The Problem(s) With Clue
One of my favorite movies of all time is Clue. I think it’s hilarious and clever and I’ve seen it Idontknowhowmany times. I first saw it as a kid, too young to get most of the jokes, but my brother (who’s four years older) watched it at home one day and I happened to see most of it. I quote it a lot. Often around people who haven’t seen it themselves. I’m sure this makes conversation with me interesting.
That said, as I’ve gotten older, and more stuff about it makes sense, there’s still some things that don’t work for me. That I can’t resolve. So, here I am. I’m currently watching the movie, waiting for the incongruous stuff to happen.
Do I really have to clarify a spoiler alert for a movie that was released twenty years ago?
Clue is based on the premise of six strangers getting together for a dinner party. They have been invited to dinner and assembled together for reasons of which they know nothing. There’s also the butler, the maid, the cook, the 7th guest Mr. Boddy, and various and sundry random people who show up throughout the movie, but since most of them die pretty quickly, you don’t need to know any more about them.
So first of all, Small Tim Curry, you are so cute and British in your tuxedo. Also, I gotta say, when I was 8, the running gag with the dog poo amused me a lot. On the other hand, the total perviness of Christopher Lloyd’s character went right over my head.
Professor Plum (not yet outed as a total perv) picks up Miss Scarlett on his way to dinner, her car having broken down. They are following their written directions when Professor Plum catches sight of the house for the first time and stops the car.
Back at the house, the guests all arrive, Wadsworth brings them all into the dining room to get to know each other, and it turns out there’s one extra chair.
Random aside: I didn’t realize until like last year that Col. Mustard and Leon, Roseanne’s boss in the old sitcom Roseanne, are the same person.
Col. Mustard: Is this place for you?
Wadsworth: Not me, sir, I am merely a humble butler.
Col. Mustard: What exactly do you do?
Wadsworth: I buttle, sir.
That might be my favorite line of the whole movie.
Okay, so, all the guests have arrived, are brought to the dining room, start to get to know each other.
Dinner is interrupted by the arrival of Mr. Boddy, who you can tell is sinister because of the music that accompanies his entrance.
And here we have my first niggling issue. As is ultimately revealed, Mr. Boddy and his butler have switched places–that is, Wadsworth is the mastermind, and Mr. Boddy is the patsy. How did Wadsworth (who is actually Mr. Boddy) convince Mr. Boddy (actually the butler) to take on the identity of someone who would, upon being revealed, be an almost immediate target for violence (if not murder)? Surely the butler knew he was looking at a fight, and possibly bodily harm, masquerading as a blackmailer? Whose idea were the weapons, the butler’s or Wadsworth’s? Did the butler actually think that the distribution of weapons would keep him safe? Who wrote on the envelope that Wadsworth opens? Was it Wadsworth, writing to himself to throw off the trail? What was the actual plan here?
After dinner (which takes like four minutes, seriously, at what dinner party do they spend no time eating?), Wadsworth brings them all to the study and tells them why he’s brought them here: They are all being blackmailed. What follows is a systematic and comical outing of each of the dinner guests and their dirty secret. Halfway through the scene, Wadsworth admits that he’s tape recording the conversation (thus rather freaking everyone out, since avoiding a scandal and/or jailtime is why they’re paying blackmail in the first place).
Wadsworth: Professor Plum, you were once a professor of psychiatry specializing in helping paranoid and homicidal lunatics suffering from delusions of grandeur.
Prof. Plum: Yes, but now I work for the United Nations.
Wadsworth: So your work has not changed.
Yes. I am merely transcribing jokes that I find funny. Deal with it.
Point of order: Mr. Green says that “tape recordings are not admissible evidence.” Maybe they weren’t in 1985 (when the movie was made), or in the 1950s (when the movie is set), but tape recordings certainly are admissible evidence now, provided that all the voices present on the recording can be identified with certainty.
Mr. Boddy now introduces a twist of his own, and Wadsworth’s plan starts to go off the rails, though I honestly don’t know by how much. He gives each guest a weapon, wrapped in purple ribbon. I wonder if he knows which weapons are going to which guests? Or is he just handing the weapons out randomly? This is probably another thing I’m not supposed to be thinking about.
Okay, so. Each guest has a weapon. Mr. Boddy suggests that somebody use their weapon to kill Wadsworth, turning off the lights for murdering privacy (like it can be done anonymously when each guest has a different weapon? I guess the guests with bludgeoning instruments have plausible deniability, but it’s not like Mrs. White can strangle Mr. Boddy and then claim somebody else did it). Wadsworth, incredibly, did not see this coming. Lights go off. Thunk, chunk, groan, gunfire, shattering, screaming noise, lights come back on.
