located too close to the ground to have fallen on Clinton's head. Tom then plays amateur detective when the group assembles to work out the mystery, "accidentally" revealing his wife as responsible for Sheila's death and as being Clinton's killer. Knowing she's an alcoholic, he drugs the yacht's bourbon, since she's the only one that drinks it, waits for her to pass out, then carries her to Clinton's cabin, drops her in the bathtub, and SLITS HER WRISTS to make it appear that she committed suicide out of guilt. He does all this because he had an affair with Alice and wants the affair to continue, and because he's bored of Lee and wants her $5 million net worth. Even worse, initially Tom was just going to frame Lee for Clinton's murder. After she blows up and believes she murdered Clinton herself, Tom takes the opportunity to simply kill her and fake it as a suicide rather than deal with an arrest and trial. Tom even attempts to kill Philip after Philip manages to figure out how Tom did it all, and is only saved because Christine remained on board to sleep with a cabin boy and is thus an eyewitness to Tom's crimes.
    Tom: You know too much to live.
  • Kill the Cutie: While she did run over Sheila, Lee was drunk and it was purely an accident. Despite all of this, Lee is the most generous and sweet member of the group, never attempts to stab anyone in the back, and truly loves her husband, Tom. Tom rewards her for this by framing her for Clinton's murder, murdering Lee, and staging it as though she committed suicide.
  • The Last Title: The Last of Sheila.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: A lot of this, as the characters are all movie people who call out the story beats as if they're in a movie. When they reach the abandoned monastery, they compliment the set design. When Philip is explaining how the whole mystery went down, he says "Dissolve", and the scene dissolves to the next scene.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: Lee does this after she seemingly kills Clinton, by dropping a heavy stone on Clinton's face and making it appear he was killed by the large falling stone from the crumbling stone monastery.
  • Meaningful Background Event: As Philip begins to reveal how Tom did it, we see Tom, from behind, as he casually drops Anthony's hand puppets on the couch next to him, without Philip noticing. After Philip reveals all, Tom Jump Scares into an upright position on the couch with the hand puppets on his hands, telling Philip he didn't have any gloves, and revealing he intends to use them to cover his prints in Philip's murder.
    • Also, as Philip looks at the photograph and the clue cards, we see someone locking the outside doors. This is revealed to have been Tom, locking Philip in the saloon so he couldn't escape and Tom could strangle him.
  • Mistaken for Prostitute: As Christine is walking around town during the first scavenger hunt, holding a key to an unknown room, she keeps getting approached by johns thinking she's a Streetwalker offering the key to her room.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Christine and Alice wear bikinis for decent amount of their screen time.
  • Murder Is the Best Solution: Tom's initial plan is to just kill Clinton and frame Lee for it. Based on Lee's many mistakes after Clinton's death (including striking his corpse herself and believing she was Clinton's true murderer,) she makes a drunken confession and isolates herself in her cabin. Since her words and actions convinced everyone she's suicidal, Tom waits for her to pass out, then murders her, staging it as a suicide, avoiding any trial and getting access to all her money.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Subverted. Tom plays this up when he "reveals" Lee ran over Sheila and "accidentally" reveals she murdered Clinton. It was intentional, and Tom murdered Clinton himself, he just let Lee believe she did.
    • Played straight with Lee. After she rams the large floor candlestick through the priest's box window and Clinton's corpse falls out with his face mangled from the blow, Lee has this terrified reaction and even has to smoke a cigarette to calm her nerves. She never for moment realizes Clinton was already dead before she hit him.
  • Necro Cam: Phillip explains the extremely complicated murder solution to Tom. The killer may have dropped the cigarette they found burned in the priest's box so Clinton would lean forward and they could stab him in the back of the neck with the ice pick, and see that transpire on screen.
  • Never One Murder: Tom murders Clinton, then murders Lee because it's convenient and he can get away with it. When Philip works out what Tom has done, Tom tries to murder him too.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: By confronting Tom alone, Philip gives Tom the perfect opportunity to murder him to silence him, and Tom very nearly does.
