Clue [retro review]

“I’m going home to sleep with my wife.”

The Scoop: 1985 PG, directed by Jonathan Lynn and starring Tim Curry, Madeline Kahn, Christopher Lloyd, and Michael McKean.

Tagline: It’s Not Just A Game Anymore.

Summary Capsule: A group of strangers — or are they? — hole up in a mansion trying to solve a vague mystery before they’re all killed. Trust us, it’s funnier than it seems.

Justin’s Rating: If you got to go, go with a quip

Justin’s Review: Along with my tendency to get off work early, dig out my sword and flaming torch from the closet and raid the nearest 7-11 for food, drink and women, my general dislike of plays is a sign of my uncultured self. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate plays, I just think they pale in comparison to most every other form of entertainment. Really pale. Vampire pale. Rich pale. Pale pale pale. That word starts to look Spanish the more times I type it.

Clue, while a movie, obviously owes a great debt of inspiration to plays. It uses exuberant dialogue, exaggerated motions, and extremely few sets or effects. This is all okay, for as much as I’d rather be back in my Financial Statistics college class over sitting through yet another lackluster version of A Midsummer’s Night Dream, I do make an exception for genuine comedies. Comedies are the one genre that theater can still compete on even ground with film, and so to see a film like Clue use the same sort of manic gigglery as a fine-honed comedy play is to give it faint (yet good) praise.

A while ago I said on our forums that I’d much rather have Hollywood take a large source material (like a big fat book) and pare it down to make a movie version than taking a small source material (like a children’s reading primer — hi, Cat In The Hat — or an amusement park ride) and be forced to build a nonsensical plot around that thin structure. Clue, the board game, is a thin broth of source material to cook with. We’ve all played it, it’s just a pretty fun “Whodunit?” game that uses rooms, characters, weapons, guessing, and one person cursing someone else out because they lost one of the Clue cards and made the game unplayable. Other than the exciting tale of How I Took The Game Out Of The Closet And Opened It, there isn’t much of a plot to bring to the big screen.

Instead of being a major inconvenience to the filmmakers, this became a boon. Having a skeleton of just characters and weapons and an idea of a mystery gave John Landis and others the freedom to go completely silly and make a funnish (not Finnish) flick to digest every time it repeats on cable.

Clue is the morbid tale of a group of strangers (or are they?), gathered under mysterious circumstances in a forbidding mansion, and whipped into a frenzy when murder most foul breaks out. Happily, this is as zany a group of characters as you might ever gather up at a science fiction convention, each with their own trademark quirks and suspicious motives. Topping out the excellent cast is Christopher Lloyd and Tim Curry as The Butler. In fact, this might well be Curry’s best role ever, unless you’re a transvestite purist who’s asking for a beatdown from yours truly.

As the group blunders from murder to murder, trying to piece together the real culprit, we’re treated to a grab bag of running gags, slapstick high-larity, and plenty of low-cut dresses that are now the standard for MRFH office wear. Male and female. One of my favorite little jokes is when the butler is running into a room in the dark, fumbling for the doorknob, which turns out to be the knob that turns on the shower.

While no one in high society will be tittering about Clue over a sifter of brandy, it easily fulfills the requirements for an immensely reachable comedy. It’s short, it’s funny, it’s quotable (oh my is it ever), and it requires about zero brain cells on your behalf to follow the plot. Me likee.

Andie’s Rating: 1 plus 2 plus 2 plus 1…

Andie’s Review: As far as comedies go, this is one of the best! Based on the Parker Bros board game Clue, this movie has all the old favorites like Miss Scarlett and Col. Mustard, but also adds an array of new characters. The plot is almost too complicated to explain, but the antics and dialog are one of a kind.

Tim Curry is especially awesome as the butler, Wadsworth. When he starts explaining “whodunit” in the end of the movie, he runs around like Columbo on speed and it is absolutely inspired. Lesley Ann Warren is also fantastic as Miss Scarlett, being both sexy and bitchy. Christopher Lloyd gives a good performance as the perverted Prof. Plum and seeing Madeline Kahn make-out with a dead body is great. This is a timeless comedy, it still makes me laugh very hard and I go out of my way to make sure all of my friends have seen it.

PoolMan’s Rating: It was PoolMan, in the bathroom, with the spatula!

PoolMan’s Review: This is a movie I hold near and dear to my heart, and now that I’m finally old enough to enjoy it, it’s even better. To elaborate, I think I watched it out of boredom while I was home sick (cough) from school, about age 15 or so. I had a lot of fun laughing at the characters, the action, and just the whole pace. Now that I’ve got a finer appreciation for jokes about sex, murder, and monkey’s brains, it’s that much better.

Seeing as not everyone is a Clue afficionado, and Justin’s review of this movie leaves me feeling strangely numb from the belly button up, I’ll attempt to explain. The movie draws in a bunch of pseudonymed (is that a verb?) characters to Hill House in a very Agathie Christieish (is that an adjective?) way. Swirls of blackmail, murder, and sexual innuendo follow, and the ending murder mystery is actually very entertaining.

