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  Clue Murder Is Served
Year: 1985
Director: Jonathan Lynn
Stars: Eileen Brennan, Tim Curry, Madeline Kahn, Christopher Lloyd, Michael McKean, Martin Mull, Lesley Ann Warren, Colleen Camp, Lee Ving, Bill Henderson, Howard Hesseman, Jane Wiedlin, Jeffrey Kramer, Kellye Nakahara
Genre: Comedy, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 3 votes)
Review: The time: 1954. The place: a country mansion in New England. The butler, Wadsworth (Tim Curry), arrives after dark and checks that everything is prepared for the guests who will also soon be arriving. First to show up is Colonel Mustard (Martin Mull), as he will be known, one of six people who have been summoned to the mansion by a mysterious letter. The others, Mrs White (Madeline Kahn), Mrs Peacock (Eileen Brennan), Mr Green (Michael McKean), and Professor Plum (Christopher Lloyd) and Miss Scarlet (Lesley Ann Warren) who arrive together after a car breakdown, turn up soon enough, but don't appear to know one another. Wadsworth invites them into the dining room, where they settle down for dinner, and the secrets begin to come out - they're all connected in some ways, and one of those ways just happens to be blackmail...

Written by the director Jonathan Lynn from a story by him and John Landis, Clue was obviously based on the board game Cluedo, known more basically as Clue in America. The list of films based on board games is a short one, there was a musical of Chess, I suppose, but so far there's no sign of Monopoly: The Movie or Scrabble: The Motion Picture, although I hold out a little hope for an adaptation of Kerplunk. Is that technically a board game? Anyway, true to the game, Clue presents a large mansion with various rooms, the Library, Dining Room, Study, Conservatory, Kitchen, and so on, and six weapons (knife, revolver, rope, lead piping, etc) to match up with the six main characters, excluding the butler, who was invented for the film. Also created for the film is a sense of humour, for this is a comedy.

Taking an Agatha Christie-style plot to absurd lengths, Clue most resembles the seventies spoof Murder By Death. Once seated around the dinner table, the guests learn about each other and the fact they are all connected to Washington D.C. in various ways. Then the seventh guest shows up at the house, the none-too-subtly named Mr Boddy (Lee Ving), an obnoxious fellow who they all should know. Retiring to the lounge, they discover that they are all being blackmailed and who should the blackmailer be but Mr Boddy? He gives them all gift wrapped presents, which when opened are revealed to be potential murder weapons (isn't that a bit of a foolhardy gesture?), the lights go out unexpectedly, there is a commotion and when the lights go back on, Mr Boddy is lying dead on the carpet.

Clue's main strength is in its willing cast, who provide most of the fun, which isn't really down to the script. You'd suppose a film spoofing the polite act of murder in the drawing room would have a certain level of sophistication, particularly from the writer of Yes Minister, but sadly that's not much in evidence so we get dogshit jokes and Mr Boddy being kicked in the balls before his untimely demise. There are a few funny lines and some of the slapstick amuses (Wadsworth taking a run at a locked door to break it down, only to fail miserably), but it should have been sharper. Once the first victim is killed, it's discovered that the cook has been stabbed to death in the kitchen, and we get the impression, correct as it turns out, that every weapon will be used at one point during the evening.

As if being based on a board game wasn't gimmick enough, there was one more twist: more than one ending. Depending on which cinema you went to, you could see the film with a possible three solutions, presumably a hope of the producers that you would seek out and pay to watch the film three times to catch the lot. On the wonder of home video, or when shown on television, you got to see all three endings, showing up the fatal flaw in the storyline, that it hardly mattered how the rest of the film progressed if there was no real solution. Indeed, throughout it appears that it's not one of the six suspects who is the killer (seven if you count the butler), but an unknown extra party who is behind the dastardly deeds, so when the culprit is revealed it has no impact, despite the high energy levels of Curry's darting around explanation. It's a clever idea, but not inventive enough to make for a satisfying result. Music by John Morris.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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