In the short history of “Best Movie Ever?”, I’ve covered enough cinematic treasure to render Leonard Maltin catatonic and super-gay for yeeeears. From Nine to Five and Working Girl to Clueless and Mean Girls, we’ve reexamined a lot of staggering celluloid and, more importantly, women in blazers. Today, I offer up a movie that I can hardly judge as a mere admirer. It’s my favorite movie, it’s probably your favorite movie, and when we add up its five most unbelievable elements, we’ll be so high on glamorous (and INCONCEIVABLY SILLY) goodness that we’ll strike each other with candlesticks, lead pipes, and Colleen Camp’s triumphant bazooms. Can you dig it? It’s the zany whodunit Clue, darlings, and it’s what makes Western civilization good.
Now, full disclosure: I’ve already written one magnum opus about Clue, and it’s pretty comprehensive. But I wrote that for (gasp!) a largely straight audience, and now we can finally crack Clue’s gay cred for the conservatory of queerness that it is. Because it’s just so gay, everyone. So gay. There’s even a hilarious gay character in it (Mr. Green), and I’m sorry to say he doesn’t make “secret passageway” innuendos about his anus. When I finally co-write Clue: Butt Detective with Tennessee Williams Dustin Lance Black, we’ll right that.
Here we go. The five best arguments for why Clue’s the greatest movie ever. You’ll notice each one is failsafe.
1. Clue sticks obsessively to the hackiest plot formula in literary history. And that’s why it’s good.
Clue’s creepy opening sequence features lightning crashes, a rainy New England vista, and ominous music. Director Jonathan Lynn may as well have bellowed, “It was a dark and stormy night!” and moved right ahead to the first scene, because Clue is totally fine with the audience knowing it’s watching a hacky-ass, ultra-formulaic, everything-but-the-deerstalker whodunit. Jesus, look at Tim Curry. He’s dressed in butler regalia and hosting a dinner party in a hazy mansion. Do you see what I’m getting at? There is a glamor about working within the confines of a template, about playing by the rules while subverting them from within. Murder By Death tried to do the same thing to the same genre in ’76 (with Eileen Brennan, no less!), but that star-studded whodunit simply led nowhere. Also, sorry, but we all come to a point in our lives where we realize Neil Simon is not funny. He is a touching playwright, but not a comedian. Try watching California Suite sometime. You will BEG for a Buck Henry rewrite.
After the ensemble of characters from the Parker Brothers game — Colonel Mustard, Miss Scarlet, et al — start arriving at the butler’s manse, awesomely bad cliches take over. A blackmailer is revealed, the lights go out, someone turns up dead, and the audience is left guessing who’s the killer. But more importantly, each cast member gets a chance to shine in their designated suspect role within this rigid format. Dr. Frankenfurter himself, the aforementioned Curry, is our emcee. He darts about with theories about the blackmailer Mr. Boddy, throwaway quips about everyone (very Willy Wonka), and impish gusto. His best line is probably when he explains the details of his job to Colonel Mustard: “I butle, sir.” We’ll get to the distaff party guests in just a minute, but I also want to draw special attention to Christopher Lloyd, who plays perverted psychiatrist Professor Plum. Though he spends much of his screentime mugging with a pipe in his mouth, his weird-ass flirtation is so, so creepy. Remember when he puts his hand on the murdered cook’s ass? Disturbing. And grimly hilarious. And a perfectly wicked spin on the familiar physician character from whodunits.
2. It’s a nutty comic ensemble where the women clearly rule.
I’m always a little astounded when people like Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are asked to explain why certain people believe “women aren’t funny.” There’s nothing to explain. You know why Jerry Lewis thinks women aren’t funny? Because he wants to. It’s the same reason people believe there’s a problem with gay marriage or Lady Gaga or HBO’s Girls or whatever. Hostile people want to have a problem with something, and when enough of them agree to stick to that position, it becomes an argument, then a dogma, then a real obstacle for the inoffensive subject at hand. It’s predictable and it ruins lives.
But my point! And I have one! Is that unapologetically funny women make Clue. The three featured actresses — Eileen Brennan as the batty Mrs. Peacock, Lesley Ann Warren as the brassy-as-that-candlestick Miss Scarlet, Madeline Kahn as the “pale and tragic” Mrs. White — get all the best lines. And they’ve earned them! Brennan, Warren, and Kahn are the films only Oscar nominees (unless you count Michael McKean’s songwriting nod for A Mighty Wind decades later), and they’re feisty dynamos. Here, Lesley Ann Warren, who I exalted to high heaven in my Victor/Victoria writeup, bellows at a puckish Tim Curry.
3. Clue extols the board game’s finest (and fabbest) qualities.
In this age of Battleship and Candy Land movies, it’s nice to know that a board game can inspire great set design. The weird thing about the classic game Clue is how boring the actual gameplay is. You walk around a grid, randomly arrive at accusations, and use a “Go Fish” method of card-swapping to discover a murderer’s identity. Pedantic. But the world of Clue is a jaw-droppingly fabulous situation: You have exotic interior design (The ball room! The billiard room!), swishy weaponry (That fabulous platinum-white rope!), and a literally colorful cast. The movie Clue minds these delicious morsels and bothers to include all nine rooms from the Parker Brothers package. The eerie secret passageways even connect the same rooms from the board: The kitchen meets the study, and the conservatory meets the lounge. For some reason this feels very important. Attention to detail is simply an impressive, and often gay quality, and it helps legitimize Clue’s abject silliness. (Yes, I know I’ve included a picture of Clue: Master Detective instead of the original version. But come on: “The Gazebo” and “The Carriage House” are effing amazing.)
4. The genius of multiple endings.
Another inventive way in which Clue references the frivolity of its origin package is how it provides three distinct solutions to the movie’s murders. For those who are unfamiliar with the movie, this will seem bizarre: There are three endings to Clue, and they each name a different murderer (or set of murderers). In the board game, the solution to Clue’s whodunit is drawn randomly before gameplay begins. The movie’s wildly unpredictable endings recall that fun randomness ingeniously. When Clue aired in theaters, different multiplexes each aired a different one of the movie’s three endings. On videotape, all three endings are available. I used to think everyone believed the third ending was best because, well, it’s the best — but many people argue for the first two also. Am I alone here? Mr. Green’s climactic deadpan of “I’m going to go home and sleep with my wife” is pitch-perfect!
5. Madeline Kahn is on fire. Literally.
Clue’s most famous moment is a real-life ad-lib: Mrs. White descends a staircase, reveals that she strangled the nefarious Yvette (in the movie’s third ending), and launches into a monologue about her reasoning. IT IS TO DIE FOR. Let us start an LGBT Clue fanclub called “Flamers On The Side of Madeline Kahn’s Face,” please.
Some things of gay note: A) the tonality in Kahn’s delivery when she says, “I hated her soOOo much.” It’s like a little song! B) Tim Curry’s line, “You were jealous that your husband was schtupping Yvette — that’s why you killed him, too!” “Schtupping” is a reference to Kahn’s Oscar-nommed performance as Lili von Schtupp in Blazing Saddles. Hot, Clue. C) The subtle pageantry of Kahn’s walk to the center of the room. I mean, what is that? It’s a meek and weird saunter, but it’s still a moment of abject scene-stealing. Only my girl Madeline can deliver such twisted genius. D) ALL OF IT.
What are your favorite Clue moments? There’s enough hare-brained punning and quipping for years of recitation. I’ll start you off with its most cringe-worthy, giggle-deserving pun: “Communism was just a red herring!”