It’s not just a game anymore.
Studio: Paramount :::::::::: Release Date: 13th December 1985
Director: Jonathan Lynn :::::::::: Starring: Tim Curry, Madeline Kahn
Budget: $8M :::::::::: 2015 Equivalent: $17.8M
U.S Box Office: $14.6M :::::::::: 2015 Equivalent: $32.5M
Inspiration for a movie can come from all manner of places and over the years that list has expanded far beyond what many thought possible. Books and plays soon gave way to comics, short stories and poems as the basis for film, while real life events and mythology added further to the medium. The common theme was that there was a plot or narrative of some kind that could be adapted or expanded upon, no matter how flimsy the source. But when it was announced that Paramount Pictures were intending to make a movie based on the board game Cluedo, many thought Hollywood had really begun to scrape the barrel. Indeed, even the film's eventual director described it as "....the dumbest thing I ever heard.” when it was pitched to him in the early 1980s.
Cluedo was invented by Anthony E. Pratt during the Second World War. Originally titled Murder!, Pratt and his wife Elva, who helped with the design, envisaged it as a new board game for families to play in bomb shelters during air raids. He applied for the patent in 1944 and presented the design to Norman Watson of Waddingtons. Watson snapped it up immediately, renaming the game Cluedo (a play on the word Clue and Ludo) but post-war shortages of material meant it didn't actually launch until 1949. It received a simultaneous US release, where it was licensed by Parker Brothers and renamed Clue. The game went through various changes during its design, with the character, room and weapon count all being altered and reduced. However, once released, the game remained virtually unchanged for almost 60 years.
Cluedo proved incredibly popular and for many children, marked their first foray into more mature game playing. One such fan was producer Debra Hill who, in a 1985 interview with the New York Times, talked about how she loved that it was a game of deduction rather than memorization. Hill got her start in the business as a production assistant but it was her work with John Carpenter for which she would become known. The duo first collaborated on Assault on Precinct 13, Carpenter as director, and Hill as script supervisor and assistant editor. While the picture wasn't a hit and didn't gain critical respect for a number of years, it set up a very fruitful partnership (both personal and professional). Their next collaboration was on the hugely successful Halloween, which Hill co-wrote and produced. It was around the time of working on The Fog that she was able to secure the rights to bring Clue to the silver screen. A deal was set up at Universal pictures under the supportive eye of the president of film production, Ned Tanen.
John Carpenter wouldn't be available to direct (if he was ever considered) due to finishing up work on The Fog and prepping his next picture, Escape from New York. Instead, Hill turned to John Landis, who had come to prominence with Animal House and The Blues Brothers and was currently enjoying success with An American Werewolf in London. Landis loved the idea but was stuck on how to bring the game to the screen, other than to inform Hill that the movie should not reference the game - it had to work for those who had never played it. He created a rough outline for the central plot but quickly realised he'd need to hire a writer to better shape the ideas and find a solution to the ending, or rather the endings. In what was hoped to be a brilliant piece of promotion and provide a boost to the box office, it was decided that Clue should be distributed with four different endings, any one of which could logically tie up with what had come in the first two thirds of the movie. The general public wouldn't know which ending they'd see and it was hoped there would be a large percentage of return business as people tried to catch all four endings.
In October 1982, Landis turned to famed playwright Tom Stoppard in a hope of getting him to write Clue. Negotiations took place over the next couple of months and Stoppard flew out to meet with Landis in January of the next year. The writer agreed to take on the project but by March was struggling to bring the ideas together, telling Landis as much. The director discussed moving the location of the story to England, or another locale, if it would make it easier, and even went as far as suggesting the crimes in the story be unsolvable. The basic outline was expanded and characters began to have some backstory. The unique device of having four different endings (with four different killers) was also in place, and would prove to have a far reaching impact upon the film.
A couple of weeks later, Stoppard wrote again to Landis and admitted defeat. He had completed roughly half of the script but was unhappy with the way it was developing. He'd found the central puzzles too difficult to reconcile and for the first time in his writing life, had a project he couldn't complete. By April the two had gone their separate ways, and Clue was in need of another writer. There's conjecture here, perhaps clouded by time. According to transcripts of their meetings, Landis and Stoppard collaborated for only a few months (spending approximately two months on the writing itself). However, in a 2013 interview with Buzzfeed, Landis claimed Stoppard worked on the script for almost exactly a year before admitting defeat and returning his entire fee. Despite the differences in the length of time involved, it is confirmed by others that Stoppard did indeed return his payment.
