Some Thoughts on “Clue”
Posted by therebelprince on September 30, 2010
I’ve always held that Nashville is my favourite film of all time. But when it comes to my favourite cult quote-every-line movie? It’s gotta be Clue. Yes, perhaps there are more truly classic comedies – Harold and Maude, Some Like it Hot, Manhattan spring to mind – but none have me hysterical on every. single. viewing.
You know the plot even if you haven’t seen it. Six strangers receive invitations to dinner at Hill House, a Gothic mansion somewhere in New England. All are given pseudonyms for the evening – Mrs. Peacock (Eileen Brennan), Colonel Mustard (Martin Mull), etc. Shortly thereafter, the group discover that everyone among them is being blackmailed by the mysterious Mr. Boddy (Lee Ving). When the lights go out, someone kills Boddy – using one of the six weapons he has presented them as gifts. Along with the butler, Wadsworth (Tim Curry), and the coquettish French maid Yvette (Colleen Camp), the guests must uncover the murderer before the police arrive. Of course, before long there is another murder. And another. And another. In a twist on the genre, people keep arriving at the house, only to be killed off, which preserves each of the main characters’ chance of being the murderer.
I have shown this movie to basically everyone I’ve ever met (once, I screened it for my entire college, which was possibly the best night of my life). It’s great to watch their reactions – the first ten or fifteen minutes are slow-paced, and people enjoy it but wonder why they’re watching. Then, suddenly, the madcap plotting kicks in and takes your mind to a whole new realm of understanding.
A lot of the brilliance is down to the cast, all of whom are howlingly funny. Top marks go to Michael McKean as the nervous homosexual public servant Mr. Green, and Madeline Kahn, whose performance as the psychologically disturbed “black widow” Mrs. White is nothing short of sublime. Sometimes, I walk around my home mumbling “flames… flames… on the side of my face…” just for the sheer joy of it. There’s a reason this woman remains a cult figure ten years after her untimely death. I could (and perhaps will) write a post just praising her.
Jonathan Lynn’s script manages to keep several balls constantly in the air. Except for the sequence in which our characters split up to search the house, most scenes feature the core seven characters – the guests plus Wadsworth – and never does the writing feel crowded. Instead, the group dynamic allows the banter to shine, with each character individually written and most people get to play up against everyone else at some point. Particularly delightful together are Mrs. Peacock and Professor Plum (Christopher Lloyd) searching the cellar, and any time Wadsworth crosses paths with Mrs. White. (Madeline Kahn’s batty scream toward him late in the film is the most bizarre moment, and could only have come from that glorious woman.)
The splitting-up sequence, incidentally, is perhaps the most masterful of the film’s many great moments, somehow combining laughs with tension and our very real knowledge that one of these people could take out the other at any time. Mr. Green trying to avoid Yvette’s ample bosom as they amble up a tiny staircase; Colonel Mustard taking a pool cue from its rack and striding toward Miss Scarlet; the cagey trust between Wadsworth and Mrs. White. Partly set to the strains of The Crew Cuts’ “Life Could Be A Dream”. Bliss
The film is set in the 1950s, at the height of McCarthyism, and perhaps because of this, Clue uses the tropes of a murder mystery from that time. Yet never does it rest on these laurels. No one leaves because the police are coming, certainly, but it’s also because the rest of the group have promised to frame anyone who tries to get out easy. At the same time, the film promises that while some characters may be innocent, they are almost all low-lifes – Miss Scarlet (Lesley Ann Warren) is a pimp, Professor Plum a doctor who takes advantage of his patients, etc.. Clue is one of those comedy films in which you have no-one to root for, and I love it.
But perhaps all this talk is unnecessary. Hugh Laurie once said of the Jeeves books, “You don’t analyse such sunlit perfection, you just bask in its warmth and splendour”. If you haven’t experienced this splendour, please do. The dialogue soars past at warp-speed. For every joke involving physical violence, there’s another drily delivered while speeding on to the next. And, after a madcap exposition sequence involving Tim Curry at his best, there are three – THREE! – endings (one of which was randomly shown when screened in cinemas). The third is the best, incidentally.
I hoped to end with some grand statement about how Clue exemplifies what mainstream comedy movies should be: a cast chosen for true comic ability (male and female); no typical plot structure (sorry, The Hangover) in which our heroes must make valuable decisions about their lives in the closing reel; the ability to find humour in something beyond just the sexual (not that they’re entirely absent: witness Professor Plum trying to demonstrate a Tantric sex move); and so on…
I don’t really have a closing. This movie didn’t change the face of comedy, nor am I claiming that. Instead, it’s merely perfectly-cast, brilliantly-written, jubilantly directed and eminently quotable. See it. Or rewatch it. And then show your friends!
Selected quotes for the Clue enthusiast:
* “That was his job. He was an illusionist.” “But he never reappeared.” “He wasn’t a very good illusionist” – Mrs. White and Wadsworth
* “Everything alright?” “Yep, two corpses. Everything’s fine!” – Mrs. Peacock and Colonel Mustard
* “What are you afraid of, a fate worse than death?” “No, just death. Isn’t that enough” – Professor Plum and Mrs. Peacock
* “Mrs. Peacock was a man?” – Mr. Green
* “I hated her so much… it-it- flame- flames, on the side of my face, breathing,heaving breaths…” – Mrs. White
* “Husbands should be like Kleenex: soft, strong and disposable” – Mrs. White
* “Do you like Kipling, Miss Scarlet?” “Sure, I’ll eat anything” – Colonel Mustard and Miss Scarlet
* “Communism was just a red herring” – everyone.
My other late night rants can be found here.