“Communism was just a red herring.”Tim Curry as “Wadsworth” in Clue (1985)
A movie based on a board game should not be good. I can only think of one other movie based on a board game, Battleship (2012), and since I haven’t heard about that film since it came out ten years ago, I doubt that it will stand the test of time. I don’t even think it lasted until 2013. However, a film based on a board game that has stood the test of time is Clue, made 37 years ago in 1985. While the black comedy murder mystery failed to impress contemporary audiences upon its release, it has since developed a massive cult following. The film’s incredibly quotable dialogue has seamlessly integrated itself into everyday lexicon–or maybe just mine.
Clue, the board game, asks players to solve the murder of Mr. Boddy, the owner of the mansion in which the action of the game takes place. The answer to the murder lies inside an envelope placed in the center of the board. Players can assume the role of one of the mansion’s guests: Miss Scarlett, Colonel Mustard, Mrs. Peacock, Mr. Green, Mrs. White, and Professor Plum. A die is rolled and a player moves throughout the mansion, moving in and out of the mansion’s many rooms (Lounge, Dining Room, Kitchen, Ballroom, Study, Library, Billiard Room, Conservatory, and Hall). Players can also utilize the secret passageways that are present in each of the corner rooms. The secret passageway allows the player to move diagonally, from one corner to another. Upon entering a room, a player is allowed to make a suggestion. The player must make a suggestion and name a guest as the murderer and identify the murder weapon (lead pipe, knife, wrench, revolver, rope, and candlestick). The location of the murder is related to the room where the player resides. If the player states, “I think it was Miss Scarlet in the Conservatory with the lead pipe,” the person to the player’s left then has an opportunity to disprove the player’s suggestion by secretly displaying one of the matching cards in their hand. The player can then discreetly eliminate the room, guest, or weapon that was displayed by marking it on their clue sheet. If the player to the left cannot disprove, it is up to the next player to disprove the suggestion. If they cannot disprove the suggestion, it’s up to the next player, and so on. If nobody can disprove the suggestion, the player can then make an accusation. If none of the players can disprove the accusation, the player can reveal the contents of the envelope. If they are correct, they win the game.
The Clue movie takes the basic premise of the board game and gives it a slightly different spin. The film is set during the mid-1950s in Washington DC during the Red Scare. It is a dark, stormy night as six guests try to make their way to a mansion in the middle of nowhere. The cars of each guest match the color of their character’s pawn in the board game. Upon the guests’ arrival, they are given pseudonyms by Wadsworth, the Butler, and Yvette, the Maid. Wadsworth and Yvette are the only original characters added to the cast of main characters. The six guests’ pseudonyms align with the names of the guests from the board game. Right off the bat, one of the reasons that Clue is so awesome is that it has an All-Star cast:
|Actor||Role||Known For (as of 1985):|
|Tim Curry||Wadsworth||Rocky Horror Picture Show, Annie, Legend|
|Colleen Camp||Yvette||Smile, Apocalypse Now, Valley Girl|
|Eileen Brennan||Mrs. Peacock||The Last Picture Show, The Sting, Murder by Death, Private Benjamin|
|Madeline Kahn||Mrs. White||What’s Up Doc?, Paper Moon, Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein|
|Christopher Lloyd||Professor Plum||One Flew Over a Cuckoo’s Nest, Taxi (TV), Back to the Future|
|Michael McKean||Mr. Green||Laverne and Shirley (TV), This is Spinal Tap|
|Martin Mull||Colonel Mustard||Mr. Mom, Mary Hartman Mary Hartman (TV), Fernwood 2 Night (TV)|
|Lesley Ann Warren||Miss. Scarlet||The Happiest Millionaire, Victor/Victoria, Songwriter, Mission Impossible (TV)|
After the guests all arrive, a seventh guest, Mr. Boddy (Lee Ving) shows up. Wadsworth reveals that it was Mr. Boddy who was responsible for sending the invitations that led to the guests’ arrival at the mansion. It turns out that Mr. Boddy has obtained some incriminating information on each guest and plans to blackmail them. Each guest is accused of the following scandal:
|Miss Scarlet||Is a Madam, runs an underground brothel in DC.|
|Miss Peacock||Has been taking bribes on behalf of her husband, a Senator.|
|Mrs. White||Murdered her husband, a nuclear physicist.|
|Professor Plum||Lost his medical license due to having an affair with a patient.|
|Colonel Mustard||Suspected of being one of Miss Scarlet’s clients and is also a war profiteer who sold plane parts on the black market, which led to many deaths.|
|Mr. Green||Is gay. This isn’t a title he’s ashamed of, but would lose his job at the State Department if it were discovered.|
After this news is revealed, Wadsworth informs the guests that the police have been notified and will arrive in 45 minutes. Mr. Boddy gives each of the guests a weapon (one of the six weapons from the board game). He teases them with the weapons, saying that one of them should murder Wadsworth, who has a key to the front door, allowing for their escape and subsequent freedom. The light is then turned out, a moan and gunshot are heard. The light comes back on and Mr. Boddy is found supposedly dead. The guests then begin wandering around the mansion, trying to investigate the death of Mr. Boddy. We see the guests move from room to room, just like in the board game. The rooms in the film even resemble the board game. Somebody played a lot of Clue while designing these sets.