Landis consulted with Stephen Sondheim and Anthony Perkins, who had written the Hollywood murder mystery The Last of Sheila together. The duo were very enthusiastic and had some great ideas, but asked for far too much money to be a feasible option. Further writers were entertained including PD James and Alan Ayckbourn, but none could crack the story, especially the puzzle of the four endings. One other notable contributor was playwright Warren Manzi, whose work actually pre-dates that of Tom Stoppard. Manzi turned in a 152 page script but it had little in common with any other version (or with Landis’ ideas). A small review on the Art of Murder website (which dates the script as March 1982) describes details involving a writer, his genius daughter and an editor, who are tracking a killer who seems to be using the game as the basis for his crimes. The script contains a single ending and doesn’t appear to have had any further development past the initial draft.
By now some time had passed; Hill had produced Escape From New York and two further Halloween sequels, along with the Stephen King adaptation The Dead Zone. Landis too had been busy, directing the Eddie Murphy/Dan Aykroyd smash hit Trading Places. But tragedy had struck on the 1983 picture, Twilight Zone: The Movie, when three actors were killed during the filming of Landis’ segment. He went on to direct the legendary video for Michael Jackson's Thriller but the shadow of what had happened on the Twilight Zone, along with the impending court case, was constantly on his mind. In the meantime, Ned Tanen had left Universal Pictures and with him gone so too was the support for Clue. Fortunately, when the executive re-emerged at Paramount, the project was able to find a new home, and one of the picture's executive producers was about to find the man who would finally crack the mysteries of the script.
Jonathan Lynn was born in Bath in 1943 and after leaving school went to study law at Pembroke College in Cambridge. He soon caught the acting bug and appeared in the Footlights revue, Cambridge Circus (which included a run on Broadway). He switched to acting full time and made his West End debut in Green Julia, for which he won a Most Promising Actor award. This was followed up by an appearance in the original West End production of Fiddler on the Roof. But acting alone couldn't pay the bills, so Lynn supplemented his income by writing for various sitcom and sketch shows including one of the forerunners to Monty Python and The Goodies, Twice a Fortnight (which featured Michael Palin, Graham Garden, Terry Jones and Bill Oddie).
More writing work followed on the likes of Doctor at Large and Doctor at Sea, along with a memorable appearance on sitcom The Liver Birds. By the early 1970s Lynn and writing colleague George Layton took over scripting duties on the successful LWT series On The Buses, while the usual team were preparing the movie adaptations. While far from what Lynn was used to working on, he joked in a Den of Geek interview that it was the only time an episode of On the Buses scored a rave review from The Times.
Lynn was also directing a lot of theatre, but it was for his work on political satire Yes Minister (which he co-created and co-wrote with Antony Jay) for which he would become best known. The show debuted on the BBC in 1980 and was an instant hit with audiences as well as being a critical success, winning BAFTA Best Comedy awards three years running. It was while directing Loot at London's National Theatre that Lynn took a call from his agent, who informed him that producer Peter Guber wanted to discuss a movie writing project with him. Lynn was surprised, having never heard of Guber (or how Guber could possibly know of him) but agreed to take a meeting.
By this point in his career, Peter Guber was already a successful film producer. He'd begun his career at Columbia Pictures, and when he left he was granted a three-picture deal with the company. His first full producing credit was on the 1977 hit, The Deep, which he followed up a year later with the critically acclaimed Midnight Express. The picture earned seven Academy Awards nominations and helped Guber win the Producer of the Year award from the National Association of Theatre Owners. He merged his Filmworks Company with Casablanca Records and had great success with the likes of Donna Summer, The Village People and Kiss. Forays into TV show producing followed and in 1979 he formed Polygram Pictures, which went on to distribute the first Simpson/Bruckheimer smash, Flashdance. By 1983 he'd sold the company and formed a new producing partnership with Jon Peters. The duo were set up as executive producers on Clue, and in Jonathan Lynn, Guber was convinced he'd found his writer.