    Tom: That gives us plenty of time, because the entire crew is happily celebrating the death of their master in the port.
    Philip: Aren't we lucky.
  • Nice to the Waiter: Christine is very nice to Guido, the yacht's cabin boy. Granted, she's trying to get into his pants, but she's nice about it. Eventually, she's even successful, though they don't quite seal the deal because rather than getting mood music when she turned on Clinton's intercom, she got Philip and Tom's conversation instead.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: One of the gags was how all the characters are modeled after real people. Philip Dexter, the once-great director now reduced to appearing in commercials, is Orson Welles. Christine is actually Real Life agent Sue Mengers, who gave the role to her client, Dyan Cannon. Tom Parkman is actually Anthony Perkins himself, a closeted gay man married to a woman, whose career had stalled (Perkins's career had stalled due to typecasting after Psycho). Alice and Anthony Wood are actually based on Raquel Welch and her then-husband, producer Patrick Curtis. (Sondheim got Welch to play the part by lying and telling her that Alice and Anthony were based on Ann-Margaret and her husband. While initially it was believed Mengers was offered the role of Christine, Word of God from Dyan Cannon herself in a 2020 Q/A about the film was that Mengers wasn't actually offered the role.)
  • Notable Non Sequitur: The film is loaded with them.
    • Clinton telling the group they don't have to do anything to play the game "You won't have to, IF you're smart enough." It's because the photo he took of all of them under the "Sheila's" nameplate has them posed under the initial letters of each of their secret cards. If they look at the photograph, and pick up that the secret cards each start with an initial from "Sheila," they can deduce who has what card without having to leave the yacht. Philip uses this fact to out Tom as a killer later.
    • Tom being the last person seen using the ice pick before it disappears. In the flashbacks, we see he used it to stab Clinton in the back of the neck and quickly kill him before Lee arrived.
    • Tom mimicking Clinton's voice, which is a key plot point later. "Well. Hi ho, gang. Going over your hand signals for the bridge tournament?"
    • Tom asking Lee if she remembers Alice being arrested for taking something from a shop. I.E., referencing the shoplifter secret card. It's because Tom wants to tip Lee off that the secret cards are all one of their own secrets, simply shuffled among themselves, and get her to panic and look at the false card he made up that says "YOU Are a Hit-And-Run Killer."
    • Clinton's glassy-eyed, staring off into space reveal to Christine, who actually screams in surprise, which the audience discovers was a clue that Clinton was already dead even before Christine shows up.
    • Christine subtly reveals the former without realizing it, Philip overhears her remarking about the glazed, far-away expression in his eyes. It comes to his mind again as he works out what really happened.
    • "She was in AA once." (Lee) Indicating that a card was replaced, The "YOU Are an Alcoholic" card which we briefly see only once when Clinton passes out the cards on the first day. Philip remembers the moment later, and figures out Tom swapped out the cards.
    • Philip, observing Lee's bourbon bottle being tossed out of the porthole of Lee's cabin into the ocean, to hide that it was drugged by Tom. He references that Tom could have poured the liquor down the drain, but he didn't, which makes the act all the more suspicious.
  • Novelization: The film has a tie-in novel penned by Alexander Edwards. Unlike other novels based on screenplays, roughly 95% of what we see in the film is in the novel itself.
  • Oh, Crap!: Lee, after she thinks she killed Clinton.
    • Philip, when Tom reveals he's wearing Anthony's hand puppets to strangle him because he doesn't have any gloves. Philip's response is to say, "Oh," and make a run for it.
  • Older and Wiser: Philip. He's one of the best players at Clinton's game, and even when Tom, who came up with a perfectly logical and complete solution to the murder of Clinton, and the deaths of Sheila and Lee, Philip sees through the flaws, and then, after laying eyes on the photo Clinton took of the group, is able to systematically tear apart each one of Tom's well-constructed lies to determine the REAL solution.
