I loved Clue (known as Cluedo in the U.K.) when I was a kid. Along with Monopoly, it was probably my favorite board game. I’ve probably seen its 1985 movie adaption 50 or more times since I first discovered it when I was 9 or 10. It’s not a perfect mystery or a perfect comedy, but its actors, its tone, and its zany energy ensure it overcomes any of its faults.
Clue contains the same characters as the board game plus a few others. In 1954, six people are invited to a dark, creepy mansion for a dinner party. It doesn’t take long for them to be neck deep in the murder of Mr. Boddy. Time is of the essence as the six guests, a maid, and a butler only have 45 minutes until the police arrive to discover who the murderer is, what weapon was used to commit the crime, and what room the murder actually took place in. As the eight people comically stumble through the night, the situation gets even more ridiculous as the bodies keep piling up. The picture is light on plot despite plot points involving blackmail and an undertone of McCarthyism. This doesn’t matter much in the end, however.
Clue has a great ensemble cast. The main characters are made up of the rich and stuck up Mrs. Peacock (Eileen Brennan); the five times married Mrs. White (Madeline Kahn); the seductive but tough Miss Scarlet (Lesley Ann Warren); the womanizing psychologist, Professor Plum (Christopher Lloyd); the clumsy and gay Mr. Green (Michael McKean); the moronic Colonel Mustard (Martin Mull); the sexy french maid Yvette (Colleen Camp), who probably fits your mind’s eye image of a stereotyped French maid; and the head of the proceedings, Wadsworth the butler (Tim Curry). There are other characters, like the appropriately titled Mr. Boddy (played by Lee Ving) and a cook (played by Kellye Nakahara from the TV show M.A.S.H.), but the eight I already listed are who we spend most of our time with. All the different types work off each other really well, no one feeling out of place. Curry, Mull, Kahn, and McKean, who completely disappears into his role as the bumbling Mr. Green, are all scene stealers. Yet, they never step on the other actor’s laughs.
This may be a comedy, but the actors play everything straight. They don’t act like they’re in a comedy. They act like they’re in the middle of a murder investigation that just happens to have a lot of funny things happening in and around it. I think this helped me be a little more invested in the proceedings and the mystery. I knew the mystery would have a serious outcome (well, as serious an outcome as a comedy like this is likely to have) and wouldn’t be a silly little nonsensical resolution.
There are three resolutions, by the way. Originally, a different version of the film with one of the three endings, which each had a different person as the murderer, was sent to each theater. Its VHS release contained all three endings and its DVD and Blu-ray counterpart have the option of playing all three endings (my preferred viewing method) or watching one of the three endings at random (a fun little feature that I’ve never tried but have heard doesn’t work properly). The first and third ending are pretty fun. The second is okay. It has funny moments but certainly is up there with the other two endings.
Due to the film having three separate finishes, the movie can be inconsistent with its clues. This ultimately lessons the mystery aspect of the movie, but most people will probably be watching it for the comedic side anyway. The film has a great zany sense of humor. The actors may play it straight but there’s always a sense of fun. This is a light escape that’s meant to entertain and provide a few laughs one evening. Tim Curry running around like a madman at the film’s end as he summarizes the night’s events in order to explain the identity of the killer for the guests is a sign the film isn’t taking itself too seriously and is one of my favorite parts of the movie. Curry’s hyperactive energy is present in the film’s fast, never-let-up pacing.
The humor doesn’t always work. A lot of jokes fall to the ground with a noticeable clang, but there are also many funny lines and exchanges. Here are some of my favorites.
1. Professor Plum and Mrs. Peacock are trying to convince the other to head down the dark basement stairs first.
Plum: “What are you afraid of? A fate worse than death?”
Peacock: “No, just death. Isn’t that enough?”
2. Colonel Mustard and Wadsworth are having an argument.
Mustard: “Are you trying to make me look stupid in front of the other guests?”
Wadsworth: “Don’t need any help from me, Sir.”
Mustard: “That’s right!” Mustard then walks away, leaving Curry with a confused expression.
3. Wadsworth is explaining the back-story of all the guests, and he arrives at Professor Plum’s.
Wadsworth: “Professor Plum, you were once a professor of psychiatry specializing in helping paranoid and homicidal lunatics suffering from delusions of grandeur.”
Plum: “Yes, but now I work for the United Nations.”
Wadsworth: “So your work has not changed.”
Then there’s the line that everyone remembers. It’s the best line in the film. Sadly, I can’t tell you what it is, because it spoils the third ending. Trust me when I say it’s hilarious. Not to oversell it but the film is worth a watch for this line alone.
Clue, with all its imperfections, is one of my favorite films of all time. One of the reasons for that is probably my childhood nostalgia for the board game and my nostalgia of seeing the movie for the first time when I was young. That isn’t the sole reason, however. The film still has a lot to recommend. It has a fantastic cast who don’t take the story too seriously while still not undermining the more serious mystery aspect of the picture. That coupled with the movie’s madcap sense of humor and quick pacing makes this the perfect choice for a fun evening watching movies.