Friday, April 10, 2015

#1,698. Clue (1985)

Directed By: Jonathan Lynn

Starring: Eileen Brennan, Tim Curry, Madeline Kahn

Tag line: "It's Not Just A Game Anymore"

Trivia: After completion, this film's set was bought by the producers of Dynasty, who used it as the fictional hotel The Carlton

If they had to turn a popular board game into a movie, they couldn’t have chosen a better one than Parker Brothers’ Clue. Along with its built-in mystery plot and “old dark house” theme, it comes equipped with its own characters (the “suspects”), setting (the rooms of the mansion) and props (the murder weapons). Clue, the 1985 film directed by Jonathan Lynn, uses all of these to great effect, and, with the help of its talented cast, tosses its fair share of comedy into the mix as well.

On a rainy night in 1954, six guests make their way to a dinner party at a posh New England mansion. Invited by an unknown person, the six, all using aliases in place of their real names, arrive one by one, with no idea what the evening has in store for them. Col. “Mustard” (Martin Mull) is the first to arrive, followed by Mrs. “White” (Madeline Kahn), Mr. “Green” (Michael McKean), Mrs. “Peacock” (Eileen Brennan), Professor “Plum” (Christopher Lloyd) and Miss Scarlet (Lesley Anne Warren). All are greeted at the door by the Butler, Wadsworth (Tim Curry), who, aside from the maid Yvette (Colleen Camp) and the cook (Kellye Nakahara), is all alone in this big house. Over dinner, the six realize they have a few things in common: all work for the Government, and are being blackmailed by a sinister individual named Mr. Boddy (Lee Ving), who, as luck would have it, was also invited to the party (he was a late arrival). After dinner, the group makes its way to the study, where Mr. Boddy hands over six packages, one per “guest”, each containing a different weapon (a rope, a lead pipe, a revolver, etc). Suddenly the room goes dark, and when the lights come back on a few seconds later, Mr. Boddy is lying on the floor, dead. Obviously, someone murdered him, but who was it, and what weapon did they use? The game, as they say, is afoot…

Borrowing the main characters from the board game, Clue then fleshes them out, giving each a shady backstory to enhance the mystery. All six are, in one way or another, associated with Washington D.C. Mrs. Peacock’s husband is a U.S. Senator; Mr. Green works for the State Department (we learn he’s also a homosexual, which in 1954 could have cost him his job); and Miss Scarlet runs a brothel that caters to some of the country’s most powerful politicians. In addition to building the character’s backgrounds, the filmmakers cast six talented performers to play them, each with a flair for comedy. Madeline Kahn brings an icy stillness to Mrs. White, whose cheating husband died under “mysterious” circumstances; and Christopher Lloyd’s Professor Plum is a letch (he lost his license after having an affair with one of his patients, yet has the gumption to still ask Miss Scarlet for her “business” card). Tying all the pieces together while, at the same time, acting as our guide throughout the film is Tim Curry’s Wadsworth, who proves to be much more than a mere butler. It’s he who keeps the story moving along (he knows everything about the guests, including why they’re being blackmailed), and when the time comes, he’s the one who solves the mystery. In what was clearly designed to be an ensemble piece, Curry, with his manic demeanor and penchant for over-exposition, still manages to stand out.

As for the mystery itself, Clue took the novel approach of shooting three conclusions, each implicating a different character in the murders that occur throughout the picture (along with Mr. Boddy, several others are killed, such as the cook and an unfortunate motorist, played by Jeffrey Kramer, who only wanted to use the phone after his car broke down). These three endings were then split up during distribution, meaning it was possible to see one solution one night, then travel across town the next day and witness an entirely different ending in another theater. Aside from being a bit of fun, this trio of grand finales also kept with the spirit of the game (every time you play, odds are a different character will be the murderer).

A word of warning, though, for the novice sleuths out there: don’t bother trying to figure things out for yourself. Clue doesn’t provide you with nearly enough information to solve its mystery on your own, and any attempt to do so will likely prove frustrating. But what Clue lacks as a detective story, it more than makes up for in sheer entertainment, and even if the movie doesn’t challenge your mind, I promise it’ll give your funny bone a decent workout.


Wendell Ottley said...

I remember when this hit theaters way back when. I wanted to see it because at that time I used to play the board game quite a bit. Somehow, I just never got around to it, though. Have to change this.

matthew mcconkey said...

one of my favorite movies

David said...

Wolfman Josh convinced me to watch this fairly recently and I really enjoyed it. Already it feels like a "warm blanket" film to me; one of those films that's great to put on if it's rainy and cold and you're feeling a bit shitty. I generally struggle with comedies but this is a lot of fun.