‘Clue the Movie’ Reviewed

I’ll talk about Clue the Movie in a minute.  I didn’t get around to doing a post last week, sorry about that, because I know you missed me.  I’m a bad person.  Also, I’m still working on reading the Free Comic Book Day comics.  Because I’ve gotten slow in my old age.  And I was going to Ithaca a few times too.  Anyway, I should make up for it with a few posts in the next few days (fingers crossed, meaning both “hope it’s coming” and “I’m probably lying”).

Anyway, you may remember that in a recent Flippin’ column, Burgas and I discussed the new Clue comic book coming out soon.  In the course of talking about the comic, Greg brought up the movie, which I’d heard of but hadn’t seen.  Then, lo and behold, I happened to be at the library last week and saw the DVD there, calling to me.  I had to take it out, despite having other stuff to do.  Why am I so very very weak?!  Possibly some spoilers ahead, proceed with caution.

Clue The Movie Bodies on the sofa
This is basically like any of my family gatherings. (l-r standing Martin Mull, Colleen Camp, Lesley Ann Warren, Madeline Kahn, l-r seated Lee Ving, Christopher Lloyd, Kellye Nakahara)

Clue the Movie is a surprisingly good film considering that the source material is a board game.  However, of the many board games around, Clue is probably one of the best to base an entire film on, as it does rest on a story of sorts.  You also have a fantastic cast as well as the fun conceit of having multiple endings.

The setting is very interesting, as the film takes place in 1954 in New England, and all of the characters have some sort of connection to Washington DC and/or the government, which is significant given the McCarthy era Red Scare.  Mr. Boddy’s blackmail has more sting to it because in that climate of fear, the characters have to give in to him or lose their jobs and possibly their freedom.  He knows their secrets and has been getting them to pay him to keep them secret.  However, Wadsworth, his butler, has decided enough is enough and gathers the group in order to end the blackmail.  Mr. Boddy, also invited to the gathering, offers up the regular Clue weapons to each of the characters, and when the lights go out, the bodies start to pile up.  It doesn’t appear that any one person could be the killer, so the group tries to determine if there is another person in the house, committing the murders.

Clue the Movie Stooges fighting
Wiseguys, eh? Mr. Boddy (left, Lee Ving) fights Stooges style against Colonel Mustard (Martin Mull) as Professor Plum (Christopher Lloyd) and Mr. Green (Michael McKean) look on (r-l)

It’s fascinating that the movie is set up well enough that 3 different endings are possible and even plausible.  When the murderers are revealed in the various endings, everything seems to fit well so that each explanation works, which is a testament to the strength of the mystery that screenplay writer Jonathan Lynn (who had story help from John Landis) has set up.  The DVD supposedly has a feature where you can watch the film with one of the three endings coming up at random, but I didn’t play around with it long enough to know for sure.  Watching it with all 3 was the other option, and I watched it that way, where the third ending is offered as the “true” one.  It’s an amusing end, with a last line that’s funny but doesn’t necessarily make sense (wouldn’t the blackmailer have known this was the case?).

Clue the Movie socialists
Mrs. White (Madeline Kahn) offers Wadsworth (Tim Curry) a comforting handkerchief after his tearful confession of his wife’s friends who were…SOCIALISTS!

The cast is fantastic, of course.  Tim Curry is amazing as butler Wadsworth, and can be both hilariously funny as well as quite serious.  His silent acting with the dogs in the beginning of the film is wonderful.  He’s also fantastic once he starts going back over the sequence of events and starts to imitate the others.  You’ve also got Martin Mull as Colonel Mustard, who does a fun “Who’s on First?” type bit with Curry at one point in the film, but he can also show real emotion as well.  Madeline Kahn is Mrs. White, the black widow, who has lost five husbands.  She’s not given enough to work with, but does contribute a wacky (and according to the ‘net, ad libbed) bit in the “true” ending.  Lesley Ann Warren is Miss Scarlet, and she’s gorgeous as well as being sardonic and witty as a brothel owner with access to people’s secrets.  Apparently Carrie Fisher was supposed to be in this role, but had to go to rehab soon before shooting, so Ms. Warren is even more impressive for having had little time to inhabit the role beforehand.  Christopher Lloyd is Professor Plum, who currently works for the UN’s WHO, but was formerly a practicing psychologist who took liberties with his female clients.  This movie came out the same year as Back to the Future, and Lloyd is fun in this as well, if a little more reined in (just a little).  Eileen Brennan is Mrs. Peacock, whose Senator husband votes the way people pay her to have him vote.  She’s good at yelling, and thoroughly enjoys the meal while trying to be a good, gabby hostess.  Michael McKean is Mr. Green, who works for the State Department and confesses to be a homosexual, which would of course get him fired in that era.

