The first film from a board game, and it's still fun to watch.

The first film from a board game, and it’s still fun to watch.

Revisiting Childhood Movies Part II


  • Director:  Jonathan Lynn
  • Writer:  John Landis  /  Jonathan Lynn  (based on the Parker Brothers board game)
  • Producer:  Debra Hill
  • Stars:  Tim Curry, Lesley Ann Warren, Madeline Kahn, Eileen Brennan, Michael McKeon, Christopher Lloyd, Martin Mull
  • Studio:  Paramount
  • Award Nominations:  none
  • Length:  94 minutes  (with all three endings)
  • Genre:  Comedy  (Mystery)
  • MPAA Rating:  PG
  • Release Date:  13 December 1985
  • Box Office Gross:  $14.64 mil  (#57  –  1985)
  • Ebert Rating:  **
  • My Rating:  ***
  • My Rank:  #51  (year)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  none
  • Nighthawk Notable:  Best Guilty Pleasure
  • First Watched:  on video, sometime in 1986 or 1987
  • Number of Times Watched as a Kid:  10 or so

Is the point of a film to entertain?  If so, then can Clue be considered a success?  I was entertained when I first watched it, all those years ago because my older sister said we should rent it – and so she and I and our younger sister watched it together.  I didn’t know who any of these people were then, hadn’t yet seen films like Rocky Horror or Blazing Saddles or Victor/Victoria or Spinal Tap (though I had seen Back to the Future).  I had played the game, of course, several times growing up (we stopped playing it for family reasons I won’t get into).  And the movie worked so well as a movie – quite funny, entertaining, a good enjoyable mystery – and it worked with all the rules of the board game – you had six suspects, you had a murder, and you had to figure out who did it (the six characters who match up with the six suspects in the board game) with what (there are the six murder weapons, all of which are used – and in the film the candlestick actually seems like a murder weapon, unlike as a kid growing up when it really seemed like a stretch) and in which room (in this magnificent big mansion, complete with secret passages that I found so perplexing that I once drew a blueprint of the house and confirmed my guess that they can’t actually work because they would cross each other and both would cross the room that has a glass wall).

And so that was then – I was probably 12 or so when I first saw it and I really enjoyed it and I saw it again and again.  Even though I knew what would happen (more on that in a minute), I still enjoyed the journey.  And I really enjoyed several of the lines (some always seemed funny, like “Life after death is as improbably as sex after marriage” or when someone says “To make a long story short” only to have everyone else reply “Too late” and especially, when asked why Mr. Boddy didn’t just turn in those he saw as un-American we get this line: “He decided to make a little money off of it.  What could be more American than that?”) and as time got older, I started to enjoy other lines that I didn’t necessarily get as a kid (“Why is J. Edgar Hoover on your phone?”  “I don’t know.  He’s on everyone else’s.  Why shouldn’t he be on mine?”).  But most of all I really enjoyed the performance of Tim Curry, who I was completely unfamiliar with, and who alternated brilliantly between calm and collected (when asked why he wants a corpse moved to the study, he replies “I’m the butler.  I like to keep the kitchen tidy.”) and completely manic (he runs everyone ragged as he explains what has happened during the course of the night, constantly sprinting back from room to room).  And so, (SPOILERS, as River would say), my younger sister and I never loved the third ending, in which it turns out that he is the villain.  I liked it so much more in the second ending when it was the annoying Ms. Peacock who did it (the first ending worked well, but Lesley Ann Warren is so damn sexy in the film I never really wanted her to be the villain either).

And that brings us to one of the more interesting concepts in the film.  The film was made with three different endings and different theaters showed different endings so you didn’t know what would happen.  On the video release, like I saw it, it put all three endings together, claiming that third one was the real ending.  Not that the different endings helped the film in the theaters – it couldn’t even make back its cost.  But it provided a spark to a film that was actually quite enjoyable to begin with.

And it’s still quite enjoyable, all these years later.  I had seen the films lots of times, knew exactly what lines were coming up (“Your first husband also disappeared.”  “That was his job – he was an illusionist.”  “But he never reappeared.”  “He wasn’t a very good illusionist.”).  Whereas Veronica had only seen the film once – at my insistence, because I have had it taped for years.  And she really enjoyed it.  Part of it is that it really has the perfect cast – they’re not the greatest group of actors, but they are a good ensemble and they all know how to deliver their lines with perfect comic timing.  And though I had grown up with the Tim Curry of Clue, Veronica had grown up with the Tim Curry of Rocky Horror and both take place in large gothic mansions and are a lot of fun.  At the end, as everyone moves around at breakneck speeds and everything becomes utter lunacy, she couldn’t stop laughing.  And I couldn’t help but enjoy it, even after all this time.  It’s not Spinal Tap or Back to the Future or Victor/Victoria.  It’s not a great film and never will be.  But it can still be a fun time with a good cast.  Hell, this was the same year that Out of Africa won Best Picture.  I’d still rather watch this.