There are some movies which, for whatever reason, first appear as though they’re horrible mistakes, and which tank at the box office only to find a second life amongst a small but devout following. As the years pass, said following tells anyone and everyone who will listen that the movie is in fact pure genius, a masterwork that is either ahead of its time or simply misunderstood or just about anything else that they can think of to convince people to watch the movie.
In that vein, may I present to you the 1985 film, Clue. Based on the board game, and directed by Jonathan Lynn from Lynn’s screenplay and a story from Lynn and John Landis, Clue is nothing less than an hysterical period piece full of great performances, witty dialogue, and a none-too-bad mystery. In fact, it may be that only Neil Simon’s Murder by Death stands as a better send-up of the genre.
How is that? Did I sell it well enough? Truth be told, Clue is great if you’re the right sort of person and it may say more about the viewer than the film when it is judged. I do think that it is brilliantly funny, and while I would put A Shot in the Dark above it but below Murder by Death were I ranking such films, I watch Clue on a fairly regular basis and never think my time poorly spent.
First off, it has an absolutely great bunch of comedians at its core. Playing the board game characters, we have Eileen Brennan as Mrs. Peacock, Madeline Kahn (who also appeared in Murder by Death) as Mrs. White, Lesley Ann Warren as Miss Scarlet, Martin Mull as Colonel Mustard, Christopher Lloyd as Professor Plum, Michael McKean as Mr. Green, and Lee Ving as Mr. Boddy (he’s not a playable character in the game, but he’s totally there). Rounding out the main cast then are Tim Curry as Wadsworth the butler and Colleen Camp as Yvette the maid. Each one plays their role brilliantly, and despite the cast being large, each actor is given enough character and jokes to make them memorable. Curry in particular is wonderful in a role that feels tailor made for just his brand of weird.
As for the plot, well, they’re in a big old mansion (one with a similar main floor layout to that in the game), a murder is committed, and it falls to the characters to figure out who done it. And, as the killings start to mount, it becomes something of a race to work out the solution before the killer strikes again. It is a lot to get done in the film’s 87 to 96 minutes (I’ll explain that in a minute), but the film manages it with aplomb.
As for that odd runtime length, when initially released to theaters, Clue had three different endings and depending on where you saw it, you got one of the three endings. Home video releases of the movie have featured a ‘trilogy’ ending that has all three tacked together with silent-film style cards explaining which is the one that actually took place. The Blu-ray (as, I believe, with DVD releases before it) give the option to play one of the three endings when running the movie or the trilogy version. All are amusing, but the one the trilogy ending gives as to what ‘really’ took place is certainly the best.
Many out there might argue that Clue isn’t particularly well made, that it is full of bloopers and errors and logical inconsistencies. I wouldn’t go so far as to use a lead pipe in the drawing room (or a wrench in the study) on such people, but I would point out that they’re doing the equivalent of strangling the humor out of proceedings (perhaps with a rope in the conservatory or the ball room). Clue does have plot holes, logic flaws, and more than one not-quite-matching set of shots, but it’s all so fast and frantic that to get upset by them you really have to purposefully try and stymie your enjoyment of the film.
By all this I am not suggesting that Clue deserves to find itself on any AFI list of best film or best comedy, but rather that it is an overlooked, under-respected, and a far too easily snubbed movie. It is fun and funny in a way that few films are and if you give it an honest chance, you just may find yourself part of the group of people who attempt to convince others of its genius.
Clue, sadly, hits Blu-ray in an underwhelming release. The endings are all viewable separately and together in the bonus features section as is the trailer. That, however, is all that is present in the way of extras.
As one would surmise for a movie about murder (even a comedy about it), much of Clue is dark, but the Blu-ray release doesn’t lose anything in the darkness – even when the lights are dim, the visuals tend to be good. It is something of an inconsistent release with some scenes far more grainy than others, but not to the point of distraction. The print is free of scratches, dirt, and debris, and that is really all one can ask for from such a generally underrated cult movie without a Rocky Horror-size following. The mono DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack, too, is clean and crisp, though some looped audio does sound rather obvious (though it may have during the theatrical release as well). It is a movie that feels as though it would play very well with directional screams and lots of bass for crashes and bangs and the occasional shot from a revolver, but it is serviceable as it stands.
The truth of the matter is that Clue will never end up being placed on the pedestal which I think it deserves; it is more likely that it will be shelved in a dusty old basement somewhere. Even so, having seen the movie more times than I care to admit, I still constantly find new and funny things in it, still try to piece together what happened by seeing who is or isn’t in a scene, and still sing-along with glee when the Singing Telegram appears. It may not be genius, it is a source of great pleasure and that’s all I ever really ask from a movie.