TC: Who doesn’t love playing a board game? They’ve been around in many variations since the BC era before the term was ever coined and been on a steady increase which soon became a staple of entertainment for everybody regardless of age. So much so that there’s an endless amount to choose from and range from many different variations. Of course with that in mind, picking a favorite has always been a big subject of talk amongst people. Many people usually go for some of the classics like Monopoly, The Game of Life, or Chess and sometimes more modern examples like Cards Against Humanity. One of the most popular choices though is the subject for the film in question today: Clue.
The board game was created by Anthony E. Pratt in 1949 and was heavily inspired by murder-mystery games and mystery stories that he had experience with while being stuck at home during World War II. The game’s concept is simple: You play as one of six suspects of a murder inside a mansion and you have to deduce who killed him, which weapon was used, and where it happened. The game became a big success and has easily become one of the most popular board games of all time as well as becoming a prominent example of the ‘Whodunit’ genre. Hell, it’s even my personal favorite board game to play.
J99: I’m afraid to say I’m not familiar with the board game. While I did grow up with Monopoly and Chess, the closest I ever came to the game was always seeing the box cover whenever I was in Target or Wal Mart in the toy section. But it makes sense a game like Clue would be as popular then as it is still today: murder mysteries are a fun subject. It’s engaging when you get wrapped up in a mystery and wanting to figure out what’s going on and who’s behind this crime. That’s one of the reasons escape rooms became popular in recent years: what’s a more fun experience than you and your friends trying to put clues together to move onto the next puzzle?
TC: Of course like most board games, Clue’s success has gained many different variations over the years as well as diving into different territories such as having computer games, children’s books, two game shows, a TV miniseries, multiple stage adaptations, a comic book series, and the most notable adaptation: a movie. The movie came out in 1985 which served as the directorial debut of Jonathan Lynn who wrote the screenplay from a concept by himself and John Landis. The movie ended up being a box office bomb, but soon after became very popular after its home video release and has received much appraisal over the years (just like everything else I take a look at).
J99: Although, looking back you can sort of see why this didn’t exactly go over well with audiences in December of 1985. The film was released with the idea that depending on which theater you saw the movie in, you would end up with one of three alternate twist endings-each ending having one of the characters be revealed as the murderer. Landis figured it would get people to come back to see the film to see the other endings, which he later felt is what drove people away since there really wasn’t a “true” ending, which famous critic duo Siskel and Ebert felt was a gimmick. I’d argue that with all three endings now all included with the home release, it both plays into the comedic nature of the movie, but also sort of immolates the spirit of the original game: not every ending is going to be the same. Whoever was the murderer in a prior game might not be another time around, so anyone is a suspect and everyone’s in the dark. Another huge criticism was, well, it was adapting a board game. Yeah, silly now with Paramount’s Sonic 2 being well received and grossing millions at the box office, but this was the earliest days of game adaptations. People weren’t sure how to adapt something like that, or if an adaptation could be at all successful in another medium. With the film’s much better received reputation, it shows it can work, just takes time for people to catch on.
Synopsis: On a dark and stormy night in 1954, Six strangers are invited to a large New England mansion while under the use of pseudonyms as requested by an unknown host which entails Colonel Mustard (Martin Mull), Mrs. White (Madeline Kahn), Mr. Green (Michael McKean), Mrs. Peacock (Eileen Brennan), Professor Plum (Christopher Lloyd) and Miss Scarlet (Lesley Ann Warren) who are received by the mansion’s butler Wadsworth (Tim Curry) and maid Yvette (Colleen Camp) for a dinner party. Shortly after the arrival of the party’s seventh guest, Mr. Boddy (Lee Ving), they soon discuss the displeasure of being on the receiving end of blackmail of his doing. Soon after a chaotic and mysterious moment, Mr. Boddy has suddenly died and no one knows who killed him or how it happened. With the notion that the police are on the way to the mansion, at the request of Wadsworth, the night becomes a race against time as they try to find out who killed him.
TC: Seeing as this was the first time the idea of adapting a board game to film was ever presented, the one big question on everyone’s mind would obviously be how would they do it. Outside of roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons, most traditional board games have little to no concept or a premise to them so they would end up with a dumb concept like Battleship (or the Ouija movies if you count them). However, Clue had the upper hand in that regard since the game itself is a ‘Whodunit’ mystery as well as each of the characters had their own personalities in the board game which makes it a lot easier to adapt on screen. Sure you can make some changes however you see fit, which this movie did, but the end goal ends up being just like the game: finding out who killed Mr. Boddy with which weapon and where it happened.
