“My mouth is so dry they could shoot Lawrence of Arabia in it.”
A movie producer (James Coburn) whose wife Sheila (Yvonne Romain) was killed in a hit-and-run accident the previous year invites a group of friends and acquaintances — including a movie star (Raquel Welch) and her manager-husband (Ian McShane), a scriptwriter (Richard Benjamin) and his wife (Joan Hackett), a commercial director (James Mason), and a talent agent (Dyan Cannon) — to his yacht for an elaborate game in which each guest’s “hidden secret” will be revealed, one night at a time.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Amateur Sleuths
- Dyan Cannon Films
- Herbert Ross Films
- James Coburn Films
- James Mason Films
- Murder Mystery
- Raquel Welch Films
- Richard Benjamin Films
The fact that this all-star whodunit was co-scripted by Anthony Perkins and Stephen Sondheim (!) lends it an automatic curiosity appeal — and its loyal cult following makes it a movie all film fanatics will want to check out at least once. With that said, viewing it for the first time myself recently, I was surprised to find myself in agreement with Time Out’s reviewer, who refers to it as “campy stuff, [but] not as much fun as it should be”. Certainly, the clever screenplay is filled with plenty of delicious twists and turns, quickly shifting away from its nominal structure as a clue-a-day “game” to a more deadly exploration of unexpected murder; but I found myself ultimately more engaged on an intellectual level than a visceral one. This may be due in part to the fact that I find Cannon to be a singularly irritating screen presence; while that vibe is actually appropriate for her character as written here, it remained a challenge to watch her for two hours. Thankfully, she’s only one among many characters to pay attention to, and other actors (most notably Mason and Hackett) turn in fine performances. Meanwhile, the film is produced with enough visual panache to keep one solidly engaged as clues are uncovered and the complex web of motives eventually begins to make sense. Diehard fans insist that the identity of the killer is evident from the beginning, if you pay enough attention, thus making this one worth a revisit.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Atmospheric cinematography and sets
- James Mason as Philip
Yes, for its cult status, and as an enjoyably twisty whodunit.