Every detail matters in this whodunit that parodies Hollywood culture with a whip-smart script brought to life by a stellar cast. Before you try to solve the mystery, take a look behind-the-scenes to add another layer to the already layered puzzle.
1. Real life inspired the film.
Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim and Anthony Perkins were known about town for their lavish murder mystery parties, where guests hunted down clues. Director Herbert Ross was especially impressed by their Halloween treasure hunt and asked the duo to create a script with the cleverness of their games. “Not having to write lyrics made it like a vacation,” said Sondheim, who was working on A Little Night Music at the time. As the script came together, Stephen focused on the clues, while Anthony tackled the suspense sequences.
2. The characters were based on real people.
The film finds many of its jokes poking fun at Hollywood, and Sondheim and Perkins based the characters on celebrities. James Mason’s character was inspired by Orson Welles, Richard Benjamin’s character was based on Perkins himself, and Raquel Welch’s character was inspired by Ann-Margret – although later, it was suggested that she was actually playing herself.
3. A Hollywood super-agent was offered the part of herself.
Sue Mengers started as a secretary at William Morris before working her way to the top. The go-getter managed talent like Mick Jagger, Cher, Burt Reynolds, Steve McQueen, Barbra Streisand, and Ryan O’Neal. In fact, The Last of Sheila features more of her clients – director Herbert Ross, James Coburn, Richard Benhamin, Anthony Perkins, and Dyan Cannon – who expertly played Mengers.
4. Lee Remick and Ryan O’Neal were originally considered.
Remick and O’Neal (another of Menger’s clients) would have played Hackett’s and Benjamin’s roles respectively. Sondheim thought they looked more like the typical film heroes, and O’Neal was still hot off the success of 1970’s Love Story. Interestingly, Remick had actually participated in a Sondheim-Perkins’ mystery game; however, her team lost when they ate the cake, which was one of the clues. As the saying goes, you can’t have your cake and eat it too.
5. The boat rocked the schedule.
The first boat acquired by the director sunk. Filming on the French Riviera also proved to be an issue as the rain and the waves caused extensive delays – which the cast didn’t particularly mind in the beautiful locale accompanied by delicious cuisine. Eventually, a set was built at the Victorine Studios with a backdrop of the ocean.
6. There was a bomb threat.
During filming, the terrorist group Black September alleged that a bomb had been placed near the set. According to Cannon, the French police instructed them to take the threat seriously, as they couldn’t guarantee their safety. The actors were accompanied by bodyguards just in case.
7. Director Joel Schumacher designed the costumes.
Before directing St. Elmo’s Fire and Flatliners, Joel Schumacher worked as a costume designer, hoping to break in. His work also included costuming the cast of The Last of Sheila with the exception of Raquel Welch. Her boyfriend at the time, Ron Talsky, assisted with her costumes which caused some behind-the-scenes tension. Talsky was also credited with costume design for Welch for two later films in The Three Musketeers series.