Lynn explained in a 2013 interview that Guber told him before he'd even sat down for their first meeting, that he had the perfect project for him. He went on to explain the rough outline of Clue, and in what capacity he needed Lynn - he would hire him to write the script from which John Landis would direct the movie. Despite Lynn stating the board game had no story, Guber insisted he fly out to Hollywood and meet with Landis. Years later Lynn mentioned the only reason he'd initially agreed to meet John Landis was because he'd never flown first class before.
Having pitched the story so many times over the years, Landis was now an expert. He bowled Lynn over with his enthusiasm. He ran through the first half of the plot, detailing that the six characters were victims of a blackmail scheme and that they'd all been asked to attend a meeting. Each person is given a weapon, the lights go out and when they come up again their host, Mr Boddy, lies dead on the floor. By this point, Landis was bouncing around the room, shouting and screaming. He explained further murders take place and that suddenly the butler announces 'I know who did it!' Lynn, now on the edge of seat, asked who did do it, to which Landis replied 'That's what I need a writer for!'
However, once back at his hotel, the enthusiasm was gone and Lynn was at a loss for what to do. At his agent's behest, he came up with a few ideas and met up with Landis the next morning, who loved what he'd come up with and set about getting Lynn officially signed on board to write the script. Again, the mandate came down - Clue must have four different endings, each that can work independently of the other and make sense with the first two thirds of the picture.
Lynn returned to the UK and got to work. Early in the script's development both writer and director realised that the key character wasn't any of the main six but rather Wadsworth the butler. Wadsworth served as the perfect storyteller and amateur sleuth, allowing the audience to understand the evening's events - and perhaps even being part of the master plan. The character of a butler had appeared in Stoppard's script (where he was known as Cleese) but not to the extent or importance that he'd have in this new version. Lynn opted to set the film in the 1950s allowing him to play up the communism/McCarthyism angle. Part of the inspiration came from people Lynn knew who'd lived through this time and had found themselves blacklisted in Hollywood and forced to work overseas. It also added to the mystery and paranoia of the story; anyone could be a suspect - or victim.
The first draft ran for around 200 pages and was completed in the May of 1984. It took a week to write the first act but nearly three months to figure out the second. Lynn told the New York Times that the final 'who did what' act was hastily written on an eleven hour flight to Los Angeles. The main differences from the finished script at that point were the story's location (Florida in the first draft) and the darker nature of the plot, which amped up the Communism aspect. All four endings were also present at this point, with a nastier ending for at least one of the killers. Furthermore, it was Lynn who came up with the idea that the colour character names (from the board game) would actually be pseudonyms.
There was more work required and Lynn took another pass (presumably based on notes from Landis), completing the second draft in June. It still ran very long and even at this early stage, there was much material that never made the finished picture (or even the shooting script). He'd make one further pass, further refining the endings and Wadsworth's explanation. In all, it took roughly six months to create and finalise the screenplay - and that didn't include revisions that would take place once the production moved forward. It's also worth pointing out that over the years, many have cited the influence of Neil Simon's Murder by Death on Clue, however Lynn (to this day) has never seen the picture and puts the influence on both pieces of work down to the writings of Agatha Christie and Dorothy L Sayers.
Landis, Debra Hill and executive producers Peter Guber and Jon Peters loved Lynn's work on the script and prepared to greenlight the picture into pre-production. There was just one snag - it had taken so long to reach this stage that John Landis was no longer free to direct the picture. He'd already agreed to take the reigns on the Chevy Chase/Dan Aykroyd comedy, Spies Like Us. There was speculation that the director passed on Clue because he needed a 'big money picture' to help towards the impending Twilight Zone court case, for which he faced an involuntary manslaughter charge. In reality, Clue had been in development for many years and it was more a case of scheduling conflicts than anything else (the court case was eventually settled in 1987). Indeed, the director even stated that he'd have been happy to make the picture, but it would be at least another year before he could go into production.
