The Indefinsibles: Clue (1985)

Gabby: Mr Boddy requested the pleasure of The Indefinsibles’ company on a dark, stormy night, to discuss over dinner…

Jeremy: Clue. The movie that taught the term “in flagrante delictoto ’80s kids everywhere.

Gabby: We decided to do a round of movies to celebrate the wonder that is Tim Curry. The reasons for picking this one are a bit different. Brett, why did you land on this movie, now a cult classic, to put under the ‘Indefensible’ category?

Brett: This was a financial failure, and for a long time was greatly ignored. However, after all the repeat viewings on cable after all these years, this movie has held up magnificently. This is one of those movies that hits that sublime mixture of absurd and smart. Is this the most perfect movie we’ve discussed here? 

Jeremy: Oh yeah, this is our best movie so far. Probably will be for awhile. And to share some behind the scenes non-drama, I vetoed Clue at first because I thought it was too good for what we do. Watching it again for the first time in years, I see some problems. But this movie is still an amazing achievement – especially because nothing about it should work. It’s based on a freakin’ board game. But most of it works brilliantly.

Brett: Okay, serious question about casting and then w14d19bcaef5e8b8b8698028a5154b865e can talk about how fun the movie is. Is it just me, or does Leslie Ann Warren feel like a last minute replacement? She’s a dramatic actress standing with some of the best comedy talents of a generation. I’m not saying she did a bad job, but it feels like that role was supposed to be someone else’s and she stepped in at the last moment.

* One Google search later… *

Ah yes, it was supposed to be Carrie Fisher. It helps if I look at the oral history I talked about during the Live Tweet. Here is The Oral History of Clue for everyone. That is a really great article about the making of and post game on the movie we’re discussing today. My point is that Carrie Fisher seems like she would’ve fit better. 

Jeremy: Not to me. But that’s because I’ve seen this a million times and can’t imagine changing a frame of it. Eileen Brennan is the weak link for me, but that’s not on her. She’s doing what she can with a shrill character.

Brett: I actually like her. Her character pretends to be a scatterbrain, but in reality she’s hard as steel.

I find little to complain about with the finished product. But I don’t know if it’s for everyone. I think this actually benefited from failing. Since it sold to cable so cheap, it got played a lot. So we watched it a lot, and over time we realized how great it was. This would have been completely forgotten if not for that. I think that this was a very special cast. No one was really huge, but they were all solid. And Tim Curry is a goddamned national treasure.

What impresses me about the house is that it is basically one big set and they are able to use it without making a spectacle of it. They don’t go for sweeping, single, steady cam shots, where they show off the whole place. But it’s a complete house and it shows in little ways.

Jeremy: Before we go further, I should get my problems with the movie out of the way. Like you, Brett, I want to get this out of the way so we can get to the good stuff.

Keep in mind, folks, I’ve loved this film since I first saw it in theaters way back when. (We got the Mrs. Peacock ending at my theater.) When I was a kid, all of my extended family got together around the holidays and went to a movie. Usually, whatever PG comedy was out. In 1985, that was Clue. I was six at the time. It’s hard to remember now, but I’m guessing the movie played like a classy-looking Looney Tunes cartoon for me. My brother and I then wore out a previously used VHS copy from our local video store over the next few years - which our parents bought because they were sick of us asking to rent it.

And then there was the joy of revisiting it as a young adult and getting all the things that went over my head. 1331280429_clue_1985_hdtvrip_avi_002305839A few months ago, when we covered Radioland Murders, my opening joke involved telling everyone to just watch Clue again. Watching this again, I see they have more in common than I thought at the time: they both feature seasoned pros trying to make some broad, weak gags work by sheer force of will.

It’s only a minor problem here – especially compared to Radioland. The movie starts awkwardly and gets stronger as it goes. In the first act, there are more comedic whiffs than I remembered. The big difference between this and Radioland is focus. Everyone’s on the same page here, both on and off camera. The director, Jonathan Lynn, had a clear vision of what this movie should be and captured that vision. And you’re right, Brett, these are comedy legends. Even when the comedy struggles, it’s still charming and atmospheric.

Gabby: I actually came to this movie a bit late. I saw it for the first time maybe three or four years back. So I don’t have the same associations with it as you have. But every now and then I just think, oh I am really in the mood for Clue! I put it on and find it a great experience every time. I agree with both of you, this is the best movie we have done so far. I love the set too. It does feel complete and that makes it so atmospheric. It helps the movie really come to life.

I agree with it failing being in its favour in the long run. I know it has become a cult movie and that is often paired with flopping at the box office. A cinema I have mentioned a lot that I am a lifetime member of has screenings of it every now and then.

The cast is great. Madeline Kahn is so fantastic in everything. mrs-whiteI adore her. We must talk about the ‘flames’ speech at some point. That was the only bit of the film allowed to be improvised I believe.

Jeremy: That’s probably the most quoted line from the movie – and for good reason. I noticed Kahn had less material than the other characters. Was that just me?

Gabby: I am glad you say that about Madeline Kahn having less. I feel incredibly biased as I think she is just an incredible comedian and love her so much. She should have been given more I feel. Maybe one of my few quibbles.

Brett: Are we going to discuss how every solution works? I did a chart once, to make sure the people would be/could be in place to commit the murders.

Jeremy: It’s insanely well-plotted, especially when you consider the source material. Granted,  the board game Clue is based on classic mystery tropes, but still… this shouldn’t work.

Tim Curry’s summation of events is masterful – one of a kind. Think about how many days/weeks that was shot over. And his performance and energy levels are consistent throughout. This is the first movie I saw Tim Curry in, and I’m a fan for life thanks to this performance.

