Obviously this movie is based on the famous original Parker Brothers/Waddingtons board game which is in fact called Cluedo, a play on the words Ludo (Latin for I play) and Clue. The basis of the game is a period set murder mystery within a mansion or large old house. The murder in question is of the mansion owner, the suspects are an array of six respected people from various backgrounds. The murder could have taken place anywhere within the mansions nine rooms, and the murder weapon could be one of six items.
Amazingly the basis of the movie does actually follow along with the board games rules, in a way. Set in 1954, New England, USA (keeping in tune with the original games artistic look and era of creation, except not being set in the UK), a group of six relatively wealthy/influential/high profile people are invited to a remote mansion for a small gathering, the reason being unknown to all of them. The organiser of the evenings event is Wadsworth the butler. What do all six people have in common with each other? Mr Boddy is apparently blackmailing each of them over various dodgy things. Why have they all been gathered together? Because they are all unaware Mr Boddy is blackmailing each of them and Wadsworth wants to reveal this to the guests. Why does Wadsworth want to do this? Because he too is being blackmailed by Mr Boddy. The plan? to hand over Mr Boddy to the police with all the evidence from each guest.
Alas things go awry when Mr Boddy says he will simply reveal all of the guests deep secrets (some incriminating) to the police (why he’s blackmailing them). To further complicate things, he then hands each guest a lethal weapon and offers them the opportunity to murder Wadsworth and destroy the evidence. There by keeping their secrets safe with him and pretending the evenings events had never occurred. Next thing we know Boddy is dead and everyone is suspect. Stupid really because they could of just killed Mr Boddy outright, no mystery required, and gone about their daily lives with no more blackmailing. You do wonder why they all just didn’t decide to do that seeing as they were all on the same team and it was bloody obvious.
Its from this point onwards that the movie takes up the mantle of the classic board game where by any one of the guests could of killed Mr Boddy, with any weapon, in any room (well actually we know the room). So yes essentially its a ‘whodunnit?’, period piece murder mystery. Admittedly that should always be the obvious route for this idea but it could of been so easy to mess this up by adding action set pieces, outside locations, extra characters or general over the top padding. So I do really respect the fact they stuck close to the board games roots and kept the story contained within the mansion, with all the classic characters, no pointless alterations, no needless filling and no unnecessary sub plots. Basically if they remade this now you just know they’d change everything and add lots of shit involving CGI…somehow.
That’s not to say there aren’t any other characters or mini plots in the film, because there are, but they fit into the story. In fact this entire film is a cobweb of lies, deceit, backstabbing, double dealings, underhandedness and mini sub plots all over the damn show. Basically, as the film progresses nothing is what it seems, no one is who you thought they were and you’re constantly guessing who did what, with who, why? and did they kill Mr Boddy? There are so many links between all the characters, both main characters and the background/extra characters. The characters stories fly to and fro, you never know what will crop up next or what will be twisted around. Every character has a purpose in the film no matter how small, the trick is trying to guess that purpose (you won’t). This is all handled with much speedy dialog, double entendres aplenty, slapstick and gallows humour. The whole movie starts off with a wry, dry, sarcastic tone but eventually breaks out into full farcical lunacy and tomfoolery that, somehow, does manage to entertain you. In fact the lunacy becomes the butt of the joke as the tension is cranked up from the midway point.
The characters are all present and correct from the board game too which is nice to see, as I said no pointless changes here (although in the film their classic ‘game names’ are actually pseudonyms to protect their real identities, because of the blackmail plot). Admittedly the board games colour scheme for each character hasn’t been upheld. In other words Colonel Mustard isn’t wearing a yellow suit or whatever and Miss Scarlet isn’t wearing a scarlet dress etc…you get my drift. But all the characters are here being the correct gender and race, and all the weapons are here too. There are some small differences though which is down to the American and British versions of the game. Mr Boddy is in the American version of the game, Dr Black in the UK. Its Mr Green in the US where as its Reverend Green in the UK. And a wrench is used in the US where as in the UK its a spanner. All of these minor changes are in this film seeing as its an American production.
As for the cast well its a mixed bunch of retro stars that many I’m sure have never heard of. This was actually one factor that I never liked about the movie, the cast seemed weak to me, maybe they could of used some bigger names? Straight off the bat with the more recognised stars you’ve got Tim Curry as Wadsworth the butler (presumably a nice little play on the company name of Waddingtons). I don’t wanna say any one of these actors held this film together because they all contributed equally well, but Curry has to be the most fun. Curry’s performance is one of the main factors in the movie getting more crazy as it progresses. His wild eyed craziness is infectious and surprisingly amusing, I say surprising because you’d think it would grow tiresome or come across as childish. Also this character is an addition to the board games roster so it could of failed miserably.
