Originally written for Jeff Goldblum’s Laugh, the Prince Charles Cinema’s blog.
A board game adaptation is a rare beast in the world of film and even rarer still is for a board game to be turned into a film that is actually watchable let alone enjoyable or, dare I say it, incredible. Let Battleship stand as an example of when a studio takes a game as its inspiration and then goes completely off the rails. No amount of Liam Neeson can save you when you haven’t got an engaging plot or a well written script to back you up. One film has defied all the odds and manages to turn a murder mystery game into a cult comedy by knowing when to stick to the spirit of the source material and when to step out in its own direction.
That film is Clue, the 1980s comedy based on the game we Brits like to call Cluedo. How do you turn a game of deduction into a farcical comedy? I have no idea. You’ll have to ask co-writers John Landis and Jonathan Lynn for an answer, all I can do is to try and explain just why I love the result so much.
As comedies go Clue is a slow burner. The film’s initial scenes are devoted not to rapid fire jokes but to all important scene setting and character introductions. On a dark and stormy night Wadsworth the butler welcomes six strangers into a New England mansion. Each arrives having received an anonymous invitation and each has been provided with a colour-coded pseudonym to protect their identity. After an awkward dinner the final guest arrives; Mr. Boddy. Wadsworth dramatically reveals to the group that everyone present is currently being blackmailed by Mr. Boddy and a few minutes and plot contrivances later the classic collection of weapons are produced and the lights go out. When the lights come back on Mr. Boddy is dead and everyone is holding a possible murder weapon.
This is the point that the board game begins and it is from here that Clue really comes into its own.
What follows is not a serious murder mystery but a farce, pure and simple. The comedy starts subtly and slowly ramps up as the cast of strangers explore the strange mansion scared of what might be lurking in the many, oddly familiar, rooms and of their fellow guests unsure of who is a killer and who is the next victim. As time moves on the death count rises, a policeman is locked in the study, a chandelier falls, and everybody gets a little bit hysterical.
Energies are at their highest as the film reaches its three different conclusions and Wadsworth recaps the events of the film by sprinting around the mansion at breakneck speed and recreates various murders with a strange composed mayhem that can only have been provided by the unique comedic talents of Tim Curry. Curry is hardly alone in producing both a rounded character and expert comic timing as the cast is filled with pedigree character actors. Christopher Lloyd is by far the most famous of the line-up but lesser known actors Martin Mull, Lesley Ann Warren, Colleen Camp, and Michael McKean more than match his energy and the sadly departed Madeline Kahn and Eileen Brennan as Mrs. White and Mrs. Peacock give some of the biggest laughs Clue has to offer.
It’s really hard for me to explain here just how much fun this film is but trust me that it somehow combines subtle character comedy, clever dialogue, and outright slapstick to produce a film that is simultaneously quintessential Cluedo and something completely other. If you haven’t seen it you really must and prepare for the film to completely disarm you as you settle into its gentle pace only for everything to get frenetic without you ever noticing the change.
As the Prince Charles
is was hosting a Quote Along screening this last week I thought I should probably give you my top 5 Clue quotes to finish but then started to transcribe the entire film. I don’t think there is a scene in the film that isn’t witty and quotable. Instead I decided to end with my favourite exchange from the film and let you debate the best quote in the comments below.
Colonel Mustard: Is this place for you?
Wadsworth: Indeed no, sir. I’m merely a humble butler.
Colonel Mustard: What exactly do you do?
Wadsworth: I buttle, sir.