[The following review contains MAJOR SPOILERS; YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!]
A great mystery requires a certain degree of misdirection.
The Last of Sheila, for example—a 1973 whodunnit penned by Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim and Psycho star Anthony Perkins (apparently, neither man decided to quit his day job: this is the pair’s only screenwriting credit)—begins with a fatal hit-and-run. Naturally, the audience assumes that the remainder of the movie will revolve around identifying which member of the sizable ensemble cast (a colorful assortment of Hollywood hotshots, has-beens, and hangers-on) was responsible for the tragic accident. In a subversive twist, however, the opening scene is a red herring (albeit not totally irrelevant to the story)—for both the viewer and the characters. The murder that actually motivates the plot occurs a little more than halfway through the narrative. And once the guilty party is exposed, the fun still isn’t over; indeed, there are approximately thirty minutes—comprising multiple shocking revelations, a whole additional climax, and enough expository dialogue to capsize a luxury yacht—left before the end credits roll. This intentionally convoluted, labyrinthine structure—which Rian Johnson acknowledges as having inspired his own Knives Out franchise—makes the film a delightfully unpredictable thrill ride, even by its genre’s usual standards.
Imaginative, unconventional, darkly comic, relentlessly witty, and savagely satirical, The Last of Sheila is a largely forgotten masterpiece that deserves to be rediscovered. Watch it immediately.