Comedy, in the Conservatory, with the Candlestick || Clue

In the days before streaming, good ol’ fashioned channel surfing exposed the kid sis and me to a variety of movies (some good, many mediocre, and a few really terrible ones starring Steven Seagal). We first saw the second half of Clue (1985) on Comedy Central one evening while I was babysitting. The lack of parents in the immediate vicinity probably explained how we got away with watching the flick, and although a few jokes whizzed over our tender, young heads, the slapstick and sight gags kept us glued to the couch, even during commercial breaks.

We were also huge murder mystery buffs, having devoured Conan Doyle and Christie throughout middle school, and we regularly teased our brains playing (and sometimes cheating at) the eponymous board game. After our initial truncated viewing, during which we sobbed with laughter, we wanted more. Fortunately, Comedy Central had a repeat showing, enabling us to see the entire film the next day. And it was So. Much. Fun. As summarized on its IMDb page: “Six guests are invited to a strange house and must cooperate with the staff to solve a murder mystery.”

Clue is a joy to watch; the actors always seem to be having the time of their lives, which makes sense as this is a great ensemble of goofs and straight-men. When I first saw this movie, I had no idea how famous any of these folks were, possibly with the exception of Martin Mull, whom I only knew as the principal in Sabrina the Teenage Witch … But holy cats, ya’ll … You’ve got Tim Curry, Madeline Kahn, Eileen Brennan, Michael McKean, Christopher Lloyd, and Leslie Ann Warren, who all do a fantastic job of bringing to life characters that were literally paper (playing-card) thin. There are no ‘throw away’ roles in this movie, and each is their own special brand of madcap. Plus, even when they are not the focus of the shot, everyone is an expert at background action. The physicality they bring to each scene makes Clue a fantastic movie to watch over and over and over again. I notice something new with every viewing.

This film also holds a special place in my heart (funny bone?) because it is a treasure trove of comedic tropes and styles, all mashed into a single feature; slapstick, word-play, satire, improv, sight gags, and once-in-a-lifetime punchlines. Moreover, you could not ask for a better masterclass in comedic timing. With a cast this large, you would expect a few players to get overshadowed, but there are multiple occasions where each actor shines. Clue was also one of the first films I saw where the women are as zany as their male costars. Although I would later discover the classic screwball comedies of Katharine Hepburn and Rosalind Russell in high school, here I witnessed female characters be goofy, sexy, conniving, and even play total jerks (I say it with love, Miss Scarlet. With love). In fact, I am hard pressed to think of any of the core cast of characters who are not coded as being significantly smarter than the men by the end of the film.

And speaking of endings: this move has three of them, with three (or more) different killers (eat your heart out, Peter Jackson). The studio created these A,B, and C endings to encourage audiences to see the film multiple times; unlike the game upon which is based, there is no file that reveals, definitively, “who done it.” However, when I was thirteen, I knew nothing about this. Instead, I simply enjoyed the hilarity of old-fashioned credit-cards announcing: “that’s how it COULD have happened…” underscored by a jaunty, maddening tune. After our first full-viewing, my sister and I debated which endings we thought made the most sense, and which ones we liked best. As you may have deduced, discussing and analyzing films in a low-key setting is one of my favorite ways to flex the brain. It’s elementary, my dear readers.

In closing, here is what Clue has to teach us:

  • Films, whether due to their actors or clever scripts, are worth watching more than once
  • Comedy is a blast, puzzles are fun, and you can always choose your own ending! But if you do, be sure to talk about it, because then the fun will go on… unless you put your thoughts out on the internet, and people start trolling you

Head’s Up: This film has “blue bits,” which means I strongly recommend watching it with kids when they are older. There is nothing explicit (with the exception of Yvette’s prominently displayed, erm, talents), but enough is implied that some jokes might raise questions for younger viewers. Be prepared to chat about basic McCarthy-era politics, the game “Clue” (better yet, play it before you watch), and be aware that yes, there are dead bodies that pop up (and fall down, and just kind of lie there), throughout the film.

Where to Watch

What Memories do you have of this film? Do you have Suggestions for my next post? Additional Resources to share on this one? Please, Comment below!

As always, “Here’s looking at you, kid.”

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