It’s that time again! Another patron-inspired post!
Confession time! This one is a patron-inspired post. Okay, that’s not much of a confession. The real confession is that this was the very first patron-suggestion I got, and I’m just getting to it now. Yeah. I suck. (Sorry Sean!) The reason for my dawdling is twofold. #1) I wanted to make sure when I rewatched Clue, I was able to do it with my dear spouse, who had never seen it before. (I know!) Well, I needn’t have bothered. He really didn’t like it. Grumble. But more important is #2…
I was scared.
It’s true! This is probably the most intimidating patron-post yet. I love Clue. But I don’t think I love Clue nearly as much as Sean does. (Sean’s such a big mystery fan he started his own murder-mystery dinner party business!) Plus I have many other friends who adore this film. Sean specifically asked for a “beautiful love letter to the film” on the eve of its 30th anniversary. I’m happy to do it, but what a tall order!
To make a long story short (Too late!), writing about something I love is always scary because I’m never sure I’ll do it justice. Ok. Enough nervous blathering. Time to drive on up to that spooky house.
I can’t remember the first time I saw Clue. It’s one of those movies that was “always there” for me. I do know it was on VHS and not in the theater. It came out in 1985, so I must’ve been 9 or 10. I have vague memories of being shocked and delighted by the three endings playing back to back to back. I’d never seen anything like it. I’d never dreamt anything like that could exist!*
My other strongest Clue memory is from high school. There was a girl in my chemistry class who could recite the whole thing from memory. We instantly became friends. Of course I encouraged her to show off that skill on a regular basis– much to the annoyance of our chemistry class. I think Clue is still one of the most-quoted films amongst the people I call friends. It seems somewhat surprising, and yet perfectly correct, that so many of the people I’ve gravitated toward later in life are also die-hard Clue fans. Pick any episode of The Doctor Who Book Club Podcast, and I can almost guarantee at least one reference or quote. And many an episode of The TARDIS Tavern features Sean reenacting “Flames! On the side of my face!”**
So what is it about Clue? Why has it become a beloved cult classic after receiving mixed reviews and disappointing box office returns? I can’t speak for the audiences of the day (and I certainly can’t speak for people who saw it for the first time recently and didn’t get it), but I can tell you why I love it.
I can boil it down to two primary elements: the script and the casting. Sure, there are other great things about this film (many), and I’ll get to them, but those other elements sorta flesh things out. Yes. Let’s think of this as a body. Or a Boddy, if you will.*** The script is the skeleton; the cast (and specifically, the performances of that cast) are the muscle mass that animate that skeleton. The rest (the set, costumes, music) are the blood and fat and skin and such. Golly this metaphor has gotten grim. But hey, I’m writing about a comedy featuring murder. Lots of murder. I don’t think I’m out of line here.
Okay, so let’s talk about that skeleton. This script is genius. Well, I think it is. If you’re not the sort who goes for fast-talking double entendres and clever puns, it might not do much for you. If you do happen to get off on that sort of thing, please come sit next to me. We are going to be best friends.
I was going to give some examples of my favorite lines, but you can find those on any Clue quotes page.° If you haven’t seen the film, they won’t make a ton of sense out of context. If you have seen it (and like it°°), they’ll just make you want to watch it again, which you probably should–especially if you haven’t seen it in a while. It holds up.
One more thing to note about the script, this thing cooks! (And not just monkey’s brains!) There are very few dull moments. For a story that takes place within a single house, there’s a surprising amount of action. And no, I don’t mean gunfights and stunt-falls (things which I find boring), I mean excitement, mystery, surprises, witty banter, and running-around (things which are awesome).
Now on to the muscle. A skeleton is only good for so much on its own.°°° You need something to make it move, to bring it to life. And boy howdy does this cast breathe life into an already lively script. Each character is played perfectly. I’m actually having trouble organizing my thoughts for this part of the article. I kinda just want to squee, and I find myself wishing there was a way to translate a hug into an intelligible paragraph.
Alright, deep breath. Let’s try this:
Christopher Lloyd is just the right mix of sleazy and charming (in an oddball way). One moment you wonder why any patient would sleep with him. The next, you totally get it. … Well, you mostly get it.
Martin Mull somehow manages to make Colonel Mustard simultaneously a blowhard and a humble family man. He’s got a pathetic sheepishness that makes me want to give him a hug and a blankie. But he also tries so hard to be a tough guy. He’s got that trying-too-hard thing down pat. That also makes me want to give him a hug and a blankie.
Lesley Ann Warren’s Miss Scarlet is one of my favorite female characters of all time. I wanted to be her. She’s smart, she’s strong, she’s sexy, she can hold her own in any crowd. She’s successful, she owns her own business. She’s always ready with a quip delivered using just the right amount of sarcasm and the perfect roll of her eyes. Oh, and HELLO COLLAR. Her coat is magnificent. The dress underneath, only slightly less so. After the first few minutes, I forgot to be annoyed it wasn’t red. I admit I might be a wee bit biased because I was always Miss Scarlet when we played the board game, but…nah. She’s just that fabulous.
There’s no question that Michael McKean is a comic genius. I admire actors who are willing to become a spineless and bumbling character who stays slightly in the background. (Especially when they’ve been front-and-center in other flicks.) Mr. Green isn’t the flashiest of characters, but without him the film doesn’t work. He’s just enough of a straight manˆ that things don’t go completely off the rails. And his accident-prone fecklessness is positively adorable.