This could easily have been the end of Clue. Despite the time spent on the many versions of the story and script over the years, it was still a low-key project. However, by this point the director and writer had become good friends and after seeing a Georges Feydeau theatre farce that Lynn had directed in London, Landis suggested to Paramount production chief Dawn Steel that Lynn be offered the chance to make the picture. He argued that the writer had such enthusiasm for the story and knew the plot strands better than anyone else. Moreover, as this would be his first feature directing gig, the studio would be able to get him for scale wages - much less than Landis would cost them. While Lynn may not have directed film before (save for a 25 minute short in the early 1980s) he did have extensive experience working in theatre, having worked on more than fifty productions. As he would soon find, directing film and theatre were two entirely different beasts.
The screenplay was refined further (though not shortened) into what would become the shooting script. The online Cluedo resource, The Art of Murder, mentions that revisions came in February, March, April and July (the month the picture was shooting). Paramount put up a budget of $8M, a million dollars of which would go on Clue's huge multi-roomed set. Filming was set to commence in the summer for a December 1985 release. With Lynn and the script now signed off, Landis went off to Europe to shoot Spies Like Us, and work on casting the seven principle roles got underway. While he didn't have complete control over who would play who, Lynn stated that he was lucky that the majority of the people the studio suggested fit perfectly into their roles.
Again, the key to it all was Wadsworth. The character had so many different layers and essentially takes over the final third of the picture, with pages of explanatory dialogue and actions. Around the time of writing Clue, Lynn had been working on a version Joe Orton's Loot with sitcom star Leonard Rossiter. He thought the actor would be perfect as Wadsworth but during a performance of the show in October 1984, Rossiter collapsed and died. John Cleese was said to be up for the part (being perhaps an inspiration for Stoppard's butler, Cleese) but there's little evidence he tried out for the part. Lynn then looked to Rowan Atkinson, who had enjoyed success in Not the Nine O’clock News and more recently as Edmund Blackadder. He sent Paramount tapes of Atkinson's shows and stand up routines (which were more physical comedy than traditional stand-up) in hope they'd allow him to be cast. He may have been someone in the United Kingdom but the studio had never heard of him and pushed for a 'named' star instead.
Finally, Tim Curry was cast in the role. For the studio, he was a big enough name and had the theatricality the part needed - and it also helped that he and Lynn had been friends in school and had known each other since they were fourteen years of age. Curry had begun his career in a production of Hair, where he had a fateful meeting with Richard O'Brien. Some years later the pair met again when O'Brien was looking in a local gym for a muscleman to feature in a musical he was writing. He urged Curry to contact the show's director Jim Sharman and gave him the script for The Rocky Horror Show. He ended up cast as Dr Frank N. Furter, a role with which he would become synonymous. The Rocky Horror Show was a huge success, and became one of the longest run shows in history. Curry reprised the role for the 1975 movie, The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Much more theatre and movie worked followed, and by the time of his casting in Clue, he'd just finished an extensive shoot on the Ridley Scott fantasy, Legend.
Six more actors were required for the main cast, three men and three women; they'd consist of established comedy players, though perhaps not quite household names. For some of them, Clue wouldn't be their first time working together either. For the role of Colonel Mustard, Lynn went with Martin Mull. The actor came to prominence in the soap opera parody, Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, and its spin-off, Fernwood 2 Night in 1976 and 1977 respectively. He'd already had minor success as a singer/song writer but acting soon became his mainstay. He loved the script for Clue and had been a fan of the original game. He was also impressed by the cast that was being assembled - one of which he'd already worked with on his movie debut, FM, that being Eileen Brennan.
In contrast to Martin Mull, Eileen Brennan was an established actress of some standing by the time she worked on Clue. While she didn't make her film debut until 1967, she'd already appeared in numerous stage plays and musicals, including Arsenic and Old Lace, The Miracle Worker and in the first Broadway production of Hello Dolly! She went on to mix theatre, TV and movie work through the late 1960s and early 70s, receiving a BAFTA award for her work on Peter Bogdanovich's The Last Picture Show. Of further note was her part in Murder By Death, an Agatha Christie spoof written by Neil Simon. The role for which she would become famous came in 1980, that being Captain Lewis in the Goldie Hawn comedy, Private Benjamin.