Several of the people in this room are thinking remarkably quickly. Mr. Boddy is on the floor, playing dead (as we find out later). Prof. Plum bends over to check on him, and though Mr. Boddy is clearly alive, Prof. Plum thinks fast and doesn’t give away the sham (why? So he can have a clear shot at him later?). Mr. Boddy and Prof. Plum aren’t coordinating their actions, so it’s pretty remarkable to me that they engage in precisely the same course of action to achieve (I’m assuming) very different ends. I guess Professor Plum doesn’t see the point in outing Mr. Boddy as still alive, since at that point Mr. Boddy will say, “Yeah, and you’re the one who tried to shoot me. Ass.”
Immediately after this (and after pulling a screaming Yvette from the billiard room), the guests find the cook’s body, carry it back to the study, and realize that Mr. Boddy’s body has disappeared while they were in the kitchen. Scarlet uncovers the negatives that incriminate Col. Mustard, and it occurs to me here that Scarlet and Yvette know each other, but unlike Yvette and Mrs. White, this mutual acquaintanceship isn’t acknowledged at by either person. Just another instance of people behaving in a way that is either prearranged, baffling, or thinking really fast and trusting the other person to play along.
And now, as Mrs. Peacock enters the bathroom, Mr. Boddy staggers out. At this point, from a narrative perspective, it’s random and threatening (because we don’t know that Mr. Boddy was playing dead in the stufy). Mr. Boddy’s dead, but he definitely didn’t just fall out of the toilet he’d been stuffed in; he’s stalking towards Mrs. Peacock. From a later perspective, why did Wadsworth and/or Yvette and/or Professor Plum (because those were the people missing in the kitchen when they found the cook) stuff him in the toilet? How’d they get him in there? Did they really think that nobody would need to use the bathroom all night? How did they know Mr. Boddy needed to be bashed over the head again? Did they see him get up?
Mr. Green has blood on his hands? This is never explained. And how did the candlestick get over the door?
And here we have the line which is not my favorite, but is probably the one I quote most:
Okay, so. We bring Mr. Boddy back to the study again. We bring the cook to the study.
The group starts trying to figure out how might have killed Mr. Boddy, and Wadsworth suggests locking up all the weapons so that the homicidal maniac that’s somewhere in the group can’t kill anybody (people don’t kill people! Lead pipes kill people!). He goes to put the key to the cupboard in his pocket, which freaks out the rest of the guests, so he suggests throwing the key out the front door so nobody can get to it. Brilliant! That’ll do it! But there’s somebody at the door.
The motorist! Who has been invited by Wadsworth, and has presumably been given a story about his car breaking down and needing to use the phone (what did Wadsworth tell the guy the real game was?). No idea on whether the Motorist has been told that his old boss will be there, but either way, neither of them give even a flicker of recognition. Also, the Motorist’s cover story is thorough enough to attract a cop to his abandoned vehicle (but not to Scarlett’s abandoned vehicle?). This is pretty much repeated for each visitor: visitor arrives and knows enough to not admit that they know anybody at the party. The guest who knows the random arrival also never admits they know the arrival (so that they might have the chance to kill them). Presumably, the two murders that have taken place at this point have derailed whatever Wadsworth’s original plan was. But he was hoping for his accomplices to get murdered, right? So is he genuinely unnerved at their arrival (since they can further derail things if they discover the bodies, instead of getting murdered as planned), or is he just locking them into separate rooms to isolate them so that they’re vulnerable to attack? I should just stop thinking about this, because I am confused.
They split up into pairs to search the house, and at this point, pretty much everybody starts slipping away from their partner to murder somebody. The first to go is the motorist, who is got to by way of a secret passage into the lounge (how does Col. Mustard know about the secret passage, again?). Mustard and Scarlet find the secret passage and “find” the body, and Scarlet genuinely freaks out, while Mustard, presumably, fakes it. They’re yelling and pounding on the door, everyone comes running, Yvette shoots the door and the chandelier, and the World War II veteran pleads with the rest of the guests that he “can’t take any more scares.” I guess he might have PTSD, but still. Come on dude. You were in a war. Get it together.
And the doorbell rings again! And Mr. Green, who moments ago “had nothing to hide,” suddenly has things to hide and slams the door in the cop’s face. He inexplicably remains in this “must not tell the cop about the bodies even though the cop is the MOST APPROPRIATE PERSON TO TELL” for the rest of this sequence. The cop presumably recognizes Scarlet, but neither of them say anything (again with people recognizing people, or knowing that something fishy is going on, and yet not announcing it to the group).
