There was an error in this gadget

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Movies you’ve never heard of 4: Clue

And continuing in our special election year series of farces, I offer for your consideration Clue.

Based on the venerable board game, Clue features an ensemble cast that includes Martin Mull (Col. Mustard), Christopher Lloyd (Professor Plum), Madeline Kahn (Ms. White), Eileen Brennan (Mrs. Peacock), Michael McKean (Mr. Green), Lesley Ann Warren (Miss Scarlet), Tim Curry as Wadsworth the Butler and Lee Ving as Mr. Boddy.

I don’t know about you, but I never miss a Lee Ving picture.

With a cast like that, you almost don’t need a plot. Which is good, because Clue almost doesn’t have one. The movie basically plays out like a particularly good session of the game. The board is set up, the characters are introduced, the murder happens, and everyone wanders from room to room trying to figure out whodunit. A little more meat is hung on the skeletal premise to keep the viewer interested, but only just enough to set up the action. The butler (Tim Curry) has summoned everyone to his master’s (Mr. Boddy’s) mansion where it is revealed that Mr. Boddy has been blackmailing everyone with various secrets.

This results in Mr. Boddy’s death. Following the murder, the characters all try to figure out who did it. They all had means, motive and opportunity, and there were no witnesses. So they search the house looking for clues that might point to someone, whether that be one of them or some mysterious third party that nobody has seen yet.

Through the course of the movie, the characters will discover another six murders, bringing the total mortality rate to six. And no, that’s not a typo, nor did I forget how to do math. To tell you more, however, would spoil the endings.

Again, that’s not a typo. Long before Peter Jackson became synonymous with denouement infinitum, Clue shipped to theatres with several endings. Reportedly, moviegoers were asked before the denouement who they think did it, and the most popular answer was shown. The VHS edition of the movie showed each ending in sequence prefaced with a title card saying something like “That’s how it might have happened. But how about this?” The VHS version selected one version as the canonical ending, and it is entertaining in spite of the fact that there’s no way the canonical ending could have played out that way given what was shown in the previous reels.

And yes, I do complain about plot inconsistencies and continuity errors in the farcical telling of a story inspired by a board game. It’s what I do. I would likewise grumble at the pivotal role of zoning violations in a movie based on Carcassonne.

The DVD of the movie offers the viewer multiple options, ranging from seeing the VHS release to being treated to a random ending with each viewing.

For a movie based on a board game, there is a remarkable amount of fan service. All of the murder weapons from the game make an appearance, and all of them are used at some point. The floor plan of the mansion’s ground floor matches the board game exactly, right down to the secret passages connecting rooms on the corners. The canonical ending even closes the movie with the classic “X did it. In the Y. With the Z,” phrasing that just about everybody uses when they play the game.

Where the movie really shines, however, is in the acting. You don’t put together a cast like this one and fail to get something decent, and the quality of the writing only adds to it. Tim Curry is his usual flavor of awesome, and Christopher Lloyd plays what is quite possibly the most “normal” character he’s ever played. Of course, Madeline Kahn is superb, as she always was. It was a tremendous loss to Hollywood when she died.

There really isn’t much more to say about Clue that wouldn’t spoil the experience of seeing it for the first time. While it was originally released in 1985, it’s aged well; largely due to the fact that it’s a period piece. The humor has a good blend of puns, sight gags and slap stick, and it’s largely appropriate for all audiences, murder aside.