The part won her many positive notices and was nominated for an Academy Award. She reprised the role for the short lived (37 episodes) TV show of the same name, winning a Golden Globe and a Primetime Emmy. Her career was put on hiatus however in 1982 after she suffered a near fatal car crash, which crushed her legs, damaged her jaw and nose and even pulled her eye from its socket. It would be three years before Brennan acted again and during the recovery period she had become addicted to painkillers. Prior to taking on the part of Mrs Peacock, she had completed a stint in rehab for the addiction. Clue would mark a return to film for the actress, her first role since 1982's Pandemonium.
Curiously, Brennan and Mull had also appeared in episodes of the hit sitcom, Taxi, which is where the third member of the Clue cast came from. Christopher Lloyd had made his debut in the hit movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, playing Max Taber. He appeared opposite Jack Nicholson and Danny Devito again in the 1978 picture Goin' South. Initially his part in the sitcom Taxi was a guest role, which he reprised in the show's second season. Before the run had ended he was upgraded to being a regular cast member, and appeared in the next three seasons (84 episodes in all - up to the show's end). At the same time he was appearing in more movies, including the 1983 Michael Keaton comedy, Mr Mom (which also featured Martin Mull). He followed this up with appearances in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and Buckaroo Banzai, as well as more one-off appearance in various TV shows, including the pilot episode of Street Hawk. It was while playing Professor Plum in Clue that Lloyd became an international star thanks to the release of the smash hit movie Back to the Future.
As Mr. Green, Lynn cast Michael McKean. Again, the actor was a well established comedy player, though at that point known more for his TV work. After graduating from college he formed part of a comedy troupe with Harry Shearer and David Lander. In 1976 Lander and McKean were cast in the sitcom Laverne & Shirley, where they played versions of characters they'd created (and perfected) in college. So successful were the characters that they even had their own spin-off album, on which they were accompanied by one Nigel Tufnel (aka actor Christopher Guest). When his work on Laverne & Shirley came to an end, McKean once again teamed up with Shearer and Christopher Guest to work on the epic mockumentary, This is Spinal Tap. While not a huge success on its initial release in the March of 1984, it would go to become the ultimate cult movie. By the point of him joining the cast of Clue, McKean was in cinemas as Andy Richardson in D.A.R.Y.L.
For the role of Mrs White, legendary actor and comedian Madeline Kahn was chosen. She got into acting after following the path of her mother, and actually subsidized her earning as a singing waitress in a Bavarian restaurant (where she discovered she had a talent for opera). After graduating she appeared in Kiss Me, Kate, but her part in theatrical flop How Now, Dow Jones was actually written out before the show got to Broadway. She continued to land work and was even able to call upon her former opera talents when she performed in Candide. In 1972 she made her movie debut opposite Barbara Streisand and Ryan O'Neal in What's Up, Doc? for which she earned a Golden Globe New Star nomination. The picture marked her first collaboration with director Peter Bogdanovich. A year on she scored her first Academy Award nomination for Paper Moon (again for Bogdanovich), along with winning a Tony for In the Boom Boom Room.
1974 saw Kahn appear in not one but two Mel Brooks movies, Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles, in which she gave a memorable turn as Lily Von Schtupp. Curiously, she only got the part in Saddles after being fired from the Lucille Ball picture, Mame. According to the Wikipedia entry, Ball and Kahn had creative differences and was she let go. Ball claimed the actress wanted off the picture to work on the Mel Brooks movie. Years later Kahn confirmed she was actually fired. She would once again be nominated for an Academy Award (for Blazing Saddles) and a Golden Globe (Young Frankenstein). Further collaborations with Brooks and Bogdanovich followed, and interestingly so did a role in The Cheap Detective, the follow up to Murder by Death, that also featured Eileen Brennan. This wasn’t the first time the duo had worked together, that would be the Bogdanovich flop, At Long Last Love. The actress continued to mix theatre and film work, appearing in six movies in two years. She also re-teamed with Marty Feldman (her co-star in Young Frankenstein and The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother) on the ill-fated Yellowbeard (Feldman died during its production).