Clue the Movie sex fiends
Professor Plum (Christopher Lloyd) and Miss Scarlet (Lesley Ann Warren) are introduced to the group by butler Wadsworth (Tim Curry)

One drawback of this movie is that with so many good actors who are fantastic comedians is that you’ve got to find funny things for them to do, and unfortunately, I think the relatively short running time of the film as well as having to mix the mystery and comedy together means that neither genre is wholly fulfilled.  There are certainly funny bits here, and the interactions between some of the characters are a lot of fun (this looks like a movie that was a lot of fun to film), but having to fulfill the demands of solving the mystery means that the full extent of their comedic talents aren’t fully utilized.

Clue the Movie Let us out
“Let us out!” “Bismillah NO! We will not let you go!” (Lesley Ann Warren and Martin Mull)

There are also bit players here that do fun work as well.  The cook Mrs. Ho (Kellye Nakahara, best known from MASH the TV show) doesn’t get much to do, but is menacing with her knife.  Yvette the maid, played by Colleen Camp with a jiggly je ne sais quoi, is quite amusing as the eye candy who actually conceals secrets as well.  Mr. Boddy is played by Lee Ving, the vocalist from the great punk band Fear, who has a greasy look to him that makes him a great blackmailer.  I’m curious, though, and can’t seem to find it online, but it’s quite obvious that a lot of his lines are looped in.  I’m not sure if it’s his voice and the ADR just didn’t match up well, or if someone else was called in to redo his lines (there’s a De Niro quality to the voice, but I doubt it would be him, but possibly a De Niro impersonator).  And another fun musical cameo comes with the singing telegram girl near the end, played by Jane Wiedlin from the Go-Gos.  And Howard Hesseman makes an uncredited cameo near the end of the film.

Clue the Movie jiggle up the stairs
One of the duos when the group splits up to search the house. (Colleen Camp left, right) (HA! That’s also Michael McKean on the right!)

I’m not entirely sure all the endings fit together perfectly.  There are certain things that seem like they wouldn’t fit based on the things revealed at the end (certain people revealed to know each other, etc), but overall, the different endings are clever and make sense for the most part.  Actually, there was a fourth, even more morbid ending considered (and possibly filmed?) where everyone dies, which sounds sort of too much and therefore rightly excised, based on what I’ve read of it.

Clue the Movie slap poison brandy
Cue The Prodigy: Mr. Green (Michael McKean) has to, through slap therapy, calm down a hysterical Mrs. Peacock (Eileen Brennan) after it’s posited that the brandy she just drank was poisoned.

Overall, Clue the Movie is an entertaining, fun take on some of the Agatha Christie and other British mysteries mixing black humor and murder, with a fantastic cast that unfortunately doesn’t quite mix the two genres well enough overall, but is still well worth your time.  Don’t forget that if you check out the links to the DVD of the movie above or the other links, you’ll be able to kick something back our way even if you just buy something else instead.

 

11 Comments

  1. Greg Burgas

    I don’t know if you saw the Psych episode where they reunited some of the cast for a mystery, but it was fun. I miss Psych …

    If you like murder mystery spoofs, Murder By Death is a good one. Lots of great actors, and they play it very seriously, but it’s hilarious. Murder Can Hurt You is another good one, although it’s been decades since I’ve seen that.

    1. Jeff Nettleton

      Well, Murder by Death is largely where they got the template for much of the script, here. This film has many funny spots and most of those mirror scenes in MBD. The difference is that MBD pokes fun at the classic detectives, especially those who were adapted into movies, like Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple and Poirot, Charlie Chan, Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade and Nick & Nora Charles (especially the William Powell and Myrna Loy performances).

