“Three murders,” … “Six Altogether,” … “This is getting serious,”– or a Review of “Clue” (1985)

Reviewing your favorite movie is no easy task. (This also means my favorite movie is not a Disney movie, which I’m sure is a bit surprising) and it’s a movie that I’m sure I’ve seen at least 50 times. It’s my go-to movie when I want something I’ve seen before, perfect for when you’re sick and just want something comfortable to fall asleep to or for me to have on in the background while I’m working. Plus, I have this Christmas tradition with myself where I watch Clue alone on Christmas Eve after everyone else has gone to bed.

Even saying I’ve seen it three times a year on average, accounting only for those three instances and no other times from when I was probably eight until now means I would have seen it at least three times a year for the past 19 years so…57 times. Probably more though if we’re counting all the other times I’ve watched it just for fun…Alright, enough numbers- just wanted to make it clear that I’ve seen this movie so many times and this review is probably really just going to be a nostalgia trip. But let’s get into this…

I loved the board game as a kid, and one of my favorite things about the movie is that it so closely follows the board game (while also adding more depth to the story). The way the house is designed in the film looks pretty similar to the game board and even the secret passages between rooms exist on screen. And while many of the jokes went over my head while watching the movie as a kid, there was still enough happening outside of some of the dialogue that I never really felt like I was missing out on anything like that. Now, as an adult I recognize the craftiness of the decisions that went into writing certain parts of the dialogue and having additional details in nearly every scene that would hold your interest regardless of what you’re getting out of the jokes. The level of detail that the entire movie has in my opinion is goes deeper than its surface level appearance as a pretty classic 80s comedy, and that’s part of the film that’s always been really impressive to me.

Clue was also the first Tim Curry movie I saw as a kid (and maybe Christopher Lloyd too? I feel like I’ve been watching Clue for so long I have to have seen this before Back to the Future…so for a kid who didn’t really grow up getting really into movies outside of, well, Disney this oddly enough introduced me to some of the biggest actors of this time and made me want to see more of their other arguably more well known movies.

As for the movie itself, it’s definitely known for its comedy but I’m going to end with that- The first thing I notice every time I watch Clue is the costume design. As an aside, I’ve been pretty obsessed with the costuming in Clue since I was a kid, but I’ve been getting more and more into it as an adult- especially after watching the live action Cinderella. This is a tangent, but the live action version of Cinderella has some pretty spectacular costumes but almost none of them make any sense- Cinderella’s looks are fairly classic for the 18th century, her stepsisters look straight out of the 1950s and the stepmother looks like she’s about to walk down the red carpet by the Chinese Theater for the premiere of Snow White or something. I realize this has nothing to do with Clue, but I’m getting there…Basically when I watched the live action Cinderella, I always find myself thinking about how gorgeous the costumes are but also…what am I looking at here? Someone made the decision to use these costumes, and while they’re beautiful they make absolutely no sense. As an adult, things like this make me want to understand what goes into costume design more, because these are some deliberate decisions that were made to add to the film and it’s interesting to see how much it can add to the story and the characters.

In Clue, the first costume I really notice is Ms. Scarlet’s. She’s very glamorous but also sexy with a form fitting and fairly low cut top (which I’ve always thought probably wouldn’t be conducive to the event she’s going to, but what do I know), but as the movie goes on and you learn more about her character (and how she basically runs an escort service) the costuming choices all seem to make sense. My absolute favorite costume in Clue is Mrs. Peacock’s not only because it’s so unique with sequins, tulle, and even the feathered headpiece, but because of how she interacts with what she’s wearing. Whenever she’s stressed out, her headpiece gets messed up and she’s frantically struggling to fix it while going on and on about there being a murderer loose in the house or potentially being poisoned. And in the scenes when the group is running from room to room, Mrs. Peacock is struggling to hold the tulle of her dress up while also carrying a bag and sometimes a weapon- the way she interacts with it just seems to go so well with her personality and it’s something that’s always drawn me to the costuming in Clue.

Mrs. White’s costume is another interesting one to me. The all black get-up and especially her birdcage headpiece makes her look as though she just showed up from a funeral (perhaps one of her multiple dead husbands?) but she still looks put together and unbothered by giving off that kind of appearance. Professor Plum is another character who interacts with his costume a lot pulling out his pipe whenever he’s in deep thought or a stressful situation, and Mr. Green is often seen pushing up his glasses, which as a person who wears glasses I can tell you is a thing that happens ALL. THE. TIME.