  • Ominous Latin Chanting: Clinton arranges some cassette players to play Gregorian chants as the scavengers root through the monastery.
  • The Perry Mason Method: Philip's breaking down of Tom's murderous shenanigans. Tom is quite forthcoming with answers to all of Philip's questions, in part because he also plans to murder Philip for knowing too much. He even lampshades Philip's summation halfway through by asking Philip if Philip believes he'll get away with all of it.
  • Plot Twist: Several zig-zags in the story: Clinton's cruise is actually a ruse to expose the killer of Sheila, Clinton ends up getting murdered, Lee confesses to killing both Sheila and Clinton and commits suicide, Philip figures out that Tom actually murdered Clinton and Lee (and that Clinton wasn't behind the ruse to expose Sheila's killer) And Philip also reveals that an earlier attempt to kill Clinton by starting the yacht's engines while Clinton and Christine were in the water was actually engineered by Philip himself.
  • Posthumous Character: One of the most striking things about the film is the extent to which this trope is downplayed. In the end, no one of Sheila's friends seems to be interested in Sheila as a person and a character — only as a potential source of revenue from the adaptation. Not even her husband, who, as it turns out in the end, likely never intended to investigate into her death, and the entire game was just that, a game intended to expose some quasi-deep secrets about the party guests.
  • Red Herring:
    • The whole incident in which someone turns on the engine, nearly killing Christine as she swims. It turns out to be Phillip, who was trying to kill Clinton (also out swimming), but it's not related to the main mystery.
    • Sheila suddenly leaving the party on the night of her death (most probably she just got mad at Clinton).
    • The entire first act sets up Clinton's game as an elaborate piece to flush out the driver who ran Shelia over. By the end of the film, we find out that Clinton never intended for that to be the result. He was simply intending to torment the assembled guests and it was actually Tom that worked behind the scenes to make the game appear to be all about outing Sheila's killer. He did so because Lee, his wife, was the actual culprit, he knew, and was trying to frame her for Clinton's eventual murder.
  • The Reveal: Several! Tom killed both Clinton and Lee. Clinton's game wasn't about his wife's death at all, it was just him screwing with his guests because he's a Jerkass. Lee's secret wasn't "Hit-and-run killer", even though she actually was the hit-and-run driver who killed Sheila, it was "Alcoholic". Tom changed the cards when he whipped up a spur-of-the-moment plan to kill Clinton and frame Lee, before deciding to kill Lee instead, thus allowing him to get back the script he sold to Clinton, and get access to Lee's money.
  • Rewatch Bonus: All the clues to unravel the mystery are shown to the audience. Once Tom is revealed as responsible for it all, the audience can go back and see the clues they missed in real time that all pointed to Tom being the killer.
  • Saying Too Much: Really, Philip's entire summation to Tom that he knows Tom is the killer. Especially since he is apparently alone on the yacht, Tom has locked him into the main saloon, and almost gets away with murdering Philip too.
  • Scavenger Hunt: A particularly elaborate one with a series of clues.
  • Shout-Out: Clinton (James Coburn) mockingly refers to Tom's latest film as "A Fistful of Lasagna". This is obviously a jab at the Spaghetti Western genre, namely, such films by Sergio Leone as the pioneer A Fistful of Dollars and A Fistful of Dynamite. The latter one, shot two years before The Last of Sheila, featured Coburn himself in a leading role.
  • Spotting the Thread: Phillip is not satisfied with the tidy solution. He ponders the card that says "Little Child Molester", with the odd redundancy of "little". He realizes that the card secrets — "shoplifter", "homosexual", "ex-convict", "informer", "little child molester", and "hit-and-run killer" — are supposed to be an acrostic that spells out "SHEILA". The only problem is that they actually spell out "SHEILH" because there's no card that starts with A. Phillip realizes that "hit-and-run killer" doesn't fit... and that was Tom's card. Then he remembers Tom crumpled up his card, but the "hit-and-run killer" card is uncrumpled, and deduces the original card was "alcoholic," which is a secret that would fit Lee AND would make up the A in "Sheila". He unravels the whole mystery from there.
