April 18, 2009


Clue (1985) is, I think, the kind of movie you appreciate more as a kid than as an adult. From my grown-up mind, it seems pretty hair-brained to try and adapt a board game into a movie. But I remember how thrilled I was to discover, retroactively you might say, that someone had turned my favorite murder-mystery-board-game into a feature film, a comedy no less, with some of my favorite actors!

Madeline Kahn, the underrated, red-headed beauty with that unmistakable voice (Megan Mullally may be her distant cousin), donning a black wig as Mrs. White; and Lesley Ann Warren, who I remembered from the Rodgers and Hammerstein Cinderella. Warren and Kahn both have beautiful singing voices, but neither of them ever really got to do as much with their voices in the movies (at least, not as much as I would have liked). There was Kahn's astonishingly funny and naughty performance as Lily Von Schtpp, the German saloon singer a la Marlene Dietrich, in Blazing Saddles, and Warren's effortless-looking performance as a floozy with a shrill, unsophisticated voice (not unlike Jean Hagen's in Singin' in the Rain) in Victor/Victoria, but as much as their talents were on display in these films, these women were never really given their due.

I think both of them shine in Clue, which isn't a particularly sophisticated comedy. It's not even a very well-thought-out comic mystery, about as subtle as Neil Simon's amusing but misfired Murder By Death. In Clue, Lesley Ann Warren plays Miss Scarlet, and she looks stunning and comfortable playing a cool bad girl, someone who once ran a brothel in Washington D.C. Warren is at her best here because she's not acting the dumb blonde: I think she's funnier when she's smart. And Kahn, as Mrs. White, delivers a subtly insane performance that may not stand out next to Lily from Blazing Saddles or Elizabeth from Young Frankenstein, and yet it's appropriately weird and Kahn-esque.

The plot of Clue is about what you'd expect from a movie adaptation of a game. The six suspects (Colonel Mustard, Mrs. Peacock, Professor Plum, et al) are gathered at an ominous Victorian mansion on a dark and stormy night (the film is needlessly set in 1954 so that it can exhaust the already exhausted limits of the comic value of the Red Scare and J. Edgar Hoover). They are confronted with various crimes (a la Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None) and then it's revealed that the seventh guest, Mr. Boddy, is blackmailing all of them. Pretty soon, Boddy winds up dead, and the task of figuring out whodunit is put on them.

The jokes are hit and miss, and the story itself fizzles out long before the movie ends. But the performances make it worth seeing, particularly that of Tim Curry, as the butler and the man who's ultimately running the show. Curry's energy is unmatched. He's like a wind-up toy that keeps going and going despite all the punishing efforts of the children who are winding him up and laughing every time he runs into a wall or falls on his face. Eileen Brennan, Michael McKean, Martin Mull, Christopher Lloyd, Colleen Camp, and Lee Ving co-star. Written by the director, Jonathan Lynn, from a story idea by John Landis, and produced by Debra Hill. ½

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