Do you still have that chart, Brett? If not, I’m sure I can find one online. I’ve never scrutinized the endings, but I’m happy to hear people have and found that everything fits together. Of the three endings (Mrs. Peacock, Yvette & Miss Scarlet, everyone killing a single person), is there an ending you particularly like? Dislike?

Brett: The Mrs. Peacock ending never worked for me. Her slaughtering everyone else’s witnesses feels off. vlcsnap-2011-03-24-21h07m53s150She seems too selfish. Scarlett works because she wants to become the new blackmailer.

If they all did it, then Green gets away with it. Everyone else’s secret will be exposed, but Green gets to kill his blackmailer and is congratulated for it.

Jeremy: Well, he’s an undercover agent, pretending to be gay in that ending. It is weird that Mr. Green shoots Tim Curry (the real Mr. Boddy in this ending) when there’s an army of FBI agents outside. Lynn was going for symmetry, I guess.

Brett: No, I mean that Green really is gay. His comment about his wife is the sort of covering he’s had to do his whole life. His secret is in tact and everyone still believes he’s straight.

Jeremy: I never read it that way before. That actually improves Michael McKean’s final joke. I wonder why that never occurred to me before? I guess because he says he’s a plant. The other characters would know his secret, but who would take them seriously? Speaking of Mr. Green’s homosexuality, how does Michael McKean’s character play for everyone now? Grading on a curve, it’s a pretty tasteful depiction of a homosexual man for a mainstream comedy in 1985.

Brett: I think it’s better than most manage. I also have an affection for any time a gay/bi character doesn’t die in a movie. It’s absurd the amount it happens and it’s basically Joel Cairo and Mr. Green until the mid-’90s.

Jeremy: Back to what you said, the Miss Scarlett ending is the sweet spot. Yvette, the maid, being a part of the murders – and being murdered herself – is a nice twist. More importantly, Tim Curry and Leslie Ann Warren counting the bullets left in the revolver is one of the film’s best bits.

I believe they say Mrs. Peacock is working for a “foreign power.” But you’re right, it’s hard to imagine her killing six people. I want to talk about the third ending, where everyone kills someone. I’m curious if any of our readers had the same experience I did with Clue over the years.

Because the movie was so fun and the actors so likeable, it never clicked with me as a kid that these people are awful. Like, in my developing brain, they were only accused of these things. I never got that Mrs. White actually killed her husbands, or that Christoper Lloyd (Doc Brown, for God’s sake) is a sexual predator.

I remember being kinda bummed as a kid with the title card “Here’s what really happened…” I took that title card literally. I didn’t like everyone being a murderer or Tim Curry being Mr. Boddy. It never stopped me from enjoying the film – just a little “Aw, man…” in the back of my adolescent mind.

Like I said when we were watching the movie, there was a point when I revisited the film in my teens and was like, “Hey, most of these people are awful, with or without the murder.” There’s a lot of reasons why the film tanked at the box office. But I’m curious how many people – especially older viewers – bounced off these characters in 1985.

It’s an interesting coincidence that Christopher Lloyd was in two movies in ’85 that let some air out of the notion that the ’50s was this idyllic, patriotic time here in America.

Gabby: I actually love the fact that most of these people are awful and yet the film doesn’t seem mean-spirited at all. That is a tremendous feat, one that is hardly ever pulled of to such a fun degree. The ’50s aspect is interesting, it definitely is a big element when you think about it. Some characters are, on the surface, ideal American citizens: a colonel, a doctor, etc. But dig a little deeper and you find that they have worked the system or the system has turned them rotten. There is a dark element in this film, but you can never take away the fact it is so ridiculously silly and entertaining. I can’t express enough how much I admire that. The orchestration involved is really impressive.

Actually that family association is interesting Jeremy, given what I just said about the ’50s and the picture of the idealistic families. Have you got a Mrs White hidden among those relatives at all?

Jeremy: Heh – not that I know. Most of my family would be the people with clear definitions of “American” and “un-Amercian”, if you know what I mean. Let’s just say I’m the sociopolitical black sheep of my family.

Brett: Did I mention how Clue is like a cinnamon & apple scented candle or Pumpkin Spice Latte for me? That it’s one of those movies that just says “Yup, it’s fall now, even if it’s more than 90 degrees today and always will be.”

There are movies like this, The Crow, Legend, Interview with the Vampire and some others. Films that aren’t horror, that I still associate with a Fall/Halloween aspect. I like Scary Movie Month as much as anyone, but I also appreciate a fun fall movie without having to dip into terror.

Jeremy: Yeah, I associate it with Thanksgiving and Christmas. Family. Which is weird, given the subject matter. This movie, along with Sidney Lumet’s Murder on the Orient Express, are experiences I’ve been chasing since I was a kid. clueMurder mysteries with phenomenal casts, that were big productions, somehow dripping with atmosphere while being fun.

My affection for it is a bit diminished now. It’s like an old best friend you grew apart from. But if I were to make a list of the ten movies that had the biggest influence on me, this is on it. No doubt.

 Anything else we want to add?

Brett: I still enjoy this movie when I see it, but it makes me sad because I feel like we never appreciated Tim Curry back when he was doing his best work. I often feel like we didn’t catch up to the vibe he was laying down until years and years later.

Jeremy: Thanks for reading, everyone. We’re doing my Tim Curry pick, Legend, next. Look for us talking about that movie soon, then we’ll dedicate the rest of October to scary movies. In the meantime, follow us on Twitter or leave us a comment. We’d love to hear from you.

See you soon, knuckleheads. Go watch a scary movie.

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