Clue (1985)

2010 #28
Jonathan Lynn | 93 mins | TV | PG / PG

Although Disney have recently treated (I use the word loosely) us to a glut of films based on theme park attractions, movies adapted from good old board games seem a lot rarer. This is probably for good reason — even more so than Disney rides, the majority have no kind of useable narrative. Cluedo (aka Clue in the US) is one of the few that does, and consequently is one of the few (only?) board games that has reached the silver screen. So far, anyway.

I’m going to put Clue into the same category as Flash Gordon: it’s the kind of film that’s unremittingly daft, but it knows it is, and if one gets on board with that then it’s a very enjoyable experience. The story sees an exuberantly excellent Tim Curry gather a group of disparate-but-secretly-connected individuals at a remote stately home, each under a fake name based on those infamous monikers from the game. Eventually there’s a murder, and then a few more, all of which is conveyed in a mix of hilarious farce and fast-paced screwball comedy. It’s Agatha Christie meets Fawlty Towers.

It’s not all funny, certainly — there’s a fair share of puerile gags — but the abundant good bits more than make up for them. On the other hand, you may agree with Roger Ebert that most of the gags fail to hit home. That it has a cult following (plus frequent airings on digital channels like ITV3, suggesting it might pull relatively decent viewing figures (all things considered) whenever it’s on) goes to show it’s all a matter of taste.

Other than the board game connection, Clue is best known for its three different endings, all of which were released, with each screening having just one attached. On TV the film shows with all three consecutively, and they perhaps work best this way — there’s a rising scale of ridiculousness, and the varied repetition of a couple of gags underlines rather than steals their amusement value. My personal favourite variant was the first, incidentally.

Surely the only reasonable reaction to a task as ludicrous as adapting a board game into a film is to turn it into a comedy. Clue does so with aplomb. Ridley Scott, take note.

4 out of 5

Clue placed 10th on my list of The Ten Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2010, which can be read in full here.

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