As the film wears on, more bodies turn up and is becomes obvious that one of the eight people in the house is the murderer. It is worth noting that when the policeman shows up to respond to Wadsworth’s call, it is exactly 45 minutes from when Wadsworth made the call. As the film wears on, other people such as a stranded motorist and a singing telegram girl show up and are soon added to the body count. There is a hilarious scene where the guests try to alleviate the policeman’s suspicion by pretending to be making out with the dead victims. As The Chords’ “Sh-Boom” plays, Miss Scarlet and Professor Plum pretend to make out next to the booze soaked, drunk, passed out (dead) motorist. Mrs Peacock pretends to be the arms of the (dead) cook caressing Colonel Mustard and Mrs. White makes out with (dead) Mr. Boddy on the couch. The policeman is satisfied, saying “these are just folks having a good time!” By the end of the film, there are six victims. Speaking of the end of the film, there is a hysterical sequence in which Wadsworth breathlessly takes the guests (and the audience) through all the events of the film as he works to reveal the culprit behind all the murders.
Upon the film’s original release, the filmmakers created three possible endings, hoping that the audience will see the film multiple times to see all the endings. This plan did not work, as audiences did not feel the need to see in the film multiple times. In my opinion, the only way to see Clue is with the “All three endings” option enabled on the DVD. For the record, the third solution with Mrs. White’s amazing “Flames on the side of my face” speech is the best ending of the three.
Madeline Kahn as Mrs. White is absolutely hysterical in this film. One of the funniest parts of the film (aside from “flames on the side of my face”) is when she talks about her husband and how she’s not a black widow:
COLONEL MUSTARD: How many husbands have you had?Martin Mull as “Colonel Mustard” and Madeline Kahn as “Mrs. White” in Clue (1985)
MRS. WHITE: Mine or other women’s?”
COLONEL MUSTARD: Yours
MRS. WHITE: Five
COLONEL MUSTARD: Five?!
MRS. WHITE: Yes, just the five. Husbands should be like Kleenex: soft, strong and disposable.
COLONEL MUSTARD: You lure men to their deaths like a spider with flies.
MRS. WHITE: Flies are where men are most vulnerable.
MRS. WHITE (explaining why she’s paying the blackmailer): I don’t want a scandal, do I? We had a very humiliating public confrontation. He was deranged. He was a lunatic. He didn’t actually seem to like me much; he had threatened to kill me in public.Madeline Kahn as “Mrs. White,” Lesley Ann Warren as “Miss Scarlet,” and Tim Curry as “Wadsworth” in Clue (1985).
MISS SCARLET: Why would he want to kill you in public?
WADSWORTH: I think she meant he threatened, in public, to kill her.
MISS SCARLET: Oh. Was that his final word on the matter?
MRS. WHITE: Being killed is pretty final, wouldn’t you say?
MISS SCARLET: Do you miss him?Lesley Ann Warren as “Miss Scarlet,” Madeline Kahn as “Mrs. White” and Tim Curry as “Wadsworth” in Clue (1985).
MRS. WHITE: Well, it’s a matter of life after death. Now that he’s dead, I have a life.
WADSWORTH: But he was your second husband. Your first husband also disappeared.
MRS. WHITE: But that was his job, he was an illusionist.
WADSWORTH: But he never reappeared.
MRS. WHITE: He wasn’t a very good illusionist.
5 thoughts on ““Movies Are Murder” Fall CMBA Blogathon–Clue (1985)”
I never played Clue much as a child (although we had the game in our collection), but I dusted it off and played it with my grown daughters just last year — and it was so much fun. (Especially since I won!) Before now, I was never much interested in seeing the movie, but I don’t know why, because I’m a huge fan of almost every one of the principal players. I really enjoyed your write-up — it sounds like a hoot and a half and the dialogue is smart and funny. I will definitely be putting this one on my watchlist. Thanks for this super contribution to the blogathon, Kayla!
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I loved playing Clue as a kid, and also owned the bizarre video version of the game. (How many can claim that? LOL). You’ve captured the game so well, and how right you are, that no one would have expected a movie on a game to be good. Loved this observation: “Somebody played a lot of Clue while designing these sets.” I enjoyed the Psych send-up of/tribute to this movie, which includes some of the original actors. I love that you highlighted Mrs. White’s dialogue, which I’d forgotten. And could anyone deliver it with more style than Kahn? Thank you for giving me such a good laugh.
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I love the multiple ending plan. In fact, I wish they would do this with some TV shows, as well. I think it would make it such fun for the audience! Your article brought back a lot of fun memories of this film.
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Clue was my favorite childhood board game, far surpassing my interest in Monopoly, so naturally I had to see the film “adaptation” of the game. Lots of great fun with a fabulous cast, especially the late, great Madeline Kahn. I’ll have to watch it again, you reminded me of how much I enjoyed it.
Can’t believe I’ve yet to see this film, because it looks like so much fun.
Also: Time to dig out the old Clue game, because it’s been YEARS since we’ve played it.