Believe it or not, next year’s Battleship will not be the first movie ever made based on a board game. That dubious honor goes to 1985’s Clue. But don’t let the fact that it’s inspired by a silly game meant for children bias you against this film.
Clue is one of the cleverest, funniest and most entertaining movies I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching. Why is it so good? The cast is perfect, the story couldn’t be more airtight and the music is sensational. But instead of me saying all the things that are right about this movie, I’ll let the characters do the talking.
Each of the sections will begin with a quote from the movie. See if you can guess who said each of these lines. At the end I’ll include the answers so you can see which ones you get right. Let the game begin!
I Know Who You Are
I love how this movie comes up with an interesting reason for the characters to all have such strange names. They’re actually pseudonyms so the characters won’t panic when their crimes are revealed. They can at least feel a small amount of anonymity. Mrs. Peacock, Professor Plum, Colonel Mustard and Ms. Scarlet all sound like fake names. Mrs. White, Wadsworth and Mr. Green are the only ones that sound plausible.
A great thing about this strategy of not revealing the characters’ real names is that it instantly creates a mystery around them. We’re thrown right into the action and we really don’t know anything about what each character is up to, who they are or what they’re capable of. Because of this, we’re just as likely to believe that any one of the characters is a murderer or an innocent bystander. That works in the film’s favor because at the end we’re presented with three different endings that show a different guilty party each time. And the amazing thing is that they’re all perfectly believable.
What’s Going on Here? We’re Having a Party
When Tim Curry, Christopher Lloyd and Madeline Kahn are in the same room, I’d definitely call that a party. These and the other actors feed off each other perfectly in this film. I especially love when Wadsworth is going through all of the night’s events, and he repeats the moment when Mr. Green slaps Mrs. Peacock. Then, imitating Mr. Green’s nasal voice, he says, “Well, I had to stop her screaming.” He even touches the bridge of his nose, even though he’s not wearing glasses, and Mr. Green does the same thing at that moment. For some reason that cracks me up every time.
Clue came out in theaters the same year as Back to the Future, and that makes it even more fun to see Christopher Lloyd playing Professor Plum. He couldn’t be more different than Doc Brown. Professor Plum is a womanizer, liar and all-around sleazy guy. Doc Brown, on the other hand, is adorable, wise and harmless. Maybe audiences weren’t ready to see him in such a devilish role so soon after Back to the Future was released. But now that a few decades have passed, we can savor Lloyd’s performance in both of these films.
How Can You Make Jokes At a Time Like This?
In this movie, the devil isn’t just in the details; it’s in the dialogue. Clue gets away with murder by mixing homicide with humor. Unlike many comedies, this film is subtle and it doesn’t have to show everything in order to get a laugh. I think that’s the reason it got a PG rating despite all of the murder and mayhem it contains.
At one point, Mrs. White tells the other characters that some time ago her husband was found dead at home. “His head had been cut off, and so had his, um… you know.” When she says that, all the men in the room uncomfortably cross their legs. This is a great example of the film’s subtlety. The characters don’t say anything too vulgar, but they have a lot of innuendo to make adults smirk and kids just scratch their heads. Plus, jokes like this pay off throughout the film. Later, the characters are shocked to discover a man they thought was dead is missing. When Mrs. White suggests they should have made sure he was dead, Mrs. Peacock quips, “How? By cutting his head off, I suppose.” Mrs. White quickly retorts, “That was uncalled for!”
I Didn’t Do It!
Every time a murder is committed and it looks like one of the characters is the culprit, that character professes his or her innocence. Sometimes they’re telling the truth and sometimes they’re lying. Whether or not they’re being honest, it’s so fun to watch their reactions:
- Professor Plum acts exasperated or tries to be nonchalant.
- Colonel Mustard shifts the blame onto other people.
- Mr. Green just shouts his innocence, not bothering to offer an alibi.
- Mrs. White coldly denies everything.
- Mrs. Peacock unconvincingly blabs about how she never did anything wrong.
- Ms. Scarlet makes jokes, calling them her defense mechanism.
Every time I watch this film I notice something a character says or does that speaks volumes about his or her personality. Whether it’s Mrs. White not even acknowledging Yvette the maid’s offer of a drink or Colonel Mustard stealing a glance at a chandelier that will almost kill him later on, this movie is full of fun details.
I Can’t Take Any More Scares
The only word I can think of to completely describe Clue is hiscarious. It’s a superb blend of hilarious and scary. I find myself laughing nervously at times because I’m not sure if the characters are in life-threatening danger or playing around – or both!
