Clue is a 1985 comedy mystery film based on the board game of the same name. The film is a murder mystery set in a Gothic Revival mansion, and is styled after Murder by Death (which also featured Clue star Eileen Brennan) and other various murder/dinner parties of mystery. The film was directed by Jonathan Lynn, who collaborated on the script with John Landis, and stars Tim Curry, Eileen Brennan, Martin Mull, Lesley Ann Warren, Christopher Lloyd, Michael McKean, Madeline Kahn, Colleen Camp, and Lee Ving. The film was produced by Debra Hill.
In keeping with the nature of the board game, in theatrical release the movie was shown with one of three possible endings, with different theaters receiving each ending. (In the film's home video release, all three endings were included.) The film initially received mixed reviews and did poorly at the box office, ultimately grossing $14,643,997 in the US.
Clue was Paramount's first adaptation of a now current Hasbro property, though at that time Cluedo was owned by Waddingtons and licensed in the U.S. (as Clue) to Parker Brothers; Hasbro later bought both Waddingtons and Parker Brothers. This predated by 19 years Paramount's deal to distribute other films and television series based on Hasbro properties. Universal Studios announced that a remake was in the works with a release date set for 2013, though the project was later shelved.
In 1954, against a backdrop of McCarthyism, six strangers are invited to a party in a secluded New England mansion. They are met by the house butler, Wadsworth, who reminds them each that they have been given pseudonyms to protect their true identity. During dinner the seventh attendee, Mr. Boddy (Lee Ving), arrives. After dinner, Wadsworth reveals the true nature of the party: all of the guests are being blackmailed:
- Professor Plum is a psychiatrist who lost his medical license because he had an affair with a female patient. He now works for the World Health Organization.
- Mrs. Peacock is the wife of a Senator who has accepted bribes to deliver her husband's vote. However, she claims that she is innocent and she must pay blackmail money to avoid the story being used for a political witch hunt.
- Mrs. White is an alleged black widow who was drawn in to avoid a scandal regarding the mysterious death of her nuclear physicist husband. She was previously married to an illusionist, who disappeared under mysterious circumstances.
- Miss Scarlet is a madam who operates an illegal brothel in Washington, D.C.
- Colonel Mustard is thought, at first, to have been blackmailed for scandalous pictures, but it is later revealed that he was a war profiteer who made his money from selling stolen radio components on the black market. He now works at the Pentagon.
- Mr. Green is a homosexual, a secret that would cost him his job with the State Department if it were widely known.
Finally, Wadsworth reveals Mr. Boddy's secret: he is the one who has been blackmailing the others. Wadsworth has gathered all the guests together to confront Mr. Boddy and turn him over to the police. Wadsworth also later reveals this plan is his revenge against Mr. Boddy, who is both his former employer and because Boddy's blackmail had resulted in the suicide of Wadsworth's wife.
Mr. Boddy reminds the guests that he can reveal their secrets in police custody and offers them an alternative proposition: by using weapons that he has provided to each of them, they can kill Wadsworth and destroy the evidence, keeping their secrets safe. Escape isn't an option as Wadsworth holds the only key to the locked doors, and vicious dogs patrol the perimeter. Mr. Boddy turns out the lights in the room, creating a moment of chaos in which someone shoots the gun. When they are turned back on, Mr. Boddy is dead, seemingly murdered by an unknown cause in the study (there is no gunshot wound, just a bullet hole in the wall). The guests all quickly deny killing him, and are later proven right as Mr. Boddy (previously faking his death) is ultimately found murdered with the candlestick in the hall. Wadsworth and the guests try to deduce who killed Mr. Boddy by exploring the house. During their slapstick explorations, Mrs. Ho, the cook, has been murdered with the dagger in the kitchen. During the course of the evening three others who visit the house are also murdered: a stranded motorist, a police officer investigating the motorist's abandoned car, and a singing telegram girl. The trio are killed with the wrench in the lounge, with the lead pipe in the library, and with the revolver in hall, respectively. Yvette, the maid, is strangled in the billiard room with the rope.
Wadsworth comes to the conclusion that he knows who the murderer is, and runs through a frantic, madcap re-enactment of the entire evening with the guests in tow. Wadsworth also points out that the victims were Boddy's accomplices in blackmail. Each of them had a connection to one of the guests, enabling Boddy to find out the secrets he later used to blackmail them. In preparation to reveal the murderer of Mr. Boddy, Wadsworth turns off the electricity to the house. At this point, the story proceeds to one of three endings: A, B, or C. In the film's initial theatrical run, some theaters announced which ending the viewer would see. In the VHS home video and releases, and most television broadcasts, the three endings are shown sequentially, with the first two characterized as possible endings, but ending C being the true one. The DVD home release also provides the option of a random single ending.
Having used her former call girl, Yvette, to murder Mr. Boddy and the cook, Miss Scarlet killed Yvette and the others to keep her true business of "secrets" safe, planning on using the information learned tonight for her own benefit. While Miss Scarlet holds the group at gunpoint with the revolver, Wadsworth tries to tell her that she used up all the bullets in the gun but she tells him she still has one and threatens to kill him. Wadsworth reveals himself to be an undercover FBI agent and arrests Miss Scarlet as police secure the house. Finally, insisting to Miss Scarlet the revolver is empty, Wadsworth accidentally fires the last bullet into the air, hitting another chandelier, and causing it to crash closely behind Colonel Mustard.