Eileen Brennan is just lovely as Mrs. Peacock. She’s as dotty as they come, but there’s a cold, hard core underneath all those feathers. She sells both equally well. The way she uses her hat and glasses for physical comedy is even better than Mr. Green’s pratfalls.
Madeline Kahn is the only person who could’ve played Mrs. White with that degree of kooky, disconnected charm. You get the impression she’s not really living in the same world as the rest. She’s off in her own, and only pops in to reality to say something disparaging about marriage or men or Yvette. Then she’s back in her own la-la land where she can do as she likes, even if what she likes happens to be bumping off husbands.
Each one of these characters is a wee bit off-balance, yet they balance each other perfectly. Of course that just covers the playable characters from the board game. We also have…
Tim Curry as Wadsworth, the butler. Truth be told, he’s always been my favorite part of the movie. I’ve got a bit of a thing for him, so again: biased. But also again: he really is awesome. He’s the motor that keeps this thing moving, the beating heart of the film. (Hey, that’s a muscle!ˆˆ)
I’m not going to go into detail about Yvette, the police man, the motorist, the singing telegram girl, nor Howard Hessman’s “Chief”. They’re all good.
Oh, and then there’s Lee Ving as Mr. Boddy. Umm… Let’s move on!ˆˆˆ
So yes. Those are the bits that sing to me the loudest, but the rest is great as well. The music is like the blood flowing through the whole thing. You don’t always notice it’s there, but if it wasn’t, it keel over dead (or at least be some sort of weird, stiff zombie-thing).
The fun 50s tunes like “Shake, Rattle, and Roll” by Bill Haley and the Comets or The Crew Cuts’ “Sh-boom” add a little fun to the proceedings, but the score by John Morris˜ is what really takes the cake for me. It’s moody when it needs to be (during the thunderstorm at the beginning). It’s blatantly communicative when it’s funny (Wadsworth to Mrs. White and Yvette: “I see you know each other” BUUUUMMMM! The cook turns around with a knife: dun-DUNNN!). And it’s light and energetic when there’s slapstick dashing-about (the explanation scenes during the ends of the film). I can hear the DA-da-Da-da-Da-da-DA-da-DUM in my head right now as I think of everyone following Wadsworth around as he frantically outlines who did it, where, and with what.
Okay, so we’ve got a skeleton, muscles, blood…I’m tempted to just toss the metaphor out the ballroom window, but what the hey? I’ve stuck with it this long. Let’s call the set design and costuming the skin. It makes sense–that’s what you see, and golly do I like seeing them. I already mentioned Miss Scarlet’s dress and Mrs. Peacock’s hat and glasses, but all the costumes are impeccable and fit the characters they grace both literally and figuratively. Someone with more sartorial knowledge than I could write an article about that alone.
And then of course we have the gorgeous, glorious, stately-elegant-creepy manor house where it all takes place. I remember thinking the rooms in the movie couldn’t possibly compete with the rooms I saw in my mind’s eye while playing Clue.˜˜ I. Was. Wrong. The house takes on a delightful life of its own, right down to the promised secret passages. When I played the board game, I wanted to visit that house. After seeing Clue, I feel like I have.
Golly. This has gone on longer than I expected. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. When I start nattering on about something I love, it’s hard to get me to shut up. And I do love Clue. A lot. It’s rare for a comedy to resonate with me enough to inspire multiple rewatchings, but Clue is so unique and quirky and smart and quick and clever that it’s an exception. And perhaps the very oddness that makes it an outlier in my comedy preferences is what kept its contemporary mass audience at arm’s length. I don’t know.
What I do know is I’ve gone on long enough. I shall cut myself off to make a long story short.
About the Patron:
Sean Homrig is one of the first podcasters I ever listened to regularly, and is also one of the first to invite me to be on a podcast. So yeah, I’m kinda biased when I say how awesome he is, but it also happens to be true. He’s a cohost of two Doctor Who podcasts: The TARDIS Tavern and The Doctor Who Book Club Podcast. He’s also a regular on Doctor Who: Mostly Harmless Cutaway. As if that’s not enough, he’s also one-third of The Classic Horror Cast (a must-listen for fans of that genre).
Although Sean is a practicing attorney by day, he’s just started his own company, Murder for Hire, planning murder mystery parties for clients. If you’re in Texas and want a truly memorable experience for your next gathering, you could do much worse than hiring Sean & co!˜˜˜
*…despite having read plenty of “Choose-Your-Own-Adventure” stories. I don’t think my 9-year-old brain had yet grasped that storytelling techniques could be applied to different types of media.
**Incidentally, that’s the only ad-libbed line in the whole film.
***You will? How kind!
°Okay, I can’t help but mention the “…double negative has led to proof positive” exchange. If you think that’s not driving up the very center of my alley, then you do not know me at all.
°°If you have seen it and didn’t like it, I can’t help you.
°°°Unless you’re playing D&D or something. In which case, grab a blunt weapon, quick!
ˆˆAm I torturing this metaphor? Yes? Tough.
ˆˆˆThe less said about him, the better. At least he dies early. I suppose he’s ok once he’s dead. But he’s painfully stiff even before he becomes one.
˜˜Or “Cluedo” if you happen to be outside North America.
˜˜˜I have been hearing (for years!) about how great Sean’s parties are. I’m so thrilled he’s finally taken them to the next level. Would that I lived in Texas; I’d hire him in a trice!