I was driving through Beverly Hills the other day and ran into the legendary Actor/Director Richard Benjamin – which reminded me of one of two of the greatest – and most obscure – movies of all time! So, thanks to this terrific Actor, I am about to share them.
First, let’s begin with a “Hollywood Whodunnit!”
“Who did this room? Parker Brothers?”
Here is Richard Benjamin trying to solve one of the many puzzles in “The Last Of Sheila”, a terrific mystery thriller that also takes time to lampoon the catty environment of Hollywood in the 70’s!
“Psycho” Meets Sondheim!
That’s how I describe “The Last Of Sheila” – a great “Hollywood Insider” whodunnit – because it was written by two consummate Hollywood players. The plot is based on murder-mystery party games that co-authors and puzzle enthusiasts Anthony Perkins and Stephen Sondheim wrote and performed in their homes!
Of course, Perkins became a star through his legendary performance as Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film “Psycho”, and Stephen Sondheim is one of America’s greatest composers.
Check out the classic trailer:
Here is the plot of “The Last Of Sheila”: Movie Producer James Coburn invites a Director, Writer, Starlet, Agent, and a hanger on or two to spend a week on his yacht off the French Riviera. On the surface, it’s a reunion of sorts, but there is a more serious turn ahead for all of them…
One of the great things about this film is the cast – a “who’s who” of Hollywood in the early 70’s…such as James Mason, who plays a washed-up Director desperate to get back behind a camera – Mason as you know was brilliant in Stanley Kubrick’s “Lolita”…
James Coburn plays the game-loving Hollywood Producer who was married to the actress Sheila – and in mourning her death, he decides to invite his Hollywood “friends” over to his yacht for a “game”…
“The Last Of Sheila” is a great murder-mystery, and I won’t share more plot details to avoid giving anything away. But the cast clearly is having a ball making fun of real life Hollywood figures.
Dyan Cannon “Channels” Sue Mengers!
In the film, Dyan Cannon plays a powerful Agent – in real life, Cannon was married to Cary Grant in the 60’s – and she relishes her role here – if you’ve ever heard of the legendary Super Agent Sue Mengers, wait until you see Dyan Cannon’s take on her…ballsy and full of gossip!
America’s Reigning Sex Kitten!
Raquel Welch was one of the biggest sex symbols of the 60’s and 70’s – she played that part in many films, but she also wanted more respect as well, and she brings all of that to her role as the starlet who needs constant love and affection…
Raquel has rarely been better than she is here – and her scene with Dyan Cannon is a delicious tongue in cheek poke at Hollywood.
Cannon: [while suntanning] “Will you put some sunscreen on me? I have to do 25 minutes on my stomach.”
Raquel: “To make up for the 25 minutes you spent on your back last night?”
The entire “Last Of Sheila” film takes place along the French Riviera, including great locations off the coast of Cannes…
Here is some great trivia, courtesy of the movie database IMDB:
“Shooting the monastery sequence just off Cannes proved to be troublesome for Raquel Welch. Gale force winds and rain disrupted the night shoot, and Welch was reluctant to leave her Venice hotel for fear of getting stuck in the storm.”
Raquel wasn’t a fan of the weather conditions, but she hung in there like a pro.
“This glamorous picture in the wonderful sunny Cote d’Azur has turned out to be a bit of a splodge,” Welch told a journalist at the time. “This is not my idea of an enjoyable evening, but they’re paying you the money. I just go ahead and do it and don’t complain.”
Herbert Ross directed “Sheila”, and this legendary Director also directed the Oscar nominated “The Goodbye Girl”, “The Turning Point” and yes, “Footloose” too!
If you want to know more about Raquel Welch’s career, click here and see her deliciously campy performance from an episode of “Seinfeld” as well!
Speaking of “Seinfeld”, here is a much more challenging film from the early 70’s that also has a “Seinfeld” connection, from iconic British Actor Malcolm McDowell!
“O Lucky Man”!
“O Lucky Man” is a brilliant, little known masterpiece from 1973 starring Malcolm McDowell, who also conceived the idea for the film.
It All Began With “If…”
Malcolm McDowell was coming off of two powerful films, beginning with his film debut.
“If…” is a searing look at class structure in Great Britian, directed by Lindsay Anderson. “If…” is a prescient look at rebellious youth, and the film was released on the eve of the real student upheavals of the late 60’s…
“If…” was an indictment of the British public school system, as we follow Mick and his friends through a series of indignities at the hands of the British school system. When Mick and his friends rebel – and rebel violently – the catch phrase, “which side will you be on” becomes quite real.
“If…” won the Palme d’Or for best film at the Cannes Film Festival during the French student riots of 1969…it was a chaotic time in history, with student protests and riots that spread around the world.
McDowell’s brilliant screen debut in “If…” caught the attention of Director Stanley Kubrick, who was in the process of casting his disturbing vision of the future: “A Clockwork Orange”.
After the success of “A Clockwork Orange”, McDowell was one of the hottest Actors in film…which led him to his most personal work ever.
After the success of “If….”, Malcolm McDowell suggested to Lindsay Anderson that they should work again. Anderson replied that good scripts “don’t grow on trees” and that McDowell should consider writing his own if he wanted to give himself a good part. Although the actor was only 30 at the time, he based the film around the concept of his own life story – and then brought it to writer David Sherwin who then crafted the screenplay.
It’s a modern day retelling of “Candide”, starring Malcolm McDowell as a young coffee salesman looking to conquer a world gone mad. Just as in the film “If…”, McDowell is named Mick. Here the young Mick is being trained in the world of coffee sales by veteran British Actress Rachel Roberts.
“O Lucky Man” is a sweeping epic of youthful ambition that runs headfirst into the moral complexities of the real world. McDowell and Director Anderson take us on a three hour trip into the surreal world of capitalism and greed – with some of the most unique images and storytelling techniques ever seen…
Here’s an example of an innovative idea in the film: the movie includes Alan Price’s outstanding soundtrack. And I mean INCLUDES IT.
What I love about the film is that you see Price performing much of the music live in the film. And the opening credits are over footage of Price singing the title track in a studio, while Director Anderson observes and then interacts with him. Here is the opening song as seen in the film:
Director Lindsay Anderson conceived the role of Alan Price’s music as a kind of Greek Chorus, commenting on the action – and eventually he becomes part of the film as well.
Also, look for Helen Mirren in one of her first roles as well, as the daughter of a wealthy industrialist…an epic, challenging film the you can own on DVD!
As for the “Seinfeld” connection: there is a powerful scene in the film that “Seinfeld” pays homage to, when Kramer thinks he sees a “pig man” in the hospital! Read that story here:
Let me know if you’ve seen either of these great films!
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