When Jonathan Lynn heard that Madeline Kahn was interested in the role of Mrs White, he went back to the script and wrote further scenes and dialogue for the character. Speaking around the time, Kahn stated she was nervous about doing a farce with a first time director but when she discovered Lynn had directed numerous farces on stage (which she considered even tougher than doing it for film) the actress signed on board. That left just one more central role to fill, that of Miss Scarlet. For the part, Lynn was able to secure one the biggest stars in the world at that moment, Carrie Fisher. The actress was riding on high on the success of the Star Wars trilogy, in which she had portrayed Princess Leia. She loved the script for Clue and met with Lynn to discuss it. At the time the director dismissed Fisher's tripping over chairs as clumsiness, and she explained her 'sniffing' as being nothing more than a bad bout of hay fever.
Fisher signed on board as the final lead. The remainder of the roles to be filled on Clue were minor ones, except for that of Mr Boddy and Yvette the maid, who accompanies the leads on their search of the mansion. According to Colleen Camp (who won the part), it was hotly contested and the likes of Demi Moore and Madonna had tried out for it. Camp went the extra mile for her audition, renting an actual maid's outfit. Lynn thought she was hilarious and ended using Camp's bosom to the film's advantage. Of all the roles, Mr Boddy was the one the director had the least say in casting. The man who eventually got the part was Lee Ving, the lead singer in punk band Fear, who had appeared in the Penelople Speeris documentary, The Decline of Western Civilization.
After an aborted Saturday Night Live performance (their set was cut short and replaced with a pre-recorded performance) the band gained something of a reputation - more so when Ving claimed they'd caused $500,000 worth damage on the SNL stage, which because he was 'professional, he'd counted it up himself' [The actual figure was closer to $10,000 but many news outlets at the time ran with Ving's number]. The singer/actor wasn't the kind of person Lynn could see in the role but having rejected other cast choices that Paramount sent his way, he felt committed to say yet to at least one of them.
Kellye Nakahara appeared as the cook Mrs Ho, Bill Henderson played the Cop and in an uncredited role, Howard Hesseman was The Chief. Go-Go's singer Jane Wiedlin also had a very memorable cameo as the Singing Telegram.
With so much talent on set and the need for them to work in close quarters for many of the scenes, there was a chance that egos would clash, but this was wisely avoided by ensuring each of the principal cast received the same fee ($100,000), billing and trailer. While the casting was taking place, work was well under way on construction of the huge mansion stage (designed by Les Gobruegge, William B. Majorand and Gene Nollmanwas and based on the work of production designer John Lloyd). With the exception of the ballroom, all of the rooms were constructed on a Paramount soundstage - the same one that had housed Rear Window's apartment courtyard. The ballroom scenes were shot on location in the house that also served for the film's opening external shots.
A week out from shooting commencing, Carrie Fisher called Jonathan Lynn to say she was in rehab. The director wasn't sure what she meant, but was suspicious when she said she still wanted to do the film and that they'd let her out in the day to work, providing she returned back to the clinic each night. He spoke to Debra Hill and Dawn Steel about the situation and neither could see the issue. Unbeknownst to Lynn, both were cocaine users - as was half of Hollywood he'd later discover. When the insurance company covering the project got wind of the situation they refused to allow Fisher's participation, leaving Lynn scrambling to find a new Miss Scarlet with only days to go.
He turned to Lesley Ann Warren. Like much of the cast, she'd begun her career in the 1960s, initially training as a ballet dancer before being accepted into the Actors Studio (at 17 years old, she was said to be the youngest they'd ever accepted). She narrowly missed out on a part in the movie version of The Sound of Music, making her credited screen debut in Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella instead. Her first feature role was as Cordelia 'Cordy' Biddle in The Happiest Millionaire (1967). She landed the female lead in Mission: Impossible, but lasted only a single season and was released from her contract due to her lack of experience – ironic considering she scored a Golden Globe nomination for her work on the show.
In 1976 she won the award for her work in Harold Robbins' 79 Park Avenue, and was nominated again for her part in Victor/Victoria in 1982, along with earning an Academy Award nod. She also tried out for the part of Lois Lane in Superman The Movie, but lost out to Margot Kidder (Warren had actually played Lois Lane in It’s a Bird...It's a Plane...It's Superman, a TV adaptation of the Broadway musical). Warren already had a link of sorts to Clue - executive producer Jon Peters was her ex-husband, though the pair had been divorced over ten years by the time she got the part. She knew little of the board game and was on holiday when she got the call to play Miss Scarlet.
