Saturday, May 22, 2010

Whodunit!: Clue: The Movie

Thank goodness for videotape. After watching Clue: The Movie (1985) for the first time this past weekend I find myself conflicted, not unlike a guilty man pleading innocence before an unforgiving jury of his peers. On one hand I found myself thoroughly enjoying the cavalcade of familiar faces, Madeline Kahn, Christopher Lloyd, Martin Mull etc., chewing up the scenery, while on the other hand I couldn't help but think about how much I would have despised the film if I'd caught it during its original theatrical run.

Jonathan Lynn's film used an interesting advertising tactic to raise curiosity; he offered viewers three different endings which would be equally distributed and randomly attached to every film print. Surprise! The problem with this tactic is that with any other film it would promote repeated viewings but by the halfway mark in Clue you should realize that this film's conclusion will prove somewhat irrelevant. It never really mattered if it was Colonel Mustard in the observatory with the candlestick or Ms.Scarlet with the knife in the kitchen. Being offered one of three endings gave the impression that ‘whodunit’ was a question we cared to have answered. We were being told a joke for an hour and a half but the filmmakers missed the punch line. No wonder most critics panned it and its box office numbers were lackluster upon its initial release.

So why has the film amassed a cult following? Why would I have felt cheated in theaters but find myself now reveling in this guilty pleasure? On video the three endings were presented together for the first time in a way that made the entire film feel complete. In doing so ‘whodunit’ becomes a declaration rather than a question. With the endings all building towards an absurd tour de force by Tim Curry as The Butler recreating the evening's crimes, it becomes abundantly clear that the weight of the film has been placed on an aspect which is pretty much inconsequential. The amalgamation is oddly satisfying. While most ‘director's’ or ‘extended’ cuts would look to further develop characters and subplots, Clue’s extension merely cements irrelevance. Each character's actions become both calculated and incidental when the three different conclusions are all presented in succession and the punch line shows itself. Whodunit? Who cares?

This is the ending the entire film was reaching for. The movie's extended conclusion thus undoubtedly enhances the experience but isn't going to change much for you if you didn't buy into its past nature on the first go round. Much of the film's humour derives from the unnecessary excessiveness of its exposition. Murder happens frequently but we don't bear witness to anything more than the aftermath so each joke lives or dies with the most unusual suspects. Each rationale, every defense becomes increasingly absurd, bizarre and illogical until it all culminates in a flurry of nonsense which couldn't be properly punctuated by a single ending. In this case, it needed three.

-- Andrew Dupuis is a devoted cinephile and graduate of Brock University's Film Studies program with an extensive background in Canadian and popular cinema. He is currently working on his first book.

1 comment:

  1. I just watched this movie last night. I seemingly have a soft spot for "bad" movies because although Clue has everything needed for a cinematic joke, I found myself undeniably engaged and wondering whodunit!