Combustible Celluloid
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With: Eileen Brennan, Tim Curry, Madeline Kahn, Christopher Lloyd, Michael McKean, Martin Mull, Lesley Ann Warren, Colleen Camp, Lee Ving, Bill Henderson, Jane Wiedlin, Jeffrey Kramer, Kellye Nakahara, Howard Hesseman
Written by: Jonathan Lynn, based on a story by Jonathan Lynn, John Landis
Directed by: Jonathan Lynn
MPAA Rating: PG
Running Time: 94
Date: 12/12/1985

Clue (1985)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

One Plus Two Plus Two Plus One

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

In April of 2019, I had good fortune of seeing Jonathan Lynn's Clue (1985) on the big screen at the Alamo Drafthouse with my girlfriend. It was my second time, and her umpteenth; she showed it to me previously on DVD. It was a flop upon its initial release. Of all things, it was based on a board game, which not only seemed like a terrible idea, but a terrible idea long before such terrible ideas became commonplace. I skipped it in the theater and on video, mainly because Siskel & Ebert's review dissuaded me. The film's gimmick, three different endings that could be viewed at different times for different outcomes, proved illogical for them. Many others were dissuaded as well. But years later, it has become a cult classic, perhaps thanks to the strange and funny juxtaposition of the elegant and the ridiculous, buttoned-up and dressed-to-the-nines grown ups reading such silly lines and performing such silly slapstick.

Borrowing a setup from movies like House on Haunted Hill, a group of strangers is mysteriously invited for an evening at a remote mansion. No one knows why they are there. Eventually it comes out that they are all connected in some way to Washington D.C. and politics, and are all being blackmailed. They are: Mrs. Peacock (Eileen Brennan), Mrs. White (Madeline Kahn), Professor Plum (Christopher Lloyd), Mr. Green (Michael McKean), Colonel Mustard (Martin Mull), and Miss Scarlet (Lesley Ann Warren). A butler, Wadsworth (Tim Curry), attends to their needs, and a voluptuous maid, Yvette (Colleen Camp), hops around and occasionally offers glimpses of her gravity-defying cleavage. Eventually, Mr. Boddy (Lee Ving, of the punk band Fear) shows up and subsequently becomes dead, along with a cook (Kellye Nakahara).

The remaining figures try to determine the source of the murders, while occasional, unwanted people turn up — Jane Wiedlin from the Go-Go's has a funny cameo as The Singing Telegram Girl — and more murders nearly happen. All of the actors have their memorable moments, and everyone gets a turn at being both smart and stupid, But Curry impressively races around the stately mansion at top speeds with incredible mouthfuls of explanatory dialogue, McKean is responsible for some beautifully deadpan slapstick, and Kahn has a moment of free-flowing improvisation ("I hated her, so much... it-it- the f--it--flam--flames. Flames, on the side of my face...") so astonishing it has become the most quoted line in the movie.

Needless to say, if you're in this for an Agatha Christie-style mystery, or have some hope of getting a jump on the characters and figuring it out in advance, you're out of luck. But if you're open to a weirdly atmospheric comedy that dashes from deadpan to manic and back again, it's a delight. It was co-written by John Landis, and for the life of me, several sequences felt just as if Landis had directed them; they have his signature rhythms. But in my researching, I discovered that he gave up on the project due to lack of time (he was working on Spies Like Us), and handed it completely over to Lynn. Perhaps Lynn studied Landis's work or consulted the senior director for tips. Either way, Clue has a unique and specific feel, certainly apart from anything else in 1985 and definitely apart from anything today. Above all, it's fun; it feels like a party on the screen to which we have actually been invited.

This review is dedicated to Cyndi. "Two corpses. Everything's fine."

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