The Charm Of Remembrance: 'Clue' Did It In The '80s, With The Slapstick : Monkey See We take a look back at 1985's Clue, which is a really beloved movie for one that mostly involves people running around in formalwear.
NPR logo The Charm Of Remembrance: 'Clue' Did It In The '80s, With The Slapstick

The Charm Of Remembrance: 'Clue' Did It In The '80s, With The Slapstick


Now, look. I'm not here to make you angry if you love Clue.

[Here's the thing: Now everyone who loves Clue is already angry, because that's how much people love Clue.]

In fact, Clue — a 1985 comedy based on the board game of the same name, as you undoubtedly know — is a great piece of evidence that basing a movie on a board game, as utterly stupid as that idea sounds when they do it with something like Battleship, is not an inherently impossible concept. There's nothing wrong with Clue at the conceptual level.

And yes, there are lots of funny jokes in Clue, okay?

But coming to it fresh, many years after the fact, seeing it in a small but packed theater as I did last night, I can't honestly tell you that it holds up to other quotables like Monty Python And The Holy Grail or something along those lines. I can't bring myself to sign on to the idea that it quite deserves the level of shock I experienced when people learned that I'd never seen it. (This revelation was treated, in some circles, like I was announcing that I'd never heard music or never walked barefoot through a field of grass.)

Now, with that said: I laughed. Mostly towards the end, when Tim Curry began his reenactment of the evening's events, because if the world can be divided into people who think a bunch of weirdos in formalwear running around a house and bumping into each other is funny and people who don't, I am definitely in that first group. I love weirdos in formalwear running around a house!

There are also a solid number of agreeably har-har tossed-off jokes, like this:

"He threatened to kill me in public!"

"Why would he kill you in public?"

These things are vaudeville enough to supply their own mental rimshots, and I found them thoroughly enjoyable where I encountered them. But in number, they are not quite plentiful enough. It's sort of like Airplane!, where the charm is in the large number of jokes, which makes it okay for some of them not to work, because others will. For me, Clue doesn't have quite enough jokes to make up for the slow parts.

Now. Before you get your cleaver out and start chasing me around the kitchen while we are followed by a crowd of people waving their arms hysterically, let me emphatically state that the movie benefits from an enormously talented and agreeable cast capable of making dumb jokes much funnier than they actually are. Madeline Kahn is divine, Michael McKean is perhaps as funny as he's ever been in anything, Martin Mull is great, Eileen Brennan, Lesley Anne Warren, Christopher Lloyd ... they're all really good. I could watch Eileen Brennan pull dotty-lady faces all day. And everything Tim Curry does in the entire last frenetic section deserves to be watched over and over.

And yes, I thought, "Who is that singing telegram girl?" And then I saw the credits and thought, "Well, of course it's Jane Wiedlin from The Go-Go's."

But I have to tell you: I think the movie is more interesting as a story of how a pretty ordinary ensemble comedy with some noticeable lulls can develop a passionate following on the strength of its sheer silliness than it is as ... you know, a movie. (How silly is it? I found it endlessly delightful that the designated disposable murder victim in a Clue scenario was named Mr. Boddy. That's fantastically, bluntly dumb, which I mean as nothing but a compliment.)

One of the great things about revisiting '80s movies in this series, when they're ones I know well, is readjusting my perspective — or not — based on how much of my fondness for something turns out to spring from the thing itself and how much springs from all the warm, fuzzy thoughts I have about it. I think Clue is exactly the kind of movie where, as much fun as it is (and it's fun, please don't e-mail me), it's much better if you have 20 years of having loved it (and watched it at parties and forced it on friends) at your disposal.