The house phone rings, and the cop answers it. It’s J. Edgar Hoover. This is strange. One of the guests is undercover (either Wadsworth or Mr. Green, depending on the ending). This surveillance operation is important enough to get J. Edgar Hoover involved, but for some reason Mr. Hoover thinks it’s appropriate to totally blow his employee’s cover by straight up calling the house and introducing himself. What? J. Edgar Hoover, I am disappoint. You should know more about paranoia and surveillance than this. And most undercover operations fall apart once something like a murder happens, because a cop can’t commit crimes or let certain kinds of crime be committed if he/she is in the vicinity. So there’s an undercover operative that just lets murder after murder happen? What?
And now Mr. Green shows the cop around, still not taking advantage of the opportunity to get the fucking cops involved, and we find ourselves in one of the funniest and yet totally squeakiest sequences of the movie: making out with corpses. That’s right folks. WHAT IS GOING ON HERE.
I just want to emphasize that with most movies, I would be annoyed by the plot holes by now, but in Clue, I’m not. I’m loving the hell out of this. Better than most movies (I think it’s the pace, either of the movie itself or of the dialogue, which is rapid), Clue sets up falling dominos of ridiculousness that compound into….well, six dead bodies for one thing, but until I start actually looking for plot holes, at no time do I start yelling at the characters to simply take the sensible way out like I do with most slapstick comedies. The characters are so completely not in control of events that I actually kind of buy them letting the situation get out of hand. You have to wonder how long it would have gone on for had the cops not shown up when they did, because none of the characters show the slightest success towards actually altering the course of the evening. They spend all their time exhibiting coping mechanisms and directing courses of action that make no difference (like searching the house for someone who isn’t there). Oh, and killing each other.
Cop: You’re too late, I’ve seen it all.
Wadsworth: You have? …I can explain everything!
Cop: You don’t have to.
Wadsworth: I don’t?
Cop: Don’t worry, there’s nothing illegal about any of this!
Wadsworth: Are you sure?
Cop: Of course! This is America!
Wadsworth: I see.
Cop: It’s a free country, don’t you know that?
Wadsworth: I didn’t know it was that free.
Mr. Green: *maniacally nervous smile*
Also, sometimes Wadsworth is really good at coming up with lies off the cuff (“Yes sir, it was the chandelier. Fell down, almost killed us. Would you like to step this way?”) and sometimes he’s totally shitty at it. (“Yes, you could use the phone in the–noo. You could use the one in the st–no. Would you please wait in the, um, the, um, the lounge?” NO THAT DOESN’T SOUND SUSPICIOUS AT ALL, WADSWORTH. YOU ARE TOTALLY NOT HIDING ANYTHING.)
Search of house resumes, someone throws the switch to turn off the house’s electricity, and now we’re at the movie’s biggest WTF moment for me. Yvette sneaks downstairs, into a darkened room, and is murdered. What?
Murderer (whispering): Shut the door. Did anyone recognize you?
Yvette: They must have. And not just my face. They know every inch of my body. And they’re not the only ones.
Murderer: *throws a noose around Yvette’s neck*
Yvette: IT’S YOU! *dies*
WHAT THE HELL. Okay, first of all, how did Yvette set up a clandestine meeting with anyone in the house? If she set up a meeting, how the a third party find out about it and get to the meeting instead (Yvette was surprised when she saw who she was talking to, after all). Okay, so maybe Yvette slipped downstairs hoping simply to meet somebody that she needed to have a private word with, but hadn’t actually set up a time and place to meet anyone. That’s more likely. (And it’s likely that she was looking for her employer, Miss Scarlet, since she went to the ground floor, where Scarlet was searching with Mustard.) But then she creeps into a dark room and is TOTALLY UNSURPRISED to hear a voice talking to her. But then why does it sound like Yvette and the murderer are resuming a conversation that they’ve previously started? “They must have, and not just my face.”? Seriously? What does that even mean? Also, Yvette, what happened to your French accent? Apparently you were faking it, but why? If people recognized you (and it seems clear that at least three guests knew Yvette prior to this evening), why did they not call you out on your ridiculous new accent when they first walked in the door? WHY IS EVERYONE PRETENDING TO NOT KNOW EACH OTHER RAWR.
Also, three murders happen in like the space of a minute, and nobody sees anyone else in the hallway. The cop dies even though him getting hit over the head is never actually shown, just the menacing lead pipe.