Mrs. Peacock is revealed as the murderer of all the victims, and escapes after holding the others at gunpoint. However, Wadsworth reveals himself as an FBI agent with the night's activities set up to spy on Mrs. Peacock's activities, believing her to be taking bribes by foreign powers, and the police quickly capture her as she flees.
In Ending C, nearly every remaining character, except Mr. Green, is guilty of at least one murder. Wadsworth reveals that he is really Mr. Boddy, and he killed the singing telegram girl; Professor Plum, who thought he had killed Mr. Boddy, actually killed Mr. Boddy's butler. Mrs. Peacock killed the cook, who had been informing on her to Mr. Boddy, while Colonel Mustard killed the motorist, who was his driver during the war. Mrs. White killed Yvette and her husband because they were having an affair. Miss Scarlet killed the cop to whom she had been paying bribes in order to stay in business. Mr. Boddy had brought the other victims (his accomplices in the blackmail scheme) to the house to be killed by the guests, and thus plans to continue blackmailing them. Mr. Green then draws a revolver and kills Mr. Boddy in the hall. Mr. Green reveals he is actually an undercover FBI agent, and that the whole evening was a set-up to catch the criminals. The police raid the house and arrest the other guests for murder. It is revealed that Mr. Green's earlier stated homosexuality was just part of his cover, signified by his final line in the movie: "I'm gonna go home and sleep with my wife."
- Tim Curry as Wadsworth
- Eileen Brennan as Mrs. Peacock
- Madeline Kahn as Mrs. White
- Christopher Lloyd as Professor Plum
- Michael McKean as Mr. Green
- Martin Mull as Colonel Mustard
- Lesley Ann Warren as Miss Scarlet
- Colleen Camp as Yvette
- Lee Ving as Mr. Boddy
- Bill Henderson as The Cop
- Jane Wiedlin as The Singing Telegram Girl
- Jeffrey Kramer as The Motorist
- Kellye Nakahara as The Cook
- Howard Hesseman as The Evangelist/The Chief (uncredited)
Clue was filmed on sound stages at the Paramount Pictures film studios in Hollywood. The set design is credited to Les Gobruegge, Gene Nollmanwas, and William B. Majorand, with set decoration by Thomas L. Roysden. After the completion of the movie, the set was bought by the producers of Dynasty, who used it as the fictional hotel The Carlton.
A fourth ending was filmed, but director Lynn removed it because, as he later stated, "it really wasn't very good. I looked at it, and I thought, 'No, no, no, we’ve got to get rid of that.'"
Carrie Fisher was originally contracted to portray Miss Scarlet but withdrew to enter treatment for drug and alcohol addiction.
All scenes were filmed within the studio lot, with the exception of the ballroom scene and the driveway gate scene, which were filmed on location at a mansion located in South Pasadena, California. Exterior shots of the mansion were enhanced with matte paintings by matte artist Syd Dutton, in consultation with Albert Whitlock. This site was destroyed in a fire on October 5, 2005. To decorate the set, authentic 18th and 19th century furnishings were rented from private collectors, including the estate of Theodore Roosevelt.
Madeline Kahn's "Flames...on the side of my face" speech was entirely improvised.
The film was released theatrically on December 13, 1985. The novelization was written by Michael McDowell based on the screenplay by Jonathan Lynn. There was also a children's adaptation entitled, Paramount Pictures Presents Clue: The Storybook written by John Landis, Jonathan Lynn and Ann Matthews. Both adaptations were published in 1985, and differ from the movie in that they feature a fourth ending cut from the final film. In this ending, Wadsworth, after pretending to be dead, says that he killed Boddy as well as the other victims, and then reveals to the guests that he has poisoned them all so that there will be no witnesses and he will have committed the perfect crime. As he runs through the house to disable the phones and lock the doors, the chief detective – who had earlier been posing as an evangelist (Howard Hesseman) – returns, followed by the police, who disarm Wadsworth. Wadsworth then repeats the confession that he had given earlier to the guests, physically acting out each scene himself. When he arrives at the part about meeting Colonel Mustard at the door, he steps through the door, closes it, and locks it, leaving all the guests trapped inside. The police and guests escape through a window, while Wadsworth attempts to make a getaway in a police squad car, only to hear the growling of a Doberman Pinscher from the backseat.
In 1986, it was released on VHS in Canada and the U.S. In other countries, it was released on VHS on February 11, 1991. The film was released on DVD in June 2000 and Blu-ray on August 7, 2012. In February 2011, La-La Land Records released John Morris' score for the film as a limited-edition soundtrack CD.
Clue was released on December 13, 1985 and ultimately grossed $14,643,997 domestically, just short of its $15,000,000 budget.
The film was initially received with mixed reviews. Janet Maslin of The New York Times wrote negatively of the film and stated that the beginning of the movie "is the only part of the film that is remotely engaging. After that, it begins to drag." The film holds a 62% positive rating on the film-critics aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, with an average score of 5.8 out of 10. It has also amassed a cult following.
In other media
The episode of Psych entitled "100 Clues" features Martin Mull, Christopher Lloyd, and Lesley Ann Warren as suspects in a series of murders at a mansion. The episode also includes multiple endings in which the audience decides who is the real killer. The episode was dedicated to the memory of Madeline Kahn.