Need help figuring out what to watch this week on Warner Archive Instant? The Retro Set has you covered with our must watch Warner Archive picks! Each week, we select a small handful of must watch titles from the Warner Archive Instant catalog: some hidden gems, others well-known and beloved classics. All deserving of a look or two (or five).
Don’t have Warner Archive Instant yet? No problem: the service has a free one month trial, so hop to it!
This week we’ve got This week’s edition of Must Watch Warner Archive Instant features two films from the opposite side of the tracks– in every way possible. Our Wade Sheeler takes on the ’50s rock and roll cult classic Untamed Youth (1957). Watch it for its biggest asset: all 36-24-36 of blonde bombshell B Queen Mamie van Doren. On the other end of the spectrum is a murder mystery afloat in the French Riviera: our Carley Johnson takes a look at the irresistible intrigue of Stephen Sondheim’s The Last of Sheila (1973).
Wade’s Pick: UNTAMED YOUTH (1957)
Man, if you wanna dig the absolute utmost in rock & roll, plenty of classy chassis honeys ready for action and juvenile delinquents on a work farm, then you gotta train your peepers on Untamed Youth. Howard W. Koch is the daddy-o in charge, and he is on the stick when it comes to makin’ the scene with the coolest sounds a la Les Baxter ( a real square when it comes to rock and roll, but the king goon on the exotica scene) who trained his crazy band to get real gone. Eddie Cochran, the hippest of cats who sent ya with “Summertime Blues and “C’mon, Everybody!” is shakin’ and quakin’ like he’s got the cooties as one of the farm hands. Top it all off with the baby with the digits, I’m talking 36-24-36, Mamie van Doren in a “specialty act” with her sister, Lori Nelson, another real solid sender and you’ve got 80 minutes of the ginchiest B-Movie madness you’ll ever go ape for.
Dig the scene: Mamie and Lori are skinny dippin’ in some square podunk when John Law comes along and hauls the wonder twins out of the drink on some trumped up vagrancy charges and drops ‘em in front of Judge Steele, who just happens to be a skirt. The girls are, like, on their way to Hollywood, but judgey can’t dig what the girls are puttin’ down, so she goops up the scene by sendin’ our distressed damsels to a cotton-pickin’ cotton farm, run by a sharp dressed cowboy on the take. This chrome-plated greaser in a Stetson is hooked up with old lady judge, giving her the goo-goo eyes and makin’ like it’s love. He takes advantage by grinding all these real gone kids on his work farm, until one ankle-biter called “Baby” drops dead. (Chick was 5 months in, with a bun in the oven, so it’s like, murder, man.)
As laid out and tired as all the kids are, there’s always enough juice in their tanks at the end of the day for some real gone dancin’ as the kids just about flip their lids every night – Mamie sings ‘em, Les Baxter plays ‘em and the kids are swingin’ like there’s no tomorrow. Lori rats to the judge about the work conditions and also Daddy-o Stetson swappin’ Washingtons for illegal cross the border action, as well as makin’ time with all the honeys he can handle. When Judge in the skirt makes the scene, she is frosted and tries to set things right, but not before our boy Eddie gets the kids dancin’ in the fields and their bunks. You’d be koo-koo krazy to miss the big beat, the big tickle and the boss babies that make Untamed Youth the absolute scream of the silver screen. Ya dig?
Carley’s Pick: THE LAST OF SHEILA (1973)
OK, so: no one likes playing board games with me because I am a notoriously sore loser. I take games very, very seriously and am in it to win– to hell with playing for fun. Which is why I am a sucker for an old fashioned whodunnint a la Agatha Christie because it’s just like playing an old fashioned board game. Every film in this particular genre (more or less) has a set of rules to play by (more or less) and if you follow those rules you should be able to win the game by guessing the culprit … more or less. Stephen Sondheim’s The Last of Sheila is one of those old fashioned whodunnits, and a terrific example of the all-star ensemble murder mysteries that flourished during the 1970s (Murder on the Orient Express, Death on the Nile, Murder By Death, etc.) And, I have to admit, this might just be the best of the lot; at least, it’s the smartest.
Take a half dozen Hollywood agents, actors, wannabes, etc., and put them on a boat in the middle of the French Riviera. Give them a caustic Hollywood power producer as skipper with a penchant for parlor games and a notoriously crass sense of humor. Throw in six dark secrets, lethal revenge, and Raquel Welch in a string bikini and you’ve got yourself The Last of Sheila– a murder mystery that puts Agatha Christie to shame. James Coburn is Clinton, a big-time producer whose love interest, Sheila (“a call girl turned gossip columnist”), was killed by a drunk driver after she angrily stormed out of one of his Hollywood parties. One year later, he invites six “friends” for a week on his yacht in the Mediterranean. Aside from the fact that the guests all wanting something from Clinton, they have one other thing in common: they were all present at the party the night of Sheila’s death.
“The Last of Sheila” is initially revealed to be the working title of a film the Coburn is determined to make– Sheila’s biopic. A morbid undertaking, given Coburn’s attachment to her, but this is Hollywood where any story can sell with the right ingredients. The aging and amiable film director James Mason is lobbying to helm the pic, and sexpot Raquel Welch is courting the role of Sheila. Also on board is talent agent Dyan Cannon (deliciously Hollywood in this role), a hack screenwriter (Richard Benjamin), married to a wealthy socialite (Joan Hackett), and Welch’s snobbish manager/husband (Ian McShane) . But Coburn is a calculated jokester and parlor game enthusiast, and his Mediterranean holiday had a surprise twist: his guests are to be the human pawns in an elaborate chess game that he is the sole master of … or so he thinks. Let’s just say: the fact that the word “Sheila” has six letters and that Coburn has invited six guests is far from coincidental. Sorry, that’s all the spoilers you’re gonna get.
As is the case with any ensemble murder mystery worth its price of admission (in this case, free if you take advantage of Warner Archive’s free trial) the plots are labyrinthine and therefore are hardly review-friendly fare. Which is a good thing, because the intrigue is the point of the experience, and the intrigue here is a whopper. What amplifies the popcorn-friendly tension, is the fact that the cast is having a helluva good time. These Hollywood vets are obviously delighted at the chance to lampoon classic Hollywood tropes. Dyan Cannon is a riot as the self-absorbed, hard-as-nails, yet strangely loveable talent agent, and Richard Benjamin is a magnetic chameleon. But it is the legendary James Mason who is the film’s steady rudder. Unlike Mason’s fellow thespian Laurence Olivier’s murder mystery turn in Sleuth (1972), Mason never chews the scenery. To the contrary, he is of quiet nature and is perfectly happy to occupy the corner … until it is his moment to shine. And shine he does, schooling everyone in the process on what great acting really looks like.
The Last of Sheila is a whodunnit that is satisfying in every respect and one helluva fun ride to boot.