For the Love of Clue

Clue

Originally written for Jeff Goldblum’s Laugh, the Prince Charles Cinema’s blog.

A board game adaptation is a rare beast in the world of film and even rarer still is for a board game to be turned into a film that is actually watchable let alone enjoyable or, dare I say it, incredible. Let Battleship stand as an example of when a studio takes a game as its inspiration and then goes completely off the rails. No amount of Liam Neeson can save you when you haven’t got an engaging plot or a well written script to back you up. One film has defied all the odds and manages to turn a murder mystery game into a cult comedy by knowing when to stick to the spirit of the source material and when to step out in its own direction.

That film is Clue, the 1980s comedy based on the game we Brits like to call Cluedo. How do you turn a game of deduction into a farcical comedy? I have no idea. You’ll have to ask co-writers John Landis and Jonathan Lynn for an answer, all I can do is to try and explain just why I love the result so much.

As comedies go Clue is a slow burner. The film’s initial scenes are devoted not to rapid fire jokes but to all important scene setting and character introductions. On a dark and stormy night Wadsworth the butler welcomes six strangers into a New England mansion. Each arrives having received an anonymous invitation and each has been provided with a colour-coded pseudonym to protect their identity. After an awkward dinner the final guest arrives; Mr. Boddy. Wadsworth dramatically reveals to the group that everyone present is currently being blackmailed by Mr. Boddy and a few minutes and plot contrivances later the classic collection of weapons are produced and the lights go out. When the lights come back on Mr. Boddy is dead and everyone is holding a possible murder weapon.

This is the point that the board game begins and it is from here that Clue really comes into its own.

What follows is not a serious murder mystery but a farce, pure and simple. The comedy starts subtly and slowly ramps up as the cast of strangers explore the strange mansion scared of what might be lurking in the many, oddly familiar, rooms and of their fellow guests unsure of who is a killer and who is the next victim. As time moves on the death count rises, a policeman is locked in the study, a chandelier falls, and everybody gets a little bit hysterical.

Energies are at their highest as the film reaches its three different conclusions and Wadsworth recaps the events of the film by sprinting around the mansion at breakneck speed and recreates various murders with a strange composed mayhem that can only have been provided by the unique comedic talents of Tim Curry. Curry is hardly alone in producing both a rounded character and expert comic timing as the cast is filled with pedigree character actors. Christopher Lloyd is by far the most famous of the line-up but lesser known actors Martin Mull, Lesley Ann Warren, Colleen Camp, and Michael McKean more than match his energy and the sadly departed Madeline Kahn and Eileen Brennan as Mrs. White and Mrs. Peacock give some of the biggest laughs Clue has to offer.

It’s really hard for me to explain here just how much fun this film is but trust me that it somehow combines subtle character comedy, clever dialogue, and outright slapstick to produce a film that is simultaneously quintessential Cluedo and something completely other. If you haven’t seen it you really must and prepare for the film to completely disarm you as you settle into its gentle pace only for everything to get frenetic without you ever noticing the change.

As the Prince Charles is was hosting a Quote Along screening this last week I thought I should probably give you my top 5 Clue quotes to finish but then started to transcribe the entire film. I don’t think there is a scene in the film that isn’t witty and quotable. Instead I decided to end with my favourite exchange from the film and let you debate the best quote in the comments below.

Colonel Mustard: Is this place for you?
Wadsworth: Indeed no, sir. I’m merely a humble butler.
Colonel Mustard: What exactly do you do?
Wadsworth: I buttle, sir.

Muppet Treasure Island – BlogalongaMuppets 5

I am relishing this section of BlogalongaMuppets as we are in the period of the Muppets which overlapped with my childhood. How can you not love a Muppet film if you first saw it at the age of eight?

Following on from The Muppet Christmas Carol Disney have tried to replicate that winning formula by adapting another classic novel in the unique Muppet way. This time we have a young Jim Hawkins (Kevin Bishop) and his best friends Rizzo the Rat and The Great Gonzo, who are given a treasure map and set sail on the big blue wet thing, looking for adventure. Captaining their ship is a certain green frog and taking the role of lead famous human actor is the always entertaining Tim Curry as Long John Silver. Tim Curry plays the treacherous pirate with such relish it is a joy to watch.

All of my praise for this film is pretty much the same as that which I heaped on The Muppet Christmas Carol. The film has a tight plot, is funny throughout and is filled with catchy songs. The humour never becomes too meta and there are no cameos for cameos sake; Jennifer Saunders and Billy Connolly both give great performances at the start of the film and both have something to do beyond being a recognisable face.

The winning formula for a great Muppet film is for our felt covered friends to adapt a classic novel, have a respected British actor in the lead human role and have decent songs. Christmas Carol and Treasure Island also share the trait of not being afraid of being dark in places, the opening song in Muppet Treasure Island ends with a whole pirate crew being shot. As Rizzo said, “He died? And this is supposed to be a kids’ movie!”.

As usual I want to give a quick nod to the various Muppet rats who throughout the pirate adventure have their own sub-plot as Rizzo has a side business running a rat cruise on-board the pirate boat. There’s something about rats behaving like humans on holiday that tickles me beyond explanation. Look at their teeny clothes!

You wanna knock it off with the booze? It’s peeling the paint off of the shuffleboard court.

In short, Muppet Treasure Island is amazing and I will never tire of it. Sadly The Muppet Christmas Carol just pips it to the top spot (so far) by virtue of being a Christmas film and therefore automatically being slightly better.

Muppet Movie Ranking:
1. The Muppet Christmas Carol
2. Muppet Treasure Island
3. The Muppets Take Manhattan
4. The Great Muppet Caper
5. The Muppet Movie