Best Movie Ever?: “Clue”

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.


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