What’s the most valuable thing to a movie studio? It isn’t a cabal of actors under contract or the best directors knocking at your door. The real thing that has the best chance to cause a cash thunderstorm is this: Intellectual Property rights.
Back in the 80s, movies based on things as weird as theme park rides (hello Pirates of the Caribbean) or strategy games (remember Battleships?) certainly weren’t on the horizon.
Yet in 1985 game makers Parker Brothers / Waddingtons teamed up with Paramount Pictures to release Clue, a movie based on the popular murder mystery board game of the same name (called Cluedo in the UK).
With a loose set of reference points such as a board game it is really anyone’s guess as to what a final movie will look like.
Vital ingredients such as a mansion setting, specific murder weapons, secret passages, and character names could be shuffled to produce anything desired.
Yet when you hire John Landis, the director of Blues Brothers, National Lampoon’s Animal House, and Trading Places you’d be a fool to not plump for comedy.
What Is Clue About?
Thus Clue is a black comedy that delights in slowly ramping up the farce until a notoriously deranged ending strategy (more on that later).
The playing pieces are all there and cast beautifully. Chief among this is Tim Curry as Wadsworth, the butler, who acts as initial mystery and later group lynchpin as an escalating series of murders causes them to lurch from one room to another trying to find a killer who is picking off the staff and guests.
Granted, Clue takes a while to warm up and get you in the mood for fund and games. There is a lack of musical score in the initial mansion scenes that result in a strained air.
The gradual introduction to our cast, unaware of why they have been invited to such a secluded and foreboding location, exacerbate such empty tension as they awkwardly get to know each other.
Despite a slow start, Curry is an utter delight. His stiff-upper-lip decorum is the glue that keeps the clunks of plot necessities in place, albeit with a rather basic running gag about an unfortunate stink.
Things don’t kick off proper until the guests gather for after dinner revelations, and Mr Boddy knocks ominously on the door.
The delight in Clue is the ramping of hysteria and energy from our characters as they storm about the place while we, the audience, are privy to unseen moments that add further intrigue into who is involved with what.
Is Clue Worth Watching?
Madeline Khan as a ‘black widow’ Mrs. White steals the show with her one-liners and generally off-kilter delivery but is quickly followed by the somewhat snooty Eileen Brennan as Mrs. Peacock.
Christopher Lloyd’s Mr Plum is cast against type as a lecherous creep, not helped by the ridiculously saucy faux French maid Yvette (Colleen Camp) whose quite visible charms derail most of the male guests.
As a murder mystery the circumstances of what happen perhaps carry more weight than the why and by who, due to a rather unique masterstroke of design: the multiple ending.
Clue has three completely different endings and played a different one depending on which cinema screen you went to at the time, much to the confusion of people talking about it afterwards!
On the home release though all three endings are presented one after the other, with the last one presented as the ‘true’ ending.
Regardless of how things actually wrap up, there is plenty of room for hysterics in each circumstance and their cumulative effect make for even more laughs.
With talk that the long-stalled Clue remake starring Ryan Reynolds is back on, it could be that this chaos will return to our screens.
Yet there is something unique in this mid-80s quirky release that only a combination of its cast and crew could produce.
Whatever happens, to reset the mystery, Clue is still a calamitous crime well worth examining.
Words by Mike Record