Clue is also just loaded with details in every scene. Every time I see the kitchen scenes, I find myself glancing at the older stove in the background and trying to somehow take in the history of the house from that. (The opening credits say New England 1954 and while the board game is based on a real life New England murder mystery the house to me screams New York and the architecture nerd in me has basically picked apart every detail of the house to confirm this thought.) Then there are parts of the house that look like the 80s to me (some of the wood paneling, the orange couches, etc…) despite the story taking place in 1954. Some people may pick this up as a continuity error of sorts but I actually LOVE when this happens. (This is different from the costumes in Cinderella that have no rhyme or reason to which time period they’re from or designed in.) Take The Little Mermaid for instance, I love that Ariel’s wedding dress is a weird hybrid of the 18th century time period and the 1980s (if you or your parents got married in the 80s I’m sure you’re well aware of the sleeves on Ariel’s dress). The house in Clue has all these design elements that are really an 80s interpretation of what a 1954 “New England” (New York) mansion would look like, and I actually love when film’s do this. Unless something is created in the time period it takes place in, I don’t honestly expect the design to be timeless and I think it gives the whole story more character. Everything in Clue from the slapstick comedy style to the design of the house and to some extent the costuming is such a 1980s view of 1954 and it’s honestly great in my opinion.

There is a taxidermied owl next to the gong near the front door, a painting that looks to be a rendition of a Gilbert Stewart painting of George Washington in the study, and so many other small details. And while it could be because I’ve seen the movie so many times that I’m picking up on these random small details, I like to think they were intentional and are meant to tell us something about the house. While we never learn too much about who actually owns the house, these random small details in its design lend themselves so well to the movie being a mystery at its core despite the comedic aspects and everything else. Admittedly I’m sure I’ve thought about many of these details more than the average person, but I also think that if the setting is well designed enough in any film these are details the viewer should pick up on- especially in a story like Clue where the entire hour and half experience takes place in one building.

Tim Curry’s acting as Wadsworth in this movie is some of my favorite work of his. Not that he doesn’t do this in everything else he’s in really, but for a relatively ordinary character compared to the roles he usually plays, he really puts his all into the character and it’s really just a treat to watch. During the three endings of the film where Wadsworth is going over who the murderer is and how they did it, Tim Curry is telling the story with his entire body doing everything from running up and down the hall with the dagger to explaining the cook’s death from the kitchen floor. I always feel like the more subtle comedic scenes throughout the film are just the buildup to Tim Curry’s performance in the last 20 minutes or so and I just love the way the story was arranged like that.

Last but not least, the writing in Clue is what got me into writing in the first place. Even when I was much younger I was fascinated with how these writers managed to create a plot and move it along based on such a simple premise. I love writing based on art, and taking the board game as a form of art (which it really is, as are all board games if you ask me), it’s really interesting to see how the writers developed this plot and characters based on such a one-dimensional premise. I’ve always loved the slapstick style comedy mixed with the expected “who dunnit” tropes, but the way it’s written is pure genius in my opinion.

There are so many awkward conversations that while at first seem a little useless actually work to move the plot along and give us a deeper insight into those characters, and it’s these moments that I’ve always wanted to accomplish when writing any kind of fiction since probably my first viewing of Clue. I think a lot of what makes writing great is getting into exactly what characters are feeling without having them tell you themselves, and laughs aside, the characters’ personalities in Clue really come through with the way they interact with each other, the setting, and even their costumes, and it’s that kind of storytelling I’ve always hoped to capture in my writing.

This post was obviously just a love letter to Clue (I think making this a more traditional review would be kind of impossible to be honest) but with any review I really do like to find at least one thing that could have been done better. As I’ve already mentioned, the house is not New England. (This is such a minor detail that I’m sure concerns no one else but I’m going with it.) It’s not New England the same way the Haunted Mansion in Walt Disney World is supposed to somehow fit into Liberty Square (seriously, we need to start teaching architecture in schools or something…)

But aside from this minor detail, the only real critique I can come up with is that I wouldn’t complain about having more background on Wadsworth/Mr. Boddy. I’m not sure this would have been possible as Wadsworth’s persona changes depending on the ending you watch, but we never really find out whose house it was or all that much about those two characters, whereas the rest of the film is devoted to exposing the secrets of the others or killing each other over it. I don’t think this lack of knowledge takes anything away from it, but if there were some sort of lore to Clue like other weird fandoms out there where you could go get some accompanying novel or something that would divulge all these overly nerdy details, I would buy it.

“Being killed is pretty final, wouldn’t you say?” ✌️

Image Credit: Paramount

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