Benjamin is a former volunteer DJ at his local hospital radio station. He has been reviewing films online since 2004.
What's the big deal?
Clue is a comic murder mystery film released in 1985 and is based on the popular board game Cluedo (or Clue in the US). Directed and co-written by Jonathan Lynn for his directorial debut, the film follows a dinner party at a remote country manor which is overshadowed after the host is found murdered. The film's ensemble cast includes Tim Curry, Christopher Lloyd, Lesley Ann Warren, Eileen Brennan, Madeline Kahn, Michael McKeen and Martin Mull. The film was released with three different endings with each theatre showing one of the three—it was only until the home video release that all three endings were included for the first time. Critical reception to the film was mixed and it fared poorly at the US box office, earning just $14.6 million. However, the film has since maintained a cult following with rumours swirling of a possible reboot and even a documentary featuring the surviving cast members.
What Is It About?
On a dark and stormy night in 1954, six strangers are invited to dinner at an isolated country manor in New England. After being welcomed by Wadsworth the butler and Yvette the maid, each of the six is given a pseudonym - Mr Green, Colonel Mustard, Mrs Peacock, Professor Plum, Miss Scarlet and Mrs White. Once everyone has arrived, Wadsworth reveals to the guests that they are all being blackmailed by the dinner's host, Mr Boddy, who then makes his appearance.
It turns out that Mrs Peacock has been accused of taking bribes on behalf of her husband who is a US Senator, Mrs White is implicated in the suspicious death of her late husband, Miss Scarlet secretly runs a brothel in Washington DC, Professor Plum is a disgraced psychiatrist struck off after an affair with a patient, Colonel Mustard is a war profiteer and possibly one of Scarlet's clients and Mr Green is a closeted homosexual working for the State Department. As Mr Boddy taunts them and unveils a number of weapons, he orders the guests to kill Wadsworth as he kills the lights in the room. But to everyone's surprise, Mr Boddy is instead found dead after a gunshot is heard and the lights come back on. The hunt is on to find the real killer before they then strike again...
What's to Like?
There are good reasons why Clue is worth a reappraisal in order to perhaps understand why it remains a cult favourite. On first glance, the film is a fairly hammy and harmless goofball comedy in which the cast are seemingly engaged in a contest to see who can overact against Tim Curry - a fruitless task, to be honest. It has a light and fluffy tone that makes it enjoyable for the whole family to watch and almost feels like a pastiche of so many other murder mystery films and TV shows, much like Knives Out did many years later. But while Rian Johnson's film is more subtle and serious in its comedy, this film is a wide-eyed lunatic by comparison. Crucially, you didn't need to have played the game in order to understand the film's narrative - such as it is because the film has so many sub-plots and contrivances, nobody could realistically follow it in the first place.
As the maniacal master of ceremonies, Curry is in his element as the initially unflappable butler Wadsworth who shepherds his assorted gang of suspects around the manor in suitably slapstick fashion. The film contains nods to the game beyond the character's various aliases - secret passages are unveiled and the suspects also feel like their board game equivalents. But perhaps most interestingly of all, the film take the bold decision to have multiple endings which may come across as gimmicky but in a home release (as well as TV showings as well), it actually works really well. Seeing it in a cinema when it was originally shown, viewers were only treated to one of the three depending on where they saw it so I imagine this wouldn't have played well with the critics. Thankfully, this is now no longer an issue.
- Carrie Fisher was originally cast as Miss Scarlet but had to be dropped from the production after her drug habit forced her into rehab just four days before filming began. Lesley Ann Warren was a replacement as was Curry as Wadsworth - director Lynn's first choice was Leonard Rossiter who sadly died before production started.
- The singing telegram girl is played by singer and guitarist Jane Wiedlin of the punk band The Go-Go's. The film was her debut acting appearance and she would go on to appear briefly in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. Coincidentally, Lee Ving - who played the nefarious Mr Boddy - is the frontman for another punk band Fear.