I think what really serves Clue well is the frenetic pace the film ends up at. While initially a little slow moving, the pace picks up before you have a chance to complain (it’s actually trying to establish an initial air of mystery, but roll with it) and throws you down the gauntlet. Tim Curry is outstanding in this ensemble cast. There’s something about him that I will always love. I think it’s the fact that he can speak for about 4 minutes without taking a breath. Something like that.

Okay, so I’m not doing a great job here. Bottom line is that this is a great party movie, and ideal for a good giggle by yourself, too. Rent ‘er!

One couch, two stiffs

Intermission!

  • The look the butler gives the dog after stepping in their poo and the running gag of that bad smell
  • French maid outfits don’t prevent… ah… “jiggling”. Notice how every male character always looks at her hoo-hahs whenever they talk to her.
  • Mr. Body’s throat/chin twitches while lying on the floor after he “died”
  • The great “flames” speech
  • The Singing Telegram Girl is Joan of Arc from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (aka Jane Wiedlin from the Go-Go’s)
  • Prof. Plum indicates at dinner that he works for the World Health Organization, part of the United Nations Organization. This means he works for UNO WHO.
  • The painting behind Mr. Boddy’s chair depicts Mr. Boddy in a butler’s uniform.
  • Mrs. Scarlet reads to Professor Plum the directions to their dinner date while she is in his car after he picked her up. She says that they are headed for “Hill House,” which is the name of the house in Shirley Jackson’s “The Haunting.” Michael A. writes in, “While this is a coincidence, Hill House in Clue is actually named for the Producer, Debra Hill (according to John Landis).”
  • Right after the cook bangs the gong for dinner, watch in the background. She scurries away down the hall behind Wadsworth and it’s really funny.
  • Ze ‘orrible franch acksont zat ze mehd putz on? Mon dieu! C’estmerde!
  • The parquet floor in the Hall resembles the Clue game board.
  • Only two characters are wearing their designated colors: Colonel Mustard wears a mustard-colored suit and Professor Plum wears a purple vest and bow tie.
  • The first edition of the Clue board game came out in 1949 (which was also entitled Cluedo). Cluedo was invented by Anthony E. Pratt, a solicitor’s clerk from Birmingham in England. He invented the game in 1943 with the help of his wife (who designed the board). In 1948 he submitted it to Waddington’s Games in Leeds, who published it for the first time in 1949.
  • Three endings were shot for Clue, and a different ending shown at different theaters. This was intended to up the rewatch value, but it kinda backfired. After all, since there’s three endings, there is no way to deduce the clues and figure out who the murderer is. The video/DVD version shows all three endings, one after another.
  • This was the first movie based on a board game.

Groovy Quotes

Wadsworth: Frankly, Scarlett, I don’t give a damn.

Cop: And why are you receiving phone calls from J. Edgar Hoover?
Wadsworth: J. Edgar Hoover?
Cop: That’s right. The head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Colonel Mustard: Why is J. Edgar Hoover on your phone?
Wadsworth: I don’t know. He’s on everyone else’s, why shouldn’t he be on mine?

Miss Scarlet: Why has the car stopped?
Professor Plum: It’s frightened.

Colonel Mustard: And are you the host?
Wadsworth: Me, sir? No, I’m just the humble butler.
Colonel Mustard: And what exactly is it you do here?
Wadsworth: I buttle, sir.

Mrs. White: It’s a matter of life after death, now that he’s dead I have a life.

Wadsworth: Like the Mounties, we always get our man.
Mr. Green: Mrs. Peacock was a man?

Wadsworth: Professor Plum, you were once a professor of psychiatry specializing in helping paranoid and homicidal lunatics suffering from delusions of grandeur.
Professor Plum: Yes, but now I work for the United Nations.
Wadsworth: Then your work has not changed.

Mrs. White: Husbands should be like Kleenex: soft, strong and disposable.

Miss Scarlet: Communism was just a red herring.

Mrs White: He was always a stupidly optimistic man. I mean, I’m afraid it came as a great shock when he died but he was found at died at home his head had been cut off and, um, so had his, umm… you KNOW.

Colonel Mustard: Two corpses, everything’s fine.

Mrs. White: I hated her so… much… it… it… the… it… the… flames… flames… flames… on the side of my face… breathing… breathless… heaving breaths…

The singing Telegram girl: I am your singing telegram!

Mrs. White: Life after death is as probable as sex after marriage.

Mr. Green: Let us in. Let us in.
Colonel Mustard, Miss Scarlet: Let us out. Let us out.

Colonel Mustard: There’s still one thing I don’t understand.
Mrs. White: One thing?

Wadsworth: [after a lengthy explanation] And, to make a long story short…
Colonel Mustard: Too late.

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8 Comments

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