moviebuff801: Clue (1985) Review

Posted: June 19, 2013 by moviebuff801 in moviebuff801's Movie Reviews, Time Capsule Reviews

Release Date: December 13th, 1985

Running Time: 1 hour and 36 minutes

Written by: Jonathan Lynn, John Landis

Directed by: Jonathan Lynn

Starring: Tim Curry, Martin Mull, Eileen Brennan, Michael McKean, Christopher Lloyd

“Based on the (insert ‘video’, ‘board’) game” isn’t exactly the most promising of endorsements when advertising a movie, but of course, there are always exceptions to every rule.  I mean, look how well the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie turned out, despite the fact that it came from a theme park ride.  But I digress.  I’m here today to talk about Clue, the cult murder mystery comedy which was born from the famous Parker Brothers board game.  And while it may not be as great an adaptation from unusual source material as Pirates (well, what do you know, I managed to make a connection there after all), it’s still a surprisingly good and respectable little film.

Clue opens, as most murder mysteries do, on a stormy night at a vast mansion which sits atop a lone hill.  The time is the 1950’s, and we’re first introduced to Wadsworth (Tim Curry), the butler to the mansion’s owner, Mr. Boddy (Lee Ving), who’s hosting a dinner party for the night.  The guest list for the evening includes Col. Mustard (Martin Mull), Mrs. White (Madeline Khan), Mr. Green (Michael McKean), Mrs. Peacock (Eileen Brennan), Miss Scarlet (Lesley Ann Warren) and Professor Plum (Christopher Lloyd).  Also inside the house is Evette (Colleen Camp), the maid.  Nobody knows why they’ve been summoned to meet a host they’ve never met, but once it’s revealed that that the mysterious Mr. Boddy is blackmailing each guest with information of varying damaging potential, one of them becomes the murderer of Mr. Boddy.  There may be eight potential suspects, but the number of weapons remains the same.  There are six, and we all know what they are: a gun, a knife, a lead pipe, a rope, a wrench and a candlestick.  And from then on out, it’s all about discovering who killed Mr. Boddy, and with what, even as comic mayhem gradually builds up all the while.

I first saw Clue back when I was in the 6th grade, and I liked it then and even though I may not like it any more today, I can say that I appreciate it more now than I did then; what works about it works well.  This movie sports a nice blend of obvious and subtle humor, a combination that makes Clue constantly entertaining, even if the overall end product is pretty thin.  But considering the fact that this is a movie based on a board game, the fact that it’s always fun to watch is commendable in and of itself.  There are jokes here that I got back when I was 11, but also other jokes that I didn’t quite get back then that now add to my enjoyment.  And, in the end, any comedy that can do something like that deserves good marks.

But as is the case with all good comedies, most of the success relies on the chemistry of the cast, and this is another area in which Clue excels.  The key here is that none of these actors are treating the material like some second-rate adaptation; instead, they really give it as much effort as they can, which pays off.  Admittedly, this movie takes a while to get going, but once the actors (and correspondently, we) settle into everything, the real energy of these proceedings gradually starts making itself known.  Another staple of good comedy is how well the material can make you laugh when jokes aren’t being spouted off one after the other, and this is another strength of Clue.  There are quite a few times in this movie where just a simple look between characters or a quick action somebody does gets a good laugh out of us.  For the latter, there are a number of good moments of physical comedy, most involving Michael McKean or Tim Curry, that work effortlessly.  This comes back to how good the chemistry is between the cast; if that wasn’t the case, then certain moments, or perhaps most of the movie, would have felt forced.  But thanks to some pretty clever writing, these moments all hit the mark.

Out of everybody in the cast, I think the best actor here is Tim Curry, who practically steals the show in the film’s Third Act.  And anybody who’s seen this movie knows just how good this Third Act is, and it may just be the best part of the whole film.  Here is where the first two-thirds of Clue build up to, and here is where it bursts with madcap energy and zeal.  This portion of the film is brilliantly staged and executed, and is what most likely sticks in anybody’s mind when thinking back on this movie, and for good reason.  It’s all so good, in fact, that it would make anybody want to hire Tim Curry as their own personal storyteller; I know that’s certainly the case with me.  If I were to look at this movie and single out just one element as the reason why I think Clue has earned a cult status over the years, it would be this Third Act.  I do think there being three different endings to the movie back-to-back-to-back sort of takes away from it, but on the other hand, it’s a pretty clever way of paying tribute to the nature of the board game.

Overall, Clue is a movie that holds up reasonably well.  Sure, the story is thin, but it manages to make up for that by injecting enough life into everything so that for about an hour and a half, we’re just taking joy in the fact that we’re having such a good time.  And for a movie like this, that’s more than enough.

***/****

Comments
  1. Tim Curry is such a force. His facial expressions and voice and charisma and passion make him one of my favorite anti-heroes. I even loved his voice in the animated film, Fern Gully, and he was the oil that moved the bulldozers to strike the rain forest….

  2. ianthecool says:

    I do agree with you that the final act is the best, and is really the only part I remember well.

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