CLUE (1985) revisited


 Greetings again from the darkness. All movie watchers have at least two categories of films: those they will watch any time of any day, even if they can only catch a few minutes; and those they can’t imagine ever watching again since the first time through was so painful/miserable/boring/unentertaining. Now you may have other sub-categories as well, but you likely have at least those two. For me, the first category (the good one) includes both GODFATHER movies, PULP FICTION, THE RIGHT STUFF, DOUBLE INDEMNITY, JAWS, THE PRINCESS BRIDE, REAR WINDOW, and well … there are actually far too many to list!  The second category is comprised of: THE BOUNTY HUNTER, PROBLEM CHILD, BORAT, TORCHLIGHT, DEATH BECOMES HER, CADDYSHACK 2, just about every Jerry Lewis movie without Dean Martin, and well … there are plenty more, but I’m getting a bit nauseous thinking about this.

The point is that for 33 years, CLUE has been on my ‘never-watch-again’ list. All these years later, I’m unable to provide any specifics about my initial viewing experience, other than it featured Martin Mull (never been a fan) and was entirely too silly and over-the-top for my ‘highly refined’ tastes (although I like “The Three Stooges” and Peter Sellers’ “Pink Panther movies)  A friend, whose movie judgment I trust, has been encouraging/goading me into giving CLUE another try … to the extreme that she recently gifted me the DVD, thereby removing inconvenience as an excuse for avoiding it any longer. Anyone familiar with my “revisited” blog entries will know that what follows won’t be a traditional movie review. Expect some scattershooting.

So here I sit, pondering the movie universe and the ramifications of my having very much enjoyed this second viewing of CLUE – laughing many times and making note of just how clever it is … even amidst the packaging of silliness and slapstick in which it comes wrapped. There are, as you might imagine, some odd things associated with the film. First of all, it’s based on a Parker Brothers (now Hasbro) board game. Would you be excited about a Checkers movie?  How about Yahtzee or Candyland? Doubtful. Next, few films have a writer/director like Jonathan Lynn. Mr. Lynn is Cambridge educated, has written best-selling books, is known for a popular British TV series, produced and directed many stage plays, is an accomplished actor – he even played Hitler on stage (in a comedy), and has directed other comedy films such as MY COUSIN VINNY (1992) and THE WHOLE NINE YARDS (2000) . In yet another odd twist, Mr. Lynn co-wrote the CLUE screenplay with John Landis, who of course, directed the comedy classics ANMAL HOUSE (1978) and THE BLUES BROTHERS (1980).

Set in a creepy New England mansion on a stormy 1954 evening – replete with on-cue thunder and lightning – the twice Oscar nominated composer John Morris (he co-wrote the BLAZING SADDLES theme with Mel Brooks) greets us with a tongue-in-cheek score seemingly sampled from every late night horror movie from the 1950’s. A group of splendidly dressed guests are arriving for a dinner party after each received a mysterious and provocative letter from the evening’s anonymous host. We soon learn that the letters’ connective tissue is that each of these folks are somehow associated with … GASP … the government!  Even in 1985, this was a sure-fire way to characterize people as villainous.

It doesn’t take long for the first murder to occur, and other dead bodies are soon to follow – each in mysterious ways – leaving much doubt, and no shortage of suspects, as to the identity of the culprit. In fact, no one is to be trusted (other than possibly those already murdered). The confined environment of the mansion adds to the suspense, confusion, and comedy of the proceedings – as does a stellar cast of actors who know how to be funny in a serious kind of way.

Tim Curry stars as Wadsworth, who we assume is the butler and the fast talker and walker who seems to be running the show for the unknown host. Mr. Curry, of course, is forever enshrined in midnight movie lore as Dr. Frank-N-Furter in THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (1975). Wadsworth is assisted in the evening’s affairs by Yvette, played with jiggly wonder by Colleen Camp in a French maid uniform barely able to contain her assets. Ms. Camp has been a hard working actress since the 1970’s, was a two-time Razzie nominee in the 90’s, and can also be seen in this year’s THE HOUSE WITH A CLOCK IN ITS WALLS. The guests include Mrs. Peacock, played by Eileen Brennan, best known as the sadistic Drill Instructor in PRIVATE BENJAMIN (1980) and the heart-of-gold waitress in THE LAST PICTURE SHOW (1971); the dressed in black Mrs. White, played by comedy giant and two-time Oscar nominee Madeline Kahn, so terrific in her memorable roles in BLAZING SADDLES and YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN; Mr. Plum, played by Christopher Lloyd, his shock of white hair highlighting the BACK TO THE FUTURE franchise; Mr. Green, played by Michael McKean who only the year before was David St Hubbins in THIS IS SPINAL TAP, has been recently seen as savant lawyer Chuck McGill on “Better Call Saul”, and is likely the only relative of a signer of the Declaration of Independence in the movie; Colonel Mustard, played by the aforementioned Martin Mull whose career covers stand-up comedy, songwriting, TV series, movies, pro football, and his love of art; Miss Scarlet, played Lesley Ann Warren, nominated the previous year for her role in VICTOR VICTORIA, the star of one of my favorite offbeat 80’s films CHOOSE ME, and whose ex-husband John Peters was executive producer on CLUE; and finally, Mr. Boddy played by Lee Ving, known best for his punk rock band Fear. There are also a few cameos worth noting: Howard Hesseman from “WKRP in Cincinnati” appears as The Chief; Jane Wiedlin, a founding member of the band The Go-Gos who had a mega-hit with “Vacation” has a brief appearance as The Singing Telegram Girl; and Bill Henderson appears as a cop – this after a jazz singing career that crossed paths with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Frank Sinatra, Quincy Jones and others. Sharp-eyed viewers might also recognize the stranded motorist as actor Jeffrey Kramer, seen in JAWS as the deputy putting out ‘Beach Closed’ signs.

Filmmakers Lynn and Landis drew inspiration not just from the board game, but also such films as Neil Simon’s MURDER BY DEATH (1976, with Eileen Brennan), Agatha Christie’s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE (1945) and MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (1974), TEN LITTLE INDIANS (1965, based on Ms. Christie’s stage version), and William Castle’s classic horror film HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1959). CLUE has a very theatrical look and feel, as something that would work equally well on stage as on screen. The strong presence of Tim Curry almost forces us to notice some similarities to THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, though CLUE offers no musical interludes – other than the exceptional use of the song “Life is But a Dream”.

As far as I know, CLUE was the first film to be distributed to theatres with three different endings (quite a feat for a murder mystery). With the initial release, you were likely to see a different ending than someone at a theatre across town. Fortunately, the Blu-Ray version provides all three – none more likely or reasonable than the other (that’s part of the gag). Fox recently announced a remake of CLUE starring Ryan Reynolds is in the works. Expect it to look much different than the 1985 version. Many of the jokes from the film wouldn’t be acceptable or tolerated in this current age of political correctness, yet Madeline Kahn, with her impeccable comedic delivery offers up the timeless line: “Life after death is as improbable as sex after marriage”. Yes, the film is campy and screwball and filled with slapstick. However, it may also be described as a crackling-dialogue-driven, whip-smart whodunit movie dressed up as an outrageous slapstick comedy … something I failed to recognize on my first viewing more than 30 years ago. Consider that mistake corrected.

watch the trailer:

 

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4 Responses to CLUE (1985) revisited

  1. You have a good friend. I am glad you gave it another try. This is one of my favorite comedies. I played a lot of Clue with my kids. My son still laughs at the singing Telegram murder. I never knew what who was responsible for the halarious mayhem in this movie. Thanks for a well detailed and funny review.

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