The story of board game turned movies is a curious one. Ouija bored and Battleship sank without a trace. Rumours of a Hungry Hungry Hippos film turned out to be a load of balls. And Ridley Scott’s long-mooted Monopoly movie has yet to materialise, possibly because Jeremy Irons and John Barrowman have been unavailable to play the iron and wheelbarrow respectively.
The biggest cult film of the genre is Clue, a Cluedo-meets-Clouseau comedy based on the bafflingly popular murder mystery that attempts to gamify the process of elimination. The movie was released in 1985 with three different endings depending on which screening you attended, rather ruining the fun of guessing whodunnit and leaving viewers dissatisfied since none of the endings work on their own. This ploy to have people see it multiple times backfired and Clue flopped at the box office, a victim of its own gimmickry. Seen together the multiple endings make a pleasing meta joke, and their inclusion on video releases might explain the picture’s eventual reappraisal.
Another factor is the camp that often lends itself to cult success (Rocky Horror, Mommie Dearest), since Clue is essentially Carry On Cluedo or death by innuendo. Directed by Jonathan Lynn (Yes Minister, My Cousin Vinny) and co-written with John Landis (Animal House, Three Amigos), Clue combines British farce and Zucker-style gags to produce a giddy old-school romp. Lynn’s humour runs the gamut from quickfire wit to lazy slapstick, but it’s deliciously delivered by a killer comedy cast including Michael McKean, Christopher Lloyd and the aptly named Colleen Camp as a busty French maid who makes at least one toilet-based “oui oui” pun. The standouts are Lesley Ann Warren’s Ms. Scarlet and Tim Curry’s butler, whose high-energy one-man recaps make the movie much more fun than the board game.
Clue is set in the 1950s but satirises the Reagan era, as its characters are all Washington elites being blackmailed for transgressions ranging from homosexuality and socialism to prostitution and emasculation. However, any semblance of intelligence is quickly lost to the film’s stagey, repetitive structure where all the characters run from room to room en masse discovering bodies and falling over. Where Knives Out balanced its comedy with clever twists and character revelations, Clue beats you over the head with the same candle-schtick for the duration. But the film’s biggest crime? The costumes are the wrong colour. Ms. Scarlet wears green, Mrs. White black and so on. Clueless.