Saturday, January 4, 2014

Clue - Movie Review

As all mystery buffs know, English manor houses are some of the most lethal locations on the planet, but if 1985 comedy Clue is to be believed, even American manors are pretty dangerous places to be. Naturally, the presence of Tim Curry helps a bit. You can't get more English than Tim Curry. Fact.

Based on the board-game, Clue both rips off and improves on the 1976 Murder by Death (amusingly, Eileen Brennan was in both, as Mrs. Peacock and Tess Skeffington), for despite the earlier film's prestigious cast listing, it spun into Scooby-Doo antics, featuring more inappropriate jokes than was necessary, and a slow, meandering plot. (But hey, blind butler Bensonmum, played by the great Alec Guinness, stripped naked lying dead in the kitchen? "Possibly some deranged dry cleaner...")

Not that Clue doesn't have it's share of Scooby-Doo-ness, but it manages to remain within the realm of barely believable, just out of Agatha Christie territory. Six people, all connected to the government in some form, are sent anonymous letters, inviting them to a dinner party in New England. Once there, they are met by a British butler, Wadsworth (Curry), who encourages them to employ false names, such as Mr. Green and Colonel Mustard, neatly following the plot of the board game. Soon enough, they discover they have been gathered to meet the man who is black-mailing them all, Mr. Boddy. Needless to say, his pseudonym quickly becomes very literal.

While starting off barely plausible, the plot quickly escalates into wild fancy and riotous humor, with every actor embracing their respectively cliched part. The writing is witty and littered with catchphrases, but it's the cast that makes the film. There's Mrs. Peacock (Brennan), a garrulous politician's wife prone to hysterics. Mr. Green (Michael McKean), an awkward government official, is also prone to hysterics. Lesley Ann Warren obviously very much enjoys playing her seductive, feisty Ms. Scarlet, and Christopher Lloyd is Professor Plum, a somewhat dry, lecherous psychologist. Then there's Colonel Mustard (Martin Mull), a dimwitted military man ready to dive into detective work.

Of special note are Mrs. White and Wadsworth. Madeline Kahn's flighty femme fatale dominates the screen, playing off the other characters with a wicked deadpan delivery. Tim Curry is the closest thing the film has to a protagonist, carrying the story through the absurd number of deaths, and dashing through all three of the preposterous endings with style and phenomenal speed.

There really are far too many punchlines, but almost none of them fall flat, amazingly enough. Much of the script is just screaming to be quoted. While it occasionally drags, the plot is swift-moving, though since we don't really care for any of the characters, there is a certain lack of suspense.

Overall, one of the most charming cult classics out there, absolutely hilarious fun, marred only by the occasional sexual innuendo that's only half-serious.

4/5 stars

Hannah Long

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