      Director Jonathan Lynn also directed My Cousin Vinnie and was co-creator & writer of the brilliant UK political comedy series Yes Minister and it’s follow-up, Yes Prime Minister, with the late Paul Eddington and Nigel Hawthorne. Those verbal moments in this film owe much to the exchanges between Jim Hacker and Sir Humphrey Appleby.

      1. Le Messor

        I was about to say Travis made a rookie mistake by reviewing Clue and not also reviewing Murder By Death! How can you do one but not the other?

        I love that both even contain a scene where a woman (Eileen Brennan) faints, and a butler (Buttler?) just misses catching her. 🙂

    2. M-Wolverine

      Don’t completely despair – Psych TV movie coming out for the holidays.

      http://variety.com/2017/tv/news/psych-movie-usa-network-reunion-james-roday-dule-hill-1202418993/

      Murder by Death was great, but…I’m afraid it doesn’t age well to a modern era. I tried watching it with my wife, and while it was par for the course at the time and a brilliant performance, even my not in any way delicate sensibilities kind of finds Peter Sellers Asian man performance a bit insensitive, at the least. I’m actually surprised it doesn’t get jumped on more for being offensive, but it’s kind of a niche’ movie. If you thought they were going more for making fun of Charlie Chan always being played by a white guy it might work, but it comes off as more just another wacky character for Sellers. Which he’s magnificent at, but I don’t think we’ll be seeing Johnny Depp in black face anytime soon. There’s only room for Robert Downey Jr. in that category. A great movie, but very much of its time.

      It’s been so long since I’ve seen Clue, I hadn’t realized Colleen Camp is basically the hot version of Kristen Wiig. And I didn’t reminder how right you were of her performance being described as jiggly….

      https://media.giphy.com/media/hY2Sr4pbLDOQ8/giphy.gif

  2. Hal

    I was going to mention Murder By Death but Messrs. Burgas and Nettleton beat me to it! Clue is despite appearing to owe something to Neil Simon’s MBD a rather better funnier feature, I think, although Alec Guinness (the Bensonmum/Benson, ma’am joke is pricelessly stupid and fantastic), Peter Falk, and Eileen Brennan are particularly amusing in MBD. Yes, Ms Brennan was in both! I think I am right in saying (don’t quote me on this or lynch me if I am wrong) that Madeline Kahn and Eileen Brennan were close friends until Ms Brennan suffered a horrific accident from which she took years to recover; unfortunately, Madeline did not know how to deal with that and their relationship collapsed. Interestingly, Clue was Eileen’s first picture after recovering (as they were both in it, I wonder how it was between them on set) and she doesn’t miss a beat.
    Clue is one of those movies saved by television, the fact that the idiotic marketing decision to release prints with only one of the three endings to each theater was forgotten as the tv version has all three edited together in amusing fashion really improves the film, tho’ I would prefer it if the third and “real” ending had been moved to the #1 or #2 position but that’s just me. Hah.
    What a great cast! Madeline, Martin Mull, Eileen, the fabulous Lesley Ann Warren, Colleen Camp, and the great Tim Curry in particular stand out (well, Colleen almost *falls * of that French maid’s outfit… *hee hee*) but Christopher Lloyd is fine as ever and nice to see Howard “WKRP In Cincinnati” Hesseman too. I have watched this movie quite a bit!

  3. Le Messor

    I love this movie. It, and MBD, is just great (and I almost never watch one without watching the other in short order).

    The DVD does have a feature to watch one of the three endings, but I’ve never used it.

  4. I think I’ve heard about Murder By Death, but now I’ll have to look for it. Thanks, guys (I think. So many things to look for!).

    I saw about the Psych episode, Greg, but never watched that series. I’ll have to borrow it from my sister some day, she liked that show.

    From what I saw online, Hal, you are correct re: Brennan and Kahn. Apparently Kahn avoided Brennan on set and their relationship never recovered.

    And this is a fun movie to watch. I’m glad it got in my mind so that I went for it at the library when I saw it available!

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