The Crazy Story Of How “Clue” Went From Forgotten Flop To Cult Triumph

When I was a kid, Clue used to scare the crap out of me.  My parents always regretted showing it to me and my sister because after every viewing we would see hidden passages everywhere, and imagine assassins behind every door.

And then I didn’t see it for years and years, and as an adult, actually get some of the jokes that previously went over my head.  Now I understood what it meant after Mr. Green shot Wadsworth and said he wasn’t a fruit, he was a plant.

There’s a great article on Clue, and its production, and its legacy on, of all places, Buzzfeed.  It’s well – and I do mean well – worth the time to read: Carrie Fisher was originally cast as Miss Scarlet?!  And more:

In point of fact, while Lynn certainly allowed for a loose and convivial set, he exercised the most control when it came to his script. “Jonathan is a by-the-book guy, and if it was written, that was the way we did it,” says Mull. “For Madeline, of course, that’s like telling Cicero not to speak, you know what I mean?” Indeed, while most Hollywood comedies today are often largely improvised, all the actors I spoke to said there was really only one time Lynn allowed anyone to significantly break from the screenplay: Madeline Kahn’s “Flames on the side of my face” speech.

It lasts only 20 seconds, but for many Clue faithful, this is The Moment, when the movie passes through the threshold from genuine enjoyment to something approaching love — think Roy Scheider saying, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat” in Jaws. It comes toward the very end of the film, when Mrs. White is confronted with her hatred of Yvette for sleeping with her husband. “All that was written was, ‘I hated her so much that I wanted to kill her,’ or something like that,” says McKean, still smiling from the memory. “But she just kind of went into a fugue about hatred. She did it three or four times, and each time was funnier than the last. I thought that they could have strung a bunch of them together because they had plenty of cutaways of all of us going, What the fuck is she talking about?

Needless to say, between the actors’ natural talents, and all the concentrated time they spent having so much fun together on set and off, it really is no wonder that they played off each other so well in the film. On the other hand, all that good cheer did occasionally make it difficult for the actors to do their jobs, no more so than for Tim Curry, who often had to unfurl lengthy globs of exposition at the brisk, Howard Hawksian clip Lynn desired. “Tim is a very disciplined guy,” says McKean. “Every time when Marty and I would be goofing around — we thought quietly — between takes, Tim would give us a look like, I’m trying to remember the fucking phone book here. And he can give a good look.”

“There were an awful lot of instances where it was impossible to keep a straight face,” adds Mull. “In fact, we were laughing so much, one thing that has stayed indelible in my mind is before every take of every scene, Michael McKean would say to everyone in the cast, ‘Something terrible has happened here,’ to try to bring us back to the reality of where we were. It got to be quite a funny little catchphrase.”

And if you haven’t seen Clue in years, buy a copy here and help a guy out, m’kay?

 

One thought on “The Crazy Story Of How “Clue” Went From Forgotten Flop To Cult Triumph

  1. Psych (on USA Networks) did a homage to Clue for an episode and it was delightful. It reminded me how fun the movie was – and how kinda silly too!

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