J99: But to the filmmaker’s credit, I think the way they handled the film was by far the best approach with this sort of game: not taking themselves seriously. The film does not go for a grounded or serious tone, having a very slapstick style where everyone in the house is a punching bag, and nobody is off limits to receive a blow. Now, there are serious subjects for sure, especially when it comes to people getting killed off by the unidentified killer, but isn’t long before a joke comes about it. I think that’s a strength the filmmakers were aware of when writing and filming this movie. By having a genre the game is based on, they were able to poke fun at the genre itself awhile still coming off as a Whodunit. We can have secret passage ways, but we can also get people stuck because they’re full of themselves and want to go ahead of one another. We can set up how sinister these dogs are, and immediately have a person step in dog crap (which does lead to a pretty fun running gag).
TC: Seeing as the board game is a well known murder-mystery, one will obviously assume that the movie is no exception. While that is true, the movie seems to go as a comedic parody of them as well. Once Mr. Boddy dies, everybody starts pointing fingers at each other, nobody trusts anyone when there in the same room as some one else, plenty of slapstick is thrown around, and lots of screaming and shouting is involved.
Not to mention whenever outsiders arrive to the house, they try their best to hide the body and divert attention away from the subject. Another little fun detail is the fact that the movie pretty much turns from slapstick to black comedy fairly quickly (and some of those scenes fit right in with Weekend At Bernie’s). The whole night is an easy example of what not to do in this situation.
TC: Speaking of adapting the story, an unique approach to the premise of this film is having it set during the early years of the Cold War. The tensions between the U.S. and Russia in the arms race were starting to rise and fears of Communism ran amuck throughout the country as Senator Joseph McCarthy began a massive campaign on people whom he believed to be committing treason against the US fresh off the heels of the Korean War. These ideas are presented through the characters as they were all being blackmailed for many different activities that each individual had committed (or were still committing) that were viewed as un-American through the eyes of Mr. Boddy in which he decided to take the Capitalist approach and blackmail them for money instead of telling the authorities or the House Un-American Activities Committee (to quote Wadsworth in the movie: “What could be more American than that?”). I thought that it was a pretty unique idea that gave new life and a somewhat urban take to the Murder-Mystery genre since most of the more popular examples were often set in the late 1800’s or early 1900’s (which is also one minor detail I liked with Knives Out).
J99: If I were to guess, by having it set during 1954 it finds itself close to when the game originally was released, but also fits into the fears of the Cold War that were still relevant during the time of the film’s release. So while the setting might be somewhat alienated, the themes and subject matters aren’t too far off from alienating the audience. Though then again, I think there’s probably another reason for this setting. The 1980s were a huge period of up-and-coming filmmakers making nods and homages to the media they grew up with as kids: Indiana Jones on the adventure serials of the 1930s and 40s, Star Wars on classic comic strip heroes like Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers, The Twilight Zone revived as a movie and television series. Music and fashion took inspiration from that era, but updated to fit the then modern day. So it somewhat makes sense that a board game from the 1950s should then immolate the tone and look of how it was when it originally was introduced to the public: being set in the 1950s.
TC: Given that each of the character is given some personality for the board game, it would be interesting to see how they were adapted to fit the Cold War setting for the movie. Not only that, but they created completely new characters as well to both help find out who did it and bring in some comedy. For our pre-existing characters, we have Miss Scarlet as the proud owner of a brothel in Washington D.C. who’s often cracking jokes throughout the night; Colonel Mustard is a military man working for the Pentagon who isn’t really the brightest of the party guests; Mrs. White is an often quiet but easily stressed out widow who’s husband died under mysterious circumstances (but she totally didn’t kill him); Professor Plum is a former psychiatrist who now works for the UN after losing his license due to doing some less than flattering things with a patient (not too surprising since he frequently tries to get handsy and flirty with some of the female guests); Mrs. Peacock is the wife of a U.S. senator who has been accused of taking bribes for him to secure votes who can be a bit ‘holier-than-thou’ in some cases but she’s also the first to go completely hysterical once Mr. Boddy is found dead; Mr. Green is the accident prone, no nonsense member of the group who works for the State Department and has to hide the fact that he’s secretly gay or he’ll lose his job (and back in those days, it was a lot worse to have that be open knowledge); Finally, Mr. Boddy is the one who’s blackmailing everyone invited to the party and was quite willing to kill off his own butler just to keep the blackmail going (this one was definitely a step up for the character since all you know about him in the game is that he’s dead).
