Sunday, February 16, 2014

Clue (movie) - 1985

A movie based on a boardgame sounds like a terrible idea. In most cases it is, cue inevitable "Battleship" joke here. (No, go on, it's a freebie.) But sometimes, just sometimes, you can end up with something truly magical. Such is the case with the 1985 film "Clue."

"Clue" is, at its core, a drawing room mystery, as well as a European farce. It is what happens when a comedy and murder mystery run smack into each other at top speed and keep running. It's a film that runs on, no, depends on, timing. It's a film about comedy of errors and the errors of comedy. It is a film that builds and builds and builds until you think it's going to burst, then it does, and it keeps on building.

The pedigree of "Clue" is a fantastic story by itself. The story of "Clue" was co-conceived by John Landis. If you don't know who John Landis is, well, you really, really should. He directed such amazing films as "Animal House," "Trading Places," "Coming To America," "Three Amigos!" and "The Blues Brothers" (which I've still never seen). He's generally one of the sharper directors and he wrote "Blues Brothers" so you can say his writing's pretty aces also.

The director, Jonathan Lynn, has had some ups and downs, but "Clue" was his first hand at directing, and it's a very high bar to have to live up to, which none of his following projects have (although "My Cousin Vinnie" does tickle close for a good part of it).

The cast of "Clue," however, is the real cherry. Let me give you the list of names first and foremost - Tim Curry, Christopher Lloyd, Michael McKean, Madeline Kahn, Eileen Brennan, Martin Mull, Leslie Ann Warren... I mean, I shouldn't really have to say more than Tim Curry. You should have stopped me there and said "Oh, Tim Curry's in it. Of course I'll watch this." Tim Curry makes bad movies okay, okay movies good, good movies great and great movies AMAZING. And Tim Curry has been in some BAD BAD movies. Of course, he was also in "Rocky Horror Picture Show" and I think that's the pinnacle of "too bad not to be good." I can't let you go by without seeing some of that.

So that just happened. Tim Curry plays the butler, in an amazing performance the rebounds from incredibly stuffy to full blown frantic. He is the absolute lynchpin of this movie. He knows that he's the captain of the show, and that all the other actors have timing cues that mostly rely on him being just half a second faster than you would expect him to, and he nails it. If he didn't lock it in as well as he did, all of the rest of the things wouldn't work, which isn't to say the rest of the cast isn't amazing. Madeline Kahn, who was taken from us far too early by ovarian cancer in 1999, gives a wonderful headfuck of a performance, as Mrs. White, the serial widow. Kahn was an amazing actress who we'll revisit in this blog on several occasions, but here she plays the spider to a point.

Michael McKean's performance, on the other hand, is the complete oppposite - whereas Kahn is playing Mrs. White as ambiguous and silently insane, McKean takes Mr. Green into full-blown panic attack almost every chance he gets. You keep wondering how much bigger the performance is going to get, and it just doesn't stop giving. He's not the only one who gets a little over the top. Almost all of the cast have their moments of complete and unrestrained insanity. I mean, what else would you expect from someone like Christopher Lloyd, who's still best known for playing Doc Brown in the Back To The Future films, despite a veritable laundry list of comedic roles. And Martin Mull really should be in more things. His character is the epitome of a spinning coin, somewhere between military bluster and cowering wreck, with either threatening to show up at any moment. Eileen Brennan has the stoic, if addled, politician's wife, and has her role down fine, with the scene of her continuing to talk and talk and talk and talk early on giving the film one of its first escalating laughs. And Leslie Ann Warren puts in a fine performance, although her part is a little overly focused on the vamp. Still, there isn't an actor in this film that isn't delivering a killer performance.

In fact, the best part of this movie is watching all the actors interplay with clockwork precision, if that clockwork happened to be on a rollercoaster. It has all of the barbs and jabs it needs while still being wry enough to make you grin. It's a slow burn, too, that builds and builds and builds.

I don't want to spoil the movie, because there really is a mystery in the film (with three different endings!) but I do want to say that it's a film that's all about the details. The dialogue is witty and razor sharp without ever breaking the flow of the entire movie, which is no small accomplishment, as this movie certainly gets its flow on. The last twenty minutes of the film run at a breakneck pace that must have been ten times as exhausting to film as they were to watch.

I have watched Clue at least 20 times over the years, and it's one of the films that if I ever accidentally stumble onto on TV, I am compelled to sit and watch all of it. When that doesn't happen, I try and fire it up ever couple of years anyway.

So, for your consideration, "Clue" - a movie about murder, mayhem, madness and comedy, where the fourth murder of the film is the point where Tim Curry finally remarks, "This is getting serious." You need a laugh. Check it out.

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