Now that Hollywood is trying to make movies out of theme park rides and board games, we act like this is some new low. Anyone that knows film understands this is not the first time that this sort of desperation has happened. Clue was made in 1985, with Jonathan Lynn, a director versed in British comedy, and assisted by legend John Landis.
It is a delightful send-up of the old dark house movie, a movie where the mansion being filmed is a character itself. Its origin, for our purposes, is James Whale’s film titled… uh… The Old Dark House.
Since then the mixture of comedy, horror and mystery have run through the decades. Whether they’ve known it or not, they have walked the very edge of incredulity, and Clue obliges us by completely going over the edge. Clue is based on wordplay, puns, camp and silliness, and is too clever for its own good.
Clue begins with the worried face of Tim Curry, which is generally a great place to start. Curry is Wadsworth the butler, and he carries the film completely, even while surrounded by a bevy of character actors: Lesley Ann Warren, Martin Mull, Colleen Camp, Christopher Lloyd, Michael Mckean, Eileen Brennan and Madeline Kahn all dominate the screen simultaneously, but it is Curry’s job to move the plot along, and he does a fine job.
The film begins with a series of strangers invited to a party by a written invitation – from a man they do not know. Some of them seem to know each other. The mansion is occupied by a butler, a maid and a cook… and no one else.
After a while, their patience runs thin. They want to meet their host.
They do. The moment Mr. Boddy appears, things are thrown into chaos. He refuses to co-operate and soon the guests realize that they are trapped in the mansion. Even worse, it turns out they are all being blackmailed – by Mr. Boddy. And despite what they believed… he is NOT their host.
The police are on their way, and no one can afford to be caught. Mr. Boddy comes up with an ingenious idea. In his little black bag, Mr. Boddy has lethal weapons for each one of them. He suggests they kill Wadsworth and escape. He turns the lights out and then-
Mr. Boddy is dead. There was a gunshot, but Mr. Boddy wasn’t shot. Was it a blow to the head? Or poison? As Mrs. Peacock had the brandy as well, the only way to tell if its poison is if she dies, right?
(It wasn’t poison.) The maid screams in another room. As it turns out, they are being recorded as well. They take the maid back with the rest of them, where Wadsworth has a complete breakdown. This was all his hare-brained scheme to deal with the black-mailing Mr. Boddy. They wonder about who else could be the murderer, when they realize that there’s one other person in the building – the cook!
When they move the cook’s body to the study, they find that Mr. Boddy’s corpse is gone. Was he really dead? How could Professor Plum, a medical doctor have missed something so obvious? After some bickering and the discovery of some risque negatives, they find – the corpse of Mr. Boddy.
At this point the mayhem begins in earnest. More guests arrive, a phone call indicates that one guest is a Federal agent, the crew decides to split up and and explore the building, and more murders occur.
The whole time everyone is aided by a crackling script with clearly defined characters and genuinely clever humor. All of this masks the fact that this script works as an actual mystery, and its a corker. The ending(s) prove that most of the facts are presented to the viewer the first time around, you simply have to pay attention and ignore the distractions.
Clue succeeds as a comedy, a mystery and as entertainment. It was not a success, although over the years it has a cult following, but that’s not saying much. It deserved better than it got.