Off the Charts: Clue the Movie

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I didn’t play a lot of board games as a kid.  I played Candy Land, Cooties, Don’t Break the Ice, and Battleship, but we never really got a lot of board games to play.  One I DO remember playing a lot of and enjoying was Clue.  I had no idea about the Agatha Christie story on which it was based or even what the mystery genre was, but the grisly nature of it and the investigative thinking always made it fun.

I don’t recall ever winning…or losing at it to be honest.  I’m not sure if I ever played through an ENTIRE game before my sister and I quit.  But I loved to play it.

I was a young kid when the film adaptation came out so it totally passed me by.  In fact I never saw it until the mid-1990s when it came out on HBO or Showtime, which ever movie channel our cable company offered at the time, and after seeing it ONE time it became absolutely one of my favorite comedies and likely has a place in my top ten favorite films list.

The cast of Clue!

The premise is essentially the game.  A group of strangers are in an old house.  An individual, Mr. Boddy, is murdered and they go through the house looking for clues to see whodunit.  The addition of the brilliant Tim Curry as the butler Wadsworth (adding to the mystery classic “the butler did it” cliché of the genre), the 50s setting, and the blackmail subplot all set the background of the manic plot, which plays out in a It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World kind of frenzy.

The entire casting is superb, my favorites (other than Curry….who is EVERYONE’S favorite) are Michael McKean as Mr Green, Martin Mull as Colonel Mustard, and the irreplaceable Madeline Kahn as Mrs. White.  That’s not to downplay any of the rest of the cast, there wasn’t a single misstep in the casting which also includes Christopher Lloyd as Professor Plum, Lesley Ann Warren as Miss Scarlet, Eileen Brennan as Mrs. Peacock, and Colleen Camp as the first French maid I ever saw on film…

In addition to the great acting and cast, the film offers some of the funniest dialog set pieces and is as quotable as the Godfather and Scarface combined.  From Tim Curry’s patented “NNnnnoo” (which is delivered at its best here), to the finest rapid-fire comedy exchanges this side of Abbot and Costello.

Favorites include:

Mrs. White: We had had a very humiliating public confrontation. He was deranged. He was a lunatic! He didn’t actually seem to like me very much; he had threatened to kill me in public.
Miss Scarlet: Why would he want to kill you in public?
Wadsworth: I think she meant he threatened, in public, to kill her.

The Motorist: Where is it?
Wadsworth: What? The body?
The Motorist: The phone. What body?
Wadsworth: There’s no body. Nobody. There’s-there’s nobody in the study.

Professor Plum: What is your top-secret job, Colonel?
Wadsworth: I can tell you. He’s working on the secret of the next fusion bomb.
Colonel Mustard: How did you know that?
Wadsworth: Can you keep a secret?
Colonel Mustard: Yes.
Wadsworth: So can I…

And what has become my person favorite moment:

Wadsworth: You see? Like the Mounties, we always get our man.
Mr. Green: Mrs. Peacock was a man!?
(Colonel Mustard slaps Mr. Green, who spins from the recoil and is slapped again by Wadsworth)

One of the innovations with this film was multiple endings.  No, not the lame dvd extra fodder that every movie makes now…but actual endings, released with different prints of the film.  There were three endings and depending when and where you saw the film you may see a completely different ending from someone who saw the film elsewhere or at a different showing.  It’s the kind of gimmick that harkens back to the William Castle days of showmanship and shows real deference to the source material.  I never got to see it in theaters, but I can only imagine discussing this movie with friends and arguing over the ending…without realizing we were all (technically) right!

Clue is without a doubt fast-paced fun.  Detractors describe it as overly frantic and silly, but it IS that kind of movie.  It’s also very smart, incredibly well-written, and still one of the funniest films about a series of gruesome murders ever to be made.  To quote Joe Bob, “Four Stars…check it out!”

As an aside, I’m such a fan of this movie that I find dialog and quotes seeping into my daily language almost subconsciously.  This can go remarkably awry.  Once in college I was at lunch with a very attractive girl who was telling me an interminable and flaky story.  She ended said story with the classic “To make a long story short…” to which I reflexively responded “Too late!” thanks to Clue she was not happy…and the date, so to speak, met its end killed by me, in the Dining Room, with a smart-ass comment…

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