The Bottom Line

A year after the mysterious hit and run death of Sheila Green, her husband Clinton (James Coburn) and several of his friends get together in the Mediterranean Sea for an elaborate game of hide and seek. When Clinton turns up dead, however, the stakes are risen in this 1973 tongue-in-cheek mindbender of a dark comedy.

The Rest of The Story

The movie opens with an unembellished hit and run death of a woman stumbling drunkenly across a street. Fast forward to a yacht, where a disaffected but charming movie producer Clinton Green (James Coburn) is expecting guests. Six to be exact - all of whom were at the party where his wife Sheila (the drunken woman) was run down.

Clinton decides to put the group to a little game. He gives them each a card with an "identity" on it - things like "Shoplifter", "Alcoholic", and "Informer." Then the group embarks on a trip to the south of France to play a little scavenger hunt game, where each identity will be revealed through clues and elaborate puzzles.

At first, the games are friendly enough, and the dialogue is typically clever of the yachting sort, but then there's an almost fatal accident that might not be. And then of course, one fatal excursion into some ancient catacombs leaves Clinton dead and a literal boatful of suspects.

Was it the aspiring screenwriter (Richard Benjamin) needling for a break? The exasperated B-roll director (James Mason) aching for recognition? The ambitious agent (Dyan Cannon)? The scorned actress (Raquel Welch)? The jealous husband (Ian McShane)? Well, if I told you, that just would be the last of Sheila, now, wouldn't it?

My Thoughts

It's strange to think of this film as a vanity project, considering how unadorned the film is of Hollywood glitz and glamour. Even though the majority of the film takes place in scenic European coastal cities and on a 25-foot luxury yacht, the whole film is grimy, the inadvertent result of the sleazy characters that lurk within it.

I bet you're thinking the same thing I did when I saw the end credits: what the heck are Norman Bates and a Broadway legend doing writing screenplays together? Well, the answer to that question also explains a bit more. Sondheim and Perkins were close friends, and they and their New York circle were constantly inventing elaborate scavenger hunt games that took days to complete, and occasionally involved intercontinental travel. Hence the puns and puzzles that riddle the script.

Besides the deliciously diabolical acting of Coburn and Mason (masters of the raised eyebrow and "who, me?" look that garners instant suspicion), the normally comic Richard Benjamin and the feisty Dyan Cannon provide some sharp banter themselves. Raquel Welch is just there to look pretty, but manages her role well enough, while the squirrely Ian MacShane serves as your typical red herring. But does he hold a deeper secret?

I had heard about this film through a friend of a friend, and caught it rather idly on television one afternoon. Being a lover of puzzles, jetsetting, and James Coburn, I was hooked right off the bat. The initial mystery of the death of Sheila becomes a driving point behind the whole film, and the resolution is just as greasy and satisfying as the first 90 minutes. When Bette Midler starts belting out "You've Gotta Have Friends" over the rolling credits, you can't help but laugh and gawk at the charade that's just been played at your expense. Perhaps my only complaint is that while most of the little mysteries within the film could be guessed by an observant viewer, the ending comes straight out of an Agatha Christie novel - it's all explained at length, but the explanation is based on clues presented far too briefly for any viewer to even process, much less chew on weightily.

Allegedly, many of the characters in the film are based on real people, and this film proved to be a sort of Capotesque calamity for Perkins - he lost a number of friends with the production of this film. Still, one has to wonder with friends like these if old Tony was just better off alone to begin with ...

Rating: 9 out of 10. Sondheim and Perkins inject enough dark humor to make this a thoroughly worthwhile film for lovers of puzzles, mysteries, and Raquel Welch. Did I mention Raquel Welch?

Credits

Directed By
Herbert Ross

Written By
Stephen Sondheim
Anthony Perkins

Music
Billy Goldenberg

Starring
Richard Benjamin .... Tom
Dyan Cannon .... Christine
James Coburn .... Clinton Green
Joan Hackett .... Lee
James Mason .... Philip
Ian McShane .... Anthony
Raquel Welch .... Alice
Yvonne Romain .... Sheila

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