  • The Summation: The film actually has two. Tom gives one with everyone present, and it's completely false. Philip then gives a second with Tom (who is the killer) present. It's also revealed he gave it to Christine as well, though he didn't realize she was aboard the yacht at the time.
  • Thousand-Yard Stare: The second-to-last shot of the film is of Tom staring blankly into the camera, completely broken thanks to the Cruel Mercy that Phillip has subjected him to.
  • Title Drop: Clinton wants to make a movie called The Last of Sheila. This doubles as Foreshadowing when Phillip later realizes that the movie title is a vital clue.
  • Trauma Conga Line: Hoo boy. While drunk, Lee accidentally runs over Sheila. She gets the damaged car repaired in Vegas, but unknown to her, Tom gets the bill and ALSO knows she killed Sheila. She boards the yacht with her struggling writer Tom, that she's deeply in love with, and shortly before the second game, Tom hints that the secret cards may be made up of secrets of their own. Lee reads Tom's card while he's in the shower, and it indicates she's going to be outed by Clinton as Sheila's killer (YOU Are A Hit-And-Run Killer) She confronts Clinton, then accidentally seems to have murdered him in a rage. She covers up the death but seemingly makes a mistake, and during a drawing room discussion with everyone present, Tom seems to accidentally out her as Sheila's killer. Lee drunkenly confesses to hitting Sheila, and confesses to hitting Clinton with a floor candlestick and trying to cover up the crime before locking herself in her cabin, getting fully-drunk, and then going to Clinton's cabin and, in a fit of guilt, killing herself. The only death she caused was Sheila's. Tom killed Clinton, made her believe she killed him, and then killed Lee as well. Worse, she opens her eyes when Tom puts her in Clinton's tub, indicating she may be aware of what Tom is doing, but in her stupor, can do nothing to stop it.
  • Undying Loyalty: Rather than turn Tom over to the police, Philip and Christine keep the secret that he killed Clinton and Lee, though they force him to turn over Lee's money, and Philip will only allow him to do rewrites on the upcoming planned film and serve as a technical advisor, giving Tom Cruel Mercy.
    Philip: Uh, now that the truths are known, we've begun to see this as a big, big project. There are gigantic themes here, worthy of Dostoyevsky. There's innocence, guilt, hatred...Loyalty. Lee's ambitions for Tom were such that we, as survivors, feel bound to tell Sheila's story in all its pitiless purity, sparing nothing.
  • Voice Changeling: Tom's really good at imitating Clinton. That's important.
  • Wham Line: The one that begins unraveling the entire plot, and lets us know Tom's entire, lengthy summation in the second act was completely bogus, and he killed Clinton.
    Philip: This photograph, showing the six of us, carefully posed under each of the initial letters of our assigned secrets. Something in plain view the whole week. Something he could lord over us Sunday morning. Shoplifter, Homosexual, Ex-Convict, Informer, Little Child Molester...Hit-and-run Killer? The last of "Sheila" should be an "A." "Hit-and-run" doesn't begin with an "A," does it, Tom.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: After Clinton's death and Lee's "suicide," the yacht docks, Anthony and Alice leave to go stay at a hotel as they wait for the inquest at the beginning of the third act, and we never see them again for the rest of the film.
  • Where Everybody Knows Your Flame: As Christine wanders around a seaside town trying to solve the first scavenger hunt, she stumbles into a lesbian bar. A bunch of butch lesbians gape at her before she beats a hasty retreat.
  • Xanatos Speed Chess: That's a pretty elaborate plan that Tom came up with on the fly, once he was aboard Clinton's yacht and discovered the nature of the scavenger hunt. He even modifies it when Lee gives him the perfect opportunity to kill her and stage it as a suicide.