Mar 4, 2011

[Movies] Clue: The Movie (1985)

Clue (1985)As kids, I'm sure we all encountered at least one of the "classic" board games in our lifetimes. The most common would probably be the real estate game Monopoly or perhaps the electrically tense Operation, the pro-version of games like The Sims in the form of the Game of Life and of course the color-coordinated Sorry to name a few. I for one went through all these games and more as part of my upbringing.

Recently there's been a rash of buzz that some of these board games like Battleship are going to be turned into movies, although how this might work is a tad strange to me. But this isn't actually a new concept - there was one movie that was ahead of the pack in the translation game, and I'd like to state firmly that it's actually a pretty good one.

While it didn't necessarily do too well at the box office during its theatrical one, the movie remains a comedy gem that not only captured the spirit of the game but also got more than just a few good laughs. I'm talking about the movie based on the mystery game Clue, which remains one of my favorite board games of all time.

As if that last statement surprises you.

Clue: The Movie is the 1985 black comedy inspired by the board game of the same name as created by Anthony E. Pratt and distributed by Parker Brothers in North America (which is now owned by Hasbro).

It's 1954, right in the middle of the McCarthy era. Six strangers are invited to a dinner party at a remote mansion for which each of them have been given pseudonyms to protect their identities. Each is met by Wadswoth, the butler (Tim Curry) and asked to wait for the others. The guests consist of Colonel Mustard (Martin Mull), Mrs. White (Madeline Kahn), Mr. Green (Michael McKean), Professor Plum (Christopher Llyod), Miss Scarlet (Lesley Ann Warren) and Mrs. Peacock (Eileen Brennan). But there is a seventh guest that they're waiting for - Mr. Boddy (Lee Ving), and the reason for the event.

It turns out that all six are being blackmailed by Mr. Boddy and they've been brought together by Wadsworth to confront their blackmailer and bring an end to things. However Mr. Boddy had a counter proposal involving a box with six different weapons. Following the game, the weapons provided are a candlestick, a rope / noose, a revolver, a lead pipe, a knife and a wrench. Mr. Boddy offers them a chance to kill Wadsworth for him and then destroy the evidence with all of them leaving with their secrets intact. He then turns off the lights and chaos ensues. But the time the lights come back, it appears Mr. Boddy is dead and obviously one of the people in the room is the killer.

Now the initial setup of the movie felt like any classic murder mystery movie. You have the guests arriving one-by-one on a night that is dark with the occasional bolts of lightning in the sky. You have the isolated mansion that is richly furnished and away from civilization. And you have the guests contained in a locked environment with a killer on the loose. But in this regard, the use of such elements seems deliberately trope-y and it helps set the tone of this movie being the kind of self-aware comedy that is hard to pull off at times.

Wadsworth (Tim Curry) and the other guests ans...Image via WikipediaA large part of what makes the movie works definitely falls on Tim Curry as Wadsworth. After all, he has all the cards in the beginning since he organized the event, he has all the evidence being used against the guests and he has some degree of control over the house. Throw in his usual flair for deadpan comedy with the occasional divergence into slapstick and it becomes hard to imagine anyone else fulfilling the role quite as well.

And the cast as an ensemble are not lightweights either. Madeline Kahn alone is a veteran of many comedy movies with Mel Brooks and both Martin Mull and Christopher Lloyd have their own unique brand of comedy in both movies and television. And yes, I have to admit that even the maid Yvette (Colleen Camp) helped add that extra zinger to things to help things along.

But the real zingers are to be found in the excellent writing behind this movie. As much as you as a viewer want to keep track of the mystery at the heart of things, the characters keep spewing out one-liners and witty retorts that you can't help but want to write down and save for future use! If you close your eyes, it almost sounds more like the kind of sassy banter we associate now with drag queens and other stereotypes of homosexuals. How this movie did not do well during its theatrical run with writing like this is beyond me. It's not necessarily sophisticated humor, I must admit. But it's not shallow either and the sheer speed and quantity that they're meted out is something else.

The original theatrical run featured three different possible endings that were randomly shown at cinemas. The home video market got the benefit of having all three endings at the end of the movie along with the real benefit of being able to reward key sequences in order to hear the really funny bits again and again.

And what's a killer at times (pun intended) is how all three solutions remain generally plausible. As viewers we do our best to follow all the action but with so much going on and eventually more murders taking place in the house (without killing any of the main characters, mind you), you'll eventually lose track of this detail or that, thus making the final reveal all the more fulfilling and ultimately entertaining.

True enough, this is not the kind of comedy that everyone will enjoy given its unique brand of wit. Plus it does lean ever so slightly on the popularity of the original game and thus the benefit of already knowing the characters, weapons and rooms intimately does help in the long run. Still, it's a great example of how even a board game can have a pretty good story at heart, one that is brought to live in a pretty cool and humorous way.

Clue is the kind of movie that benefits from multiple viewings not just for the mystery aspect but really for all the good lines littered all over the movie. It gets 4.5 insane reenactments of the night's events by Wadsworth out of a possible 5. The movie is largely available on video whether online or at your nearest video retail store.

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