Film Review: Clue (1985)

Clue is a comedy/mystery film directed by Jonathan Lynn based on the board game Clue. Six people are invited to a dinner party in a mysterious mansion and are each given an alias that coincides with the game’s playable characters. There are eight main characters, so a familiarity with the game comes in handy when keeping track of each of the guests, along with the butler and the maid. Wadsworth, the butler, greets the guests, and they tensely eat dinner, as provided by the cook and Yvette, the maid, without being introduced to their host. The seventh guest arrives, Mr. Boddy, who Wadsworth reveals to be blackmailing every one of them. Mrs. White is suspected in her husband’s untimely death, Mrs. Scarlett has taken bribes for her Senator husband, Miss Scarlett has been running a brothel in Washington DC, Colonel Mustard is suspected of visiting Miss Scarlet’s brothel, Professor Plum had an affair with one of his psychiatry patients, and Mr. Green is gay, which would lose him his government job if found out. However, Mr. Boddy is not their host. Wadsworth is.

Wadsworth explains that he has brought them there to expose Mr. Boddy to the police, but Mr. Boddy instead distributes the six murder weapons from the game to each guest. He asks them to kill Wadsworth and keep the bribery a secret, but when the light turns off, the revolver is fired, and Mr. Boddy is found dead. The next scenes lead to the discovery of more bodies and a mounting fear that the murderer is among the guests. They continue to find possible motives among themselves, but a motorist and a police officer’s arrival leads to new clues and comedy.

When the movie originally aired in theaters, three separate endings were shown, and different theaters received different endings. However, the home release shows all three and states the third ending to be the true ending. [SPOILER] The first two endings pin the murders on single culprits, but the third ending blames each death on a different murderer so that every remaining character has killed someone.

Clue is a film that had a poor reception as it came out but has come into a cult following since its release. I enjoyed the witty sense of humor and quick pace, but the plot was a bit too convoluted to follow in some aspects. At its core, Clue is a parody, and the elements of classic murder mystery cozies that appear only serve to enhance the movie. For instance, the premise is wildly similar to Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, one of the best selling mystery novels of all time. At the center of the film is the New England mansion, ornately decorated and containing all of the rooms from the game (in the same order as the board game). While the ‘true’ ending isn’t as satisfying as I’d hoped it would be, there are clues scattered throughout the movie that hints at the conclusion. [SPOILER] For instance, Mrs. White’s aside about monkey brain being her favorite recipe later connects to her relation to the cook, who was her former employee.

The jokes are dark and well thought out, where many of the punchlines take a moment to sink in or connect. e Many of the actors are especially adept at emphasizing the camp elements of the film, to my delight. Tim Curry as Wadsworth is delightful, and fans will appreciate his ability to create dramatic tension while continuing to be hilarious. One of the movie’s running gags is the increasing irreverence of the deaths, especially after the arrival of the policeman.

Clue delights in breaking many of the classic mystery rules, including more than one body, the involvement of the ‘help,’ and [SPOILER] the existence of more than one murder in two of the endings. As an audience member, I enjoyed the acknowledgment to fans of mystery cozies by the writers. It entertained with gags and quick-witted dialogue, but the mystery was the key focus. By including hidden clues in throwaway lines of dialogue and red herrings (literally, in one case), the competition to solve the mystery is still intact. 

A critical rule of mysteries that Clue breaks is the exclusion of a detective since all of the guests act as an investigative team once Mr. Boddy is found dead. In comparison, And Then There Were None only has the appearance of a Scotland Yard detective at the end of the novel, but the mystery is revealed instead of solved. While the bumbling investigation that the guests in Clue take part in is very entertaining, I can’t help but think that this loss negatively affects the mystery itself, with every character continually accusing another. 

Even so, one major flaw of the film is its lack of inclusion of people of color. Out of the main cast of 8 people, each one is white. [SPOILER] The two side characters who aren’t white, the cook and the police officer, are killed almost immediately after being introduced. While this is relatively standard for movies produced in the ’80s, it detracts from the excellent writing and acting on screen. This is my least favorite aspect of the film, and it detracted from my enjoyment of it.

I would recommend this film to both comedy and mystery fans, especially those that love mystery cozies. The quick pace and irreverence create a delightful experience, and anyone who has played the game before can appreciate the nods to details included from the game board. The costuming and set design also makes it a joy to watch, especially the mansion’s interior. Clue is a film that can be rewatched repeatedly, and you can catch something new every time you see it.

Wadsworth: Professor Plum, you were once a professor of psychiatry specializing in helping paranoid and homicidal lunatics suffering from delusions of grandeur.

Plum: Yes, but now I work for the United Nations.

Wadsworth: So your work has not changed.”

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