J99: As someone who isn’t familiar with the game as mentioned prior, I don’t know how close these characters are to their original source material. All I can say is that they’re all wonderfully despicable people who you both love to hate and laugh at. The movie does a really good job of giving us the chance to know everyone and get a read on them, and with it being a comedy we’re given (I feel) a better read when their true selves shine through due to the film’s tone and style. People seem stoic or cold, only to be a bumbling idiot or make an observation you didn’t realize. Someone seems to know what’s up and have everything under control, only to then be revealed to be not in control and in the dark like everyone else. Again, I’m glad this is how they approached adapting the film. Everyone’s almost on the same level and all have no idea what’s going on, so by then allowing the actors to then go and have the freedom to fill in the rest, results in some great comedic interactions and funny laughs. If I’d nitpick one thing, I’d say Mr. Boddy doesn’t seem to fit this movie. I don’t know if it’s the actor or how they decided to depict him, but he feels too serious for the tone the movie’s going for. I don’t know, just feels somewhat out of place in comparison with everything and everyone else in the film…though then again he isn’t on screen for too long, so it’s not very distracting.
TC: For the new characters, the two most prominent are Wadsworth and Yvette, two of the three staff members of the Mansion. Wadsworth was Mr. Boddy’s butler who arranged this whole night as a means of seeking justice for his deceased wife after Mr. Boddy blackmailed her to the point of committing suicide and decided to include the guests to help end the blackmail and have him arrested. As the night progresses, he constantly remains one of the most level headed people of the group and is quick to suggest ideas to help solve the mystery (plus he turns out to be a pretty good amateur sleuth by the end of it). Given that he’s played by Tim Curry, he’s easily one of the best performances in the movie (and is easily my favorite character).
J99: Hands down, probably one of my favorite performances and characters in the film is provided by Curry. All the cast are great, but Curry just grabs your attention, and you can’t look away. While he seems to have a fair knowledge of what’s going on, it’s funny to see him being frustrated and in the dark like the other guests. He seems like he’s got everything under control but seeing him trying to keep things together is pretty hilarious. Especially when he has this great sequence catching everyone up to speed as to what’s played out throughout the night, which is both impressive to see him act through but hilarious with how goofy it gets at points.
TC: Yvette is the French maid who assists Wadsworth with his plan. After the death of Mr. Boddy, she spends most of her time worrying and being eye candy for just about everyone (except Wadsworth and Mr. Green). While Yvette is in a good majority of the movie, she doesn’t contribute too much to it and is just kind of there (although she does come into play more prominently later on though in other ways).
J99: Yvette is…okay. Like you mentioned, she doesn’t contribute much to the movie outside of being eye candy. And yes, I get that that’s supposed to be the joke, but I wanted to see what other jokes they could do with her. The fortunately do have some funny moments that did crack me up, but besides those she doesn’t have much else to do. As for how she becomes more prominent near the end, it makes some sense, I just wished there was just a little more was all.
TC: Given the fact that everyone in the cast is a character actor, you’re going to be getting a lot of scenes of people trying to ham it up against each other and makes them very memorable and fun.
J99: Fortunately, the film knows that and basically allows everyone to just go to town with being over the top and clearly having a great time. The closest I think it compares to is Knives Out, except where that film on rare occasions delves into being goofy and eventually resettles into being serious, this one never lets that go. Goofy is at the film’s heart and happily parades it across the screen.
TC: I love this movie. It’s a fun movie that likes to poke fun at some of the tropes of a classic murder mystery with a lot of over the top performances, funny dialogue, and is a very loyal to the board game that it’s based on. Not to mention there’s a lot of quotable dialogue throughout that I often use with friends.
J99: I really enjoyed this movie. I’m glad despite it not connecting with audiences in 1985 , it eventually did and has a new life. Not on the level of other 80s classics, but enough awareness that the people who do find it really love it. It’s both a loving homage and fun satirical riff on the murder mystery genre, a great cast that swings from serious to over the top cartoony, humor ranging from the mundane to pretty physically demanding stunts, and just an overall fun watch, I highly recommend Clue.