The Watchers

The Watchers

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Clue (1985)

If I was ever stranded on a desert island with a TV/DVD player and only eight movies, Clue would definitely be one of them. Recently celebrating its 30th anniversary (it was released in America on 13th December 1985), it's a raucous, endlessly quotable, comedy murder mystery. Clue was the first film to be based on a board-game. There have been others since, but Clue is the original and best. 

Directed and written by Jonathan Lynn (from a story by Lynn and John Landis), it takes the basis of the board-game as the jumping-off point. Six people- Mrs White, Mrs Peacock, Miss Scarlet, Mr Green, Colonel Mustard and Professor Plum- are invited to Hill House for dinner, where they meet the butler Wadsworth and the maid Yvette. Their host Mr Boddy arrives and announces he has been blackmailing them all. The six are given weapons and told to kill Wadsworth - however, it's not the butler who dies, but Mr Boddy. But who killed him, where, and with what? It's not too long before the body count starts to rise and the utter absurdity of the situation reaches boiling point. 

A point of clarification here: the film is based on the American version of the game, hence the name Clue (rather than Cluedo). It is for this reason that Michael McKean's character is Mr Green, not Reverend Green, the victim is Mr Boddy (rather than Dr. Black) and one of the weapons is the wrench and not the spanner. Incidentally, the house in the film is named after producer Debra Hill.

Clue plays like an Agatha Christie novel told through the filter of a 1940s screwball comedy. Performance-wise, it's solid across the board. For me, this is Tim Curry's second best film role (I'm sorry, but his performance in The Rocky Horror Picture Show will always be his best to me) and he is just superb as Wadsworth: dry, sarcastic, unflappable (at least to start with). It was very nearly a different story as both Leonard Rossiter (Rising Damp) and Rowan Atkinson were originally considered for the role before Lynn- who had known Curry for years- personally asked him on board. 

Eileen Brennan is great as Mrs Peacock, starting off as relatively normal and chatty before becoming more and more unhinged as the night goes on. Lesley Ann Warren (a late replacement for Carrie Fisher) vamps it up something rotten as the sultry Miss Scarlet, whilst Madeline Kahn threatens to add petty larceny to a possible murder charge with her performance as Mrs White almost stealing the entire show. Michael McKean's performance as Mr Green is hilarious; his cries of 'I didn't do it' getting more and more shrill as the bodies start to mount up. Martin Mull gives a dignified air to Colonel Mustard, even in the mounting absurdity around him, whilst Christopher Lloyd's thoughtful Professor Plum rounds the main cast off with style. 

Lynn's script absolutely crackles with hilarious one-liners and delicious non sequiturs. It has been known for a group of my friends to spend many an inebriated- and not so inebriated- night quoting from the film. I have too many favourites to list them all- and several of the best ones run the risk of spoiling main plot points- but it's a rare script where almost every line is a good one. Madeline Kahn gets some of the best lines and I do have to mention her sublime ad-lib of 'I hated her... so much... flames... flames on the side of my face...' There's also a lot of great visual comedy as well, some very black comedy involving a few of the dead bodies and- the coup de grace- the final fifteen minutes of the film where Wadsworth explains the solution which has the entire cast running from room to room. 

One of the things most people know about Clue is its ending. Or, rather, endings. Yep, the movie has three different endings. If you watch it on DVD, all three endings are played one after the other (with interstitial cards between). However, you also have the option of watching one of the endings picked at random. When shown in cinemas, one ending were randomly distributed so it wasn't ever sure exactly who was doing it (something that critics had a particular beef for). For my money, the third and final ending is a much more satisfying one (which actually makes sense). 

On first release, the film didn't get particularly good reviews- Roger Ebert said 'Fun... is in short supply' whilst New York Times critic Janet Maslin claimed the film had 'little genuine wit'. It makes me wonder what film they were watching. It didn't do well at the box office either (making $14.6 million on a budget of $15 million). Considered a bit of a flop, it was destined to be an embarrassing little blot on the copy books of all involved, good only for late-night TV reruns and home video. However, in these formats- and with all three endings together- the film started to garner some interest and, through word of mouth, it is now considered a bona fide cult classic.

Clue is a Marmite film. People either love it or hate it. Well, I love it. It's got a dream cast. It's fun, and it's funny. Very funny. I've seen the film twenty times or more and I smile every time. Peter Bogdanovich once said 'the only true test of a movie is time'. Well, Clue passes that test with flying colours. Thirty years after its release, it's still being quoted and enjoyed, and rightly so.


For more information about Clue, take a look at this brilliant Buzzfeed article by Adam B. Vary and also check out for all things Clue and Cluedo.

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