[Note: This is not the column I hinted at last week. That review is still coming.]
Nineteen forty-four was not a kind year to British citizens. World War II was still going on, and people living within airstrike distance of Germany had to deal with lengthy air raid drills. To help pass the time spent underground and take minds off the worry about what was happening on the surface, Anthony Pratt created a board game based on a murder mystery. After the war, he presented the game to Waddington’s, a British game publisher. Once the wartime shortages were dealt with, the game Cluedo*, known as Clue in North America on its release by Parker Brothers, was released.
The game millions have played since then involves trying to determine who killed Mr. Boddy with what and where by examining evidence at his mansion by going room to room. The murderer, location, and weapon are determined by dealing one of each type of card and setting them aside unseen. Players then move through the mansion, making suggestions in each room. Once a player is sure of who the murderer is, an accusation can be made. Murder weapons include a revolver, a candlestick, a lead pipe, a length of rope, a knife, or a wrench.
In 1985, Paramount released the movie Clue, based on the board game. The movie took the game play, then expanded it to provide motives for each of the characters. Each character was given the name of a token from the board game as well, explicitly called out as pseudonyms. With the movie set in 1954, Communism was a possible motive for several of the characters. Once the murder occurs, both the characters and the audience set off to figure out who killed Mr. Boddy. The clues are there, but the audience needs to pay attention and not get distracted by the double entendres, single entendres and puns. The cast worked well together, with comedic actors Martin Mull (Col. Mustard), Eileen Brennan (Mrs. Peacock), Madeleine Kahn (Mrs. White), Christopher Lloyd (Prof. Plum), and Michael McKean (Mr. Green), and other greats Lesley Ann Warren (Miss Scarlet) and Tim Curry (Wadsworth, the butler**). The movie was released with a gimmick – three endings were filmed, each to be sent to different theatres in the same city. The release didn’t help in the box office, with the movie underperforming and not making up the initial budget.
The movie did go to lengths to adapt the Clue‘s board as the setting. The rooms were laid out just like the board game, with the secret passages still available. The murder weapons, for the most part, resembled their counterparts in the game. The exception was the revolver, which was played by a modern era weapon instead of the pepperbox design in the game. As mentioned, all the suspects took on the names of the token in the game. One of the endings included the traditional line used when suggesting and accusing in game***.
As an adaptation, it works. The mansion has the right layout. The tokens are all there and now given personalities and motives for killing Mr. Boddy. Wadsworth keeps the “game play” moving, suggesting the characters split into pairs to investigate the mansion. Each of the murder weapons are used. Unfortunately, the gimmick may have led people to avoid the movie. Audiences tend to prefer a definite ending instead of a random one.
The movie is worth watching, especially since it did portray the game well. The writing is tight, with a cinematic nod to Edward Bulwer-Lytton****. Tim Curry is on top of his game, and the rest of the cast keeps up with him. Pay attention to the scenes and the lines. Just remember, like in two of the endings, that Communism is just a Red herring.
Next week, adaptation as a way to expand a setting.
* A play on words of the Latin “ludo”, meaning “I play”.
** He buttles.
*** To avoid spoilers, the form is “[Mr.|Miss|Mrs.] X, in the [room], with the [weapon].”
**** It was, indeed, a dark and stormy night.