It’s an enticing setup for an old school locked room whodunit. Johnson should know since it’s more or less the game board Sondheim and Perkins established in The Last of Sheila.
That ’73 film, which was directed by Herbert Ross, acted as much like a dark, gossipy joke about the scribes’ show business friends as it did a total mystery. In the movie, an eccentric millionaire and producer (James Coburn) gathers a group of Hollywood friends for a cruise along the Italian Riviera. While it’s not quite Greece, it certainly looks close enough when Clinton drops the Sheila yacht’s anchor for a series of mini-games designed to reveal a larger murder mystery.
You see each of Clinton’s friends–including a film director (James Mason), two married screenwriters (Richard Benjamin and Joan Hackett), a movie star (Raquel Welch), and several other industry players, both serious (Dyan Cannon) and phony (Ian McShane)–are given a card at the beginning of the week revealing all sorts of sinister dark secrets for their “characters” in the game-within-a-movie: “shoplifter,” “informer,” “ex-con,” “homosexual,” “child molester,” and “KILLER.”
But as the game continues, each player realizes that their card speaks to another person’s darkest sins. And, eventually, a murder occurs!
Despite receiving positive critical notices, The Last of Sheila was a flop during its theatrical release, and indeed had vanished into semi-obscurity by the 2000s, complete with being nearly lost in out-of-print home media before it was rediscovered by a younger generation, which included notable filmmakers who cited it as an underrated classic. Those filmmakers include Edgar Wright, Larry Karaszewski, and Rian Johnson.
“I’m a whodunit junkie,” Johnson told the Austin American Statesman in 2019 while promoting Knives Out. “The Hercule Poirot movies, based on Agatha Christie novels, are touchstones for me—Death on the Nile, Murder on the Orient Express—but also movies like The Last of Sheila, which is so incredible.”