AND WHERE DID THE GLOVES COME FROM. EVERYONE’S WEARING GLOVES WHEN THEY KILL PEOPLE. WHERE DID THEY FIND THEM.
“Dada da da da da! I, am, your singing telegram!” *gunshot* *door slam*. That sequence CRACKED ME UP when I was a pre-teen. I may or may not have been a slightly demented child.
Oh, Wadsworth in the shower. Heeheehee. I enjoy that little sequence too.
So, Wadsworth runs downstairs and turns on the lights, and the characters all reassemble in the hall. We can take a moment to tell where they’re coming from: Wadsworth is standing in the cellar door, where the circuit box is. Mrs. White and Mr. Green are coming downstairs (Mr. Green coming from the attic, Mrs. White apparently having booked it back upstairs after killing Yvette.) Miss Scarlet is at the far end of the hall where the bathroom and the kitchen are. Col. Mustard comes out of the door at the foot of the stairs, which I think is the dining room. Professor Plum and Mrs. Peacock both emerge from the cellar. They find the bodies of the cop and Yvette.
Mr. Green: Two murders.
Prof. Plum: Neither of them shot. I thought I heard a gun.
Everyone: So did I.
Scarlet: I thought I heard the front door slam.
Mustard: Oh God. The murderer must have run out.
KNFKLJNSDFKLJANSFKJLANFKLJAN YOU GUYS LEFT THE FRONT DOOR UNLOCKED?!
So they open the front door, and find the singing telegram girl.
Wadsworth: Three murders.
Mr. Green: Six, altogether.
Wadsworth: This is getting serious.
Aaaaand they just close the front door, leaving the dead girl on the porch. Hilarious.
Wadsworth: Very well, I know who did it.
Everyone: YOU DO?!
Wadsworth: And furthermore, I will tell you how it was all done.
And now we’re to the best part of the movie. THE BEST PART. I seriously love Tim Curry so fucking much because most of the remaining half hour is Tim Curry monologuing/reenacting the entire preceding hour at top speed. Which I won’t try to summarize or quote because it wouldn’t translate. And the three endings. “That’s how it could have happened. But how about this?” Lulz.
Aaaaaaand then there’s this:
He explains that none of the random arrivals at the door were random, that all the murder victims were accomplices in Mr. Boddy’s blackmail. “It wasn’t luck [that the Motorist arrived]. I invited him!” “You did?!” YOU DID?!? WHY DID YOU PRETEND TO BE SURPRISED? WHY DID HE PRETEND TO BE STRANDED? WHAT WAS THE PLAN THAT WAS SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN?!?!
Also I do not notice Professor Plum taking off his bow tie. When did that happen?
Wadsworth’s friends own this house? This is one class-transcending butler. Except he’s not actually the butler, I keep forgetting. But he was willing to stack the bodies in the cellar? How is that a good method of body disposal?
“Why should the police come? Nobody’s called them.” Wait, what? You lied about that? Why? Why did you tell everyone the cops were coming when they aren’t? What were you hoping would happen? Did you really hope that everyone would just kill each other if you got them all in the same house and set them on a time limit? I DO NOT UNDERSTAND ABOUT LYING ABOUT THE POLICE. I feel like the whole movie is a plot of Wadsworth’s that got derailed, and part of that plan was lying about the police, but I don’t understand what lying about the police (but yet gathering evidence for them, as the tape recording of the conversation shows) was supposed to get him. And why would people start killing other people if they think the cops are on the way?
In the “Wadsworth is the evil genius” ending, everything goes exactly according to his plan, I think. Somehow the ideas of “everything going according to plan” and “everything in the master plan going horribly awry” peacefully co-exist in this movie.
Luckily, the actual, third ending makes the most sense. Mr. Green turning out to be an FBI agent is genuinely surprising and satisfying, except for the whole “That phone call from J. Edgar Hoover was for me” line. Seriously? J. Edgar Hoover, were you TRYING to blow your operative’s cover? “I’m going to go home and sleep with my wife!” Wink wink.
By all standards, Clue should not work as a movie. There’s plot holes galore. It’s based on a board game. It’s silly and ridiculous. It’s a comedy about murder, and it’s not even a dark comedy. But…it works. All the actors play their parts with such earnestness–and the comedic timing is down to a fine art–that you never stop to think to yourself, “What is this shittery?” Which is the mark of a good story, really. The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.
Filed under: Clue, Hurrah Tim Curry, Movies, Other Authors, Rant, Uncategorized | 9 Comments
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