- None of the characters wear any of the colours they are named after - Miss Scarlet wears green, Mrs White wears black, Mrs Peacock wears gold and orange (although she does have peahen feathers in her hairpiece), Mr Green wears a blue suit, Colonel Mustard is in a dark brown suit and Professor Plum wears predominantly burgundy. However, their cars do have the correct colour.
What's Not to Like?
Unfortunately, the film itself is a bit of a fractured mess with a breakdown in coherence and comedy sadly aiming a bit too low for my personal taste. With Curry dominating proceedings as the highly energetic centre of the film, the rest of the cast don't get much of a look in although the likes of Lloyd, Warren and Camp work hard to get as many laughs as they do. Despite the intriguing set-up, the film quickly descends into a rather stagey farce as characters run about through random doors in some sort of Scooby Doo homage and comedy largely involves bumping into each other and male characters staring at some prominently displayed female features. This is almost Carry On levels of inanity and it simply doesn't float my boat. Worse still, the film introduces numerous contrivances and ever-more complicated back stories to give every character a motive and weakens the fun for the viewer trying to work things out for themselves. There is too much speculation and not enough actual evidence.
But perhaps I'm approaching the film from the wrong angle. It is a comedy, after all, and not an actual crime thriller with a serious case of whodunnit at its heart. But by downplaying the core mystery at the film's centre, Clue just feels like a talented cast stuck on a set waiting for the denouement to arrive. There's no suspense or mystery at all and as soon as you realise that the film's murder is quickly overshadowed by hammy acting and low-brow comedy, it feels a real slog getting to the ending. And speaking of the ending (or endings, I should say), there is an argument to be made that such wishy-washy story-telling is simply a way of padding the film out. Its brief running time is such that the film feels cheap and unsatisfying, especially the official Ending C which made very little sense compared to the other endings. I'm sorry but I need more to entertain me than ample cleavage and comedic bumps and Clue just doesn't provide enough laughs to justify itself.
Should I Watch It?
Scattershot and utterly unhinged, Clue makes for some interesting viewing if nothing else. Stretching its premise to beyond breaking point, the film is enjoyable if you're in the right mindset and it pokes some fun at countless Agatha Christie-type mysteries and their cinematic adaptations. But don't expect the film to be a masterclass in story-telling or a rewarding experience in general. I appreciate the effort but I'm not sure it was worth it in the end.
Great For: fans of Tim Curry, family movie nights, anyone who hates Poirot
Not So Great For: amateur sleuths, grown ups, fans of the board game as the film has only tenuous links at best
What Else Should I Watch?
One thing I can say with confidence is that Clue is the best film I've ever seen based on a board game. While that might sound promising, it's only competition comes in the form of witless big budget disaster movie (in every sense of the word) Battleship based on the classic board game of the same name. Starring the unlikely combination of Liam Neeson, Rihanna and box office poison Taylor Kitsch, this ultra-expensive action film was a flop at the box office and critics weren't kind either, dismissing the film for its inane dialogue and compared it to another reviled cinematic adaptation, Michael Bay's Transformers movies.
I mentioned Knives Out earlier on because that film takes the tired and formulaic murder mystery and brings it back up to date thanks to a fantastic cast led by a scene-stealing Daniel Craig, delicious dialogue and a tone that both honours and parodies country-house-based crimes. I am eagerly anticipating a sequel, rumoured to be in the planning stages at the time of writing. Alternatively, you might also want to consider Murder By Death which not only spoofs the concept but also a variety of well-known fictional sleuths such as Hercules Poirot, Sam Spade, Miss Marple and Charlie Chan. With another ensemble cast featuring the likes of Peter Sellers, David Niven, Maggie Smith, Peter Falk, Alec Guinness, Eileen Brennan (coincidentally) and even Truman Capote, the film offers plenty of comedy at the expense of overly stuffy crime novels and dramas.
Wadsworth, the butler
Lesley Ann Warren
Yvette, the maid
Release Date (UK)
9th May, 1986
Comedy, Crime, Mystery
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2021 Benjamin Cox