There are several moments that are positively chilling, but they’re balanced by perfectly timed humor. When the mansion’s power is shut off, we suddenly see Yvette and a police officer being stalked by a murderer and then killed. Those two frightening moments are followed by something both shocking and funny. The doorbell rings and we get a shadowy close-up of all the main characters, casting a shadow of doubt onto who the culprit is. The door creaks open and instead of being greeted by some scary image, we see a smiling young woman dancing as she happily sings, “I…am…your singing telegram!” followed by a gunshot, her falling to the ground, and the door slamming shut.
This sequence is almost too fast to process the horror of what just occurred. A friendly, innocent woman just died for no reason right in front of our eyes. We never even get to know her name or anything about her. She dies even faster than the swordsman in Raiders of the Lost Ark; that’s quite a feat. But her death, surprisingly, provides much-needed levity to the situation, especially when the characters discover her dead body and simply don’t know how to respond, except by closing the door again.
To Make a Long Story Short… Too Late
Clocking in at just 96 minutes, Clue crams more humor and horror into its short running time than even the Scream series. And yet the movie doesn’t come across as fast and furious, but methodical and well-paced. It’s not until the buildup to the finale that the film begins to speed up. The characters literally run from one room to another with no time to catch our breath as Wadsworth guides us through the night’s events and builds up to the big reveal of who the murderer is.
The film’s final act is brilliantly structured so that Wadsworth is able to explain all of the how’s before delving into the who. That’s because there are actually three versions of who is responsible for the murders. So the film doesn’t bother explaining three times how each murderer did everything, but instead saves the best part for last. This is one of the most satisfying movie experiences because it rewards viewers for paying close attention. Plus, it demands to be seen multiple times to make sure they didn’t cheat. I have, and they didn’t.
All Right, Whodunit?
Clue turns its laughable board-game premise into one of its biggest strengths. It has the perfect excuse to offer three unique endings. Every time you play the game Clue you might get any number of combinations of killers, weapons and locations. Clue offers a number of possible scenarios, as well. The filmmakers shroud the plot in ambiguity, leaving themselves enough wiggle room to squeeze three plausible series of events into one film. That’s really creative.
This film has several subtle twists and ironies that take several viewings to notice. For example, in the scene where Wadsworth reveals why all of the guests are being blackmailed, Mr. Green doesn’t wait for Wadsworth to unmask him. He exposes himself as a homosexual in front of everyone, expressing no shame for it, either. At the end of the film, Wadsworth finds himself in Mr. Green’s position. Mr. Green notes that whoever has a gun is the murderer. Rather than wait to be exposed, Wadsworth pulls the gun out of his pocket and unabashedly admits who he really is. It’s a clever reversal that I hadn’t picked up on until just recently. I highly recommend you watch this movie at least twice so you can enjoy all these clever twists.
There’s Still One Thing I Don’t Understand
Now that I’ve sung Clue’s praises, I do have a few problems with it that maybe you can help me figure out:
Why does Wadsworth’s yelling make the candlestick fall over? And how did Yvette reach so high to leave it on top of a doorframe in the first place?
What is Yvette talking about when she walks into the Billiards Room and says, “They know every inch of my body… and they’re not the only ones,” right before being strangled?
Why does Mrs. White randomly tug at Colonel Mustard’s suspenders in the second ending? And why does it make a Looney Tunes sound effect when she does that?
When were the police called? Were they waiting nearby the whole time? How far away is the local police station? And isn’t the FBI at least partially responsible for luring a half-dozen people to their deaths for this sting operation?
As promised, here are the answers to which characters said what in this article:
“I know who you are.” -Mr. Green
“What’s going on here?” “We’re having a party.” -The Cop and Ms. Scarlet
“How can you make jokes at a time like this?” -Colonel Mustard
“I didn’t do it!” -Mr. Green (on multiple occasions)
“I can’t take any more scares.” -Colonel Mustard
“To make a long story short…” “Too late.” -Wadsworth and Colonel Mustard (and Wadsworth and the six guests)
“All right, whodunit?” -The Chief
“There’s still one thing I don’t understand.” “One thing?” -Colonel Mustard and Mrs. White (Mr. Green says “Now there’s one thing I don’t understand.” Close, but not quite the same. Professor Plum says, “One thing?” as well)
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go home and sleep with my wife.
All photos from Clue are the copyright of Paramount Pictures.