Professor Plum is played by the legendary Christopher Lloyd. Lloyd plays a slightly shifty character in Plum, not the more crazy eccentric you might have expected. A member of the World Health Organisation who had his medical license revoked for having relations with a female patient. Mrs Peacock is played by Eileen Brennan; a brilliantly neurotic performance as a US Senators wife whose been taking bribes. Miss Scarlet is played by Lesley Ann Warren. The flirty floozy of the bunch who owns an illegal escort service in Washington DC. Martin Mull is Colonel Mustard, a war profiteer whose working for the Pentagon on a fusion bomb and had relations with a girl from Miss Scarlet’s escort service.
Mr Green’s big secret is that he’s a homosexual, something that would cost him his job in the State Department. Green is played in a charmingly submissive, jumpy, clumsy and cowardly fashion by Micheal McKean. Lastly we have Mrs White played by Madeline Kahn; the black widow whose husbands die under mysterious circumstances. White is drawn into this twisted little game to avoid a scandal surrounding the death of her latest husband. In extra roles, Mr Boddy is played in a sightly unconvincing fashion by Lee Ving. Obviously this guy doesn’t last too long and this is probably for the best as Ving’s greasy cad is pretty terrible. Clearly Ving can’t act too well, possibly he can’t deliver his lines either as much of his dialog is clearly dubbed for some reason. Then we also have Yvette the maid played by Colleen Camp. Dressed in sexy French maid attire complete with fishnets and horrendous accent, poor old Camp/Yvette seems to be in the plot purely to be killed off adding to the mystery (oh and some much needed sex appeal).
Lets be clear here, all these characters are meant to be devious, dirty, sleazy and completely untrustworthy. At no point throughout the movie are you ever completely sure if any of these people are telling the truth. This is the sheer brilliance of the film (and to be expected). You truly don’t know who to root for, who to like or who to feel for, everything is up in the air. Heck! half the time you’re not even sure if people who have died will remain dead. But watching all these smartly dressed folk dash around this mansion, from room to room, in pure pandemonium, trying to stay alive and keep other arrivals from smelling a rat, is a guilty pleasure. Its at these points you’re not really bothered about who gets bumped off next, you’re just curious as to where the film will go next. Nonetheless its still easy to pick a favourite from the madcap group of slimeballs. For me (and I’m sure most everyone) Curry steals the show with his rambunctious, googly eyed, well spoken antics. McKean as the strait-laced homosexual Green comes in second, followed closely by Brennan as Peacock.
The entire film is clearly shot on studio sets but what sets! The mansion interior may be easy to call out as a set but its incredibly detailed with period dressings and design. You’ve got all the rooms that feature in the board game of course, each looking very regal and quite impressive (the mansion is supposed to be a posh pad after all). Admittedly things do seem to get a bit cramped for the scenes upstairs, clearly not as much room for expansive rooms, but overall the whole film looks really nice and sets the mood perfectly. Naturally all the cast are dressed in period attire which looks lovely, those darling 50’s styles where everyone looks so smart and picture perfect. But yeah, its all obvious sets (except for literally one or two exterior shots at the start), and there’s a nice but obvious matte painting shot of the mansion at the start too. Other than that its all pretty much like a theatre-esque production with dialog and actual acting, no action, CGI or chase sequences to be found here folks.
The film has since picked up a cult following since it disappointing release, and I can see why. As said before its definitely a film that requires a few viewings. It does grow on you over time and you do find yourself coming back to it (its a great little Halloween flick). The fact they filmed multiple endings also adds a bit of extra life to the movie. Sure you get them all as extras now but at the time this was a really bold fresh move. Depending where you saw the film depended on what finale you would see, genius money spinner (had people liked it).
Overall I would say ‘Clue’ is a curious little gem. Its not actually a funny film in my opinion, not hilarious, yes its a comedy but still…its not that funny. Much of the comedy seems a bit childish at times or just misses the mark. Its a highly enjoyable ride with some great performances (that tend to have air of improvisation about them), zippy quickfire dialog, great theatrical-like visuals and some great twists. But at the same time it just feels like it could of been even better, wittier, maybe some better slapstick? Alas the movie is now dated and was even back in 1985 with its McCarthy hearing references and heavy dialog, Poirot-esque, drawing-room set murder mystery style. So there you have it, good fun in that classic golden age of Hollywood style. A brave stab (hehe) at a movie based on a board game, but I just think it could have been much better.