SLEUTH (1972) &

Let the games begin! In honor of the release of Ryan Johnson's Glass Onion, The Unenthusiastic Critic is sitting down for her first viewing of two clever mysteries that inspired the Knives Out franchise: Joseph L. Mankiewicz's Sleuth (1972), starring Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine; and Herbert Ross's The Last of Sheila (1973), starring Richard Benjamin, James Mason, Joan Hackett, Dyan Cannon, Raquel Welch, Ian McShane, and James Coburn.

Both inspired by real-life mystery parties hosted by the great Stephen Sondheim, Sleuth and The Last of Sheila each open with an invitation from a wealthy and eccentric puppet master with a penchant for elaborate games. Featuring plenty of tricks, twists, turns, clues, barbs, betrayals, and bodies, together these two who- and how-dunits demonstrate how game-playing can be psychological warfare, and elevate audience-deception to a fine art.

Will The Unenthusiastic Critic be able to untangle the mysteries? Or will she simply conclude that rich White people should really find better ways to spend their time and money?


0:00: Prologue: from Sleuth
00:37: Introduction and Pre-Viewing Discussion of Sleuth
11:31: Interlude: Original Trailer for Sleuth
13:26: The Verdict I: Post-Viewing Discussion of Sleuth
47:56: Interlude: from The Last of Sheila
49:03: Pre-Viewing Discussion of The Last of Sheila
55:04: Interlude: Original Trailer for The Last of Sheila
57:39: The Verdict II: Post-Viewing Discussion of The Last of Sheila
1:31:37: Outro and Next Week's Movie
1:33:50: Outtake

Notes and Links

—Movies Reviewed: Sleuth (dir. Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Palomar, 1972) and The Last of Sheila (dir. Herbert Ross, Warner Bros., 1973).
—Links and Sources: "Deconstructing Sondheim," Stephen Schiff, The New Yorker; Reviews of Sleuth and The Last of SheilaRoger Ebert,
—Find additional episodes, leave a comment, or make a donation to support the podcast at
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—"Warm Duck Shuffle" by Arne Huseby is licensed under CC BY 3.0.

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1 thought on “SLEUTH (1972) & <br>THE LAST OF SHEILA (1973)”

  1. They played fair with his imitation of Clinton’s voice because they show Tom imitating Clinton earlier (and this is a perfect imitation of Clinton as they use Coburn’s actual voice). Coburn looks very obviously dead, though.

    I think Tom killed Clinton because he thought the option Clinton had on his one great (in Tom’s opinion) script would revert back to him. That seemed very important to him, at the beginning. He probably wanted to make that with his inheritance. Although it sounded like Lee would back it if she thought he would let her.

    When Tom took the Homosexual card, it was a shock to his wife but not to his mistress. Alice, in her monologue, tells him about having the card because she knows it pertains to him (because they are looking on it as an experience rather than an aspect of identity; as the group says later, these things are all in the past). So he has confided in her or she knows somehow about him and Clinton. We know from her monologue that her lover has to be the Homosexual (actually bi, but the era).

    There are a lot of clues to Tom and Clinton having been a thing: the golfing(?) photo where they stand extremely close, the way Clinton caresses Tom’s face when he tells Tom he would hate for him to miss the game that night (it would have been better for Clinton if Tom had), the flirting in the confessional (“Do you want to kiss me?”).

    I too would like to see an alternate version where the game proceeds according to Clinton’s plans. Maybe one of those films without murder where bitter truths are told or something. But I really enjoy this film.

    The character of Philip really hits oddly. There are weird little bits too. Lee thanking him for being so nice to her as a child (apparently nothing dicey there—because of rich father?). He seems genuinely fond of Lee. He’s the one who worries about her after she goes up to bed. He’s the one who goes to look for her. He’s the one saddened by her death. He does seem haunted by his secret, but we never get an explanation of it. “Those were just jokes because I work with children a lot.” Or: “I didn’t realize the girl wasn’t legal.” (Speaking of which, he was the one to help Alice when she got in trouble for shoplifting, and she wouldn’t tell Tom who helped her because he was a jealous person. How old was Alice then?) Or even: “I did a horrible thing, but I got psychiatric help.” His is the only secret without a story.

    Lee could be the sympathetic character: an accident, Sheila dead, Lee panics, afraid and guilty for a year. But she laughs and jokes, seemingly unbothered, with Christine and Tom. And she’s not supposed to be an actress. So. Is that a cheat?

    I think Welch was quite good in this movie. Her monologue especially.

    I don’t care too much whether characters are likable or even sympathetic. It’s nice, but I really care whether they are interesting.

    Oddly enough, over the last week I’ve rewatched Murder by Natural Causes, Sleuth, and The Last of Sheila.

    I’ve been to a few murder mystery parties (usually fundraisers), and if I had that money and friends like Perkins and Sondheim who invited me, I’d certainly want to go. It sounds like brain-teasy fun (seems like they mostly weren’t murders but just mystery scavenger hunts).

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