Before shooting commenced, Jonathan Lynn assembled the cast on the Paramount lot and screened Howard Hawk's His Girl Friday. He wanted the cast to study the delivery of the dialogue, the clipped words and speed in particular. This meeting of the cast helped them form a bond that Lynn both welcomed and regretted once filming got under way. That said, despite Madeline Kahn and Eileen Brennan having been good friends prior to Clue, the former struggled with how to deal with latter’s stint in rehab, and sadly kept interaction with her to a minimum. [According to Brennan, in an interview for Kahn’s biography, the two barely spoke in the years after].
The shoot was scheduled for 50 days with the vast majority of time being spent on the huge mansion set that was now finished and finely furnished (by Thomas L. Roysden) with vintage pieces loaned from private collectors including the Teddy Roosevelt estate. Filming actually commenced in the late May/early June of 1985 for a December release. Lynn quickly realised that directing theatre and film were two vastly different things. The placement of props, characters and general framing were reduced drastically on film by what the camera actually saw as opposed to what a theatre audience saw. This gave him more than few headaches but caused few, if any delays.
The bigger problem was with the cast, albeit in a good way. Unlike most movies which have two or three leads and a number of supporting roles, Clue had seven major players, who all shared a good portion of screen time together. They were often in hysterics during takes, and shots would have to be reset again and again. Most of the cast members that have been interviewed in the years since the film's release have said how bad they felt for Lynn having to deal with their antics.
According to Martin Mull, Michael McKean began pre-empting each take with the phrase 'Something terrible has happened here' in an effort to get them all back into character - though this often made things worse. Tim Curry didn't always take kindly to the interruptions, as he made the effort to memorise huge swathes of dialogue and action cues. The advantage of filming on one large set meant they could shoot mostly in sequence, making continuity much easier to maintain - something they had to do to make sure all four endings matched up with the first part of the picture.
Despite the laughs, Lynn gave the actors no room for improvisation. The script was shot almost word for word to keep some semblance of order. It also meant they could shoot quickly - six or more actors who appeared in many of same scenes, all trying their own ideas, would have added another fifty days to the shoot. Of all the cast, Madeline Kahn found this the toughest. Having worked with Mel Brooks (and Gene Wilder) on a number of occasions, she was used to being encouraged to add her own spin to dialogue and actions. Eventually, towards the end of the shoot and in a pivotal scene for her character, Kahn asked if she could try something. For once, Lynn gave her permission. The line in the script called for Mrs White to simply say 'I hated her so much that I wanted to kill her'. Instead of leaving it there, Kahn went into overdrive and the infamous 'Flames on the side of my face' scene was born. The actress altered things on subsequent takes and Lynn found it so funny he agreed to use it instead of what was scripted.
The props on the set weren't just for show either. When the cast discovered the billiard table in one of the rooms they set about having it professionally balanced so they could play between calls to the set. It soon began to draw both cast and crew during the down time. However, due to costumer designer Michael Kaplan's insistence that everyone be dressed in period garb, Lesley Ann Warren found herself unable sit or bend thanks to her bone corset. Instead of playing pool between shots, she was on a slant board complete with arm rests.
One scene in which there was no room for jokes was the chandelier crash that nearly ends up killing Colonel Mustard. The stunt co-ordinator prepared the shot but mindful of John Landis' Twilight Zone accident, Lynn made sure Martin Mull was a good distance away before it crashed down. Upon reviewing the shot he realised the actor was probably a bit too far from the event but decided not to push his luck and printed the shot as was. In a 2013 interview Mull claimed that the prop master (who would drop the chandelier) did a great job of terrifying him just prior to the scene taking place by appearing to be drunk and slurring his words.
The shoot came to an end late summer and Lynn was soon assembling his edit. He kept things incredibly lean, and a lot of footage (and potential laughs) was left on the cutting room floor. This post production and editing period was very hard on the fledgling director due to commitments in the UK for Yes, Prime Minister. In a June 2015 interview for the Movies and Stuff podcast, he talked about having to split his week between Los Angeles and England - four days in one, three in the other - for ten weeks. It was during this period that it was decided the fourth ending didn't work and the decision was made to remove it completely. Of all the endings, the fourth was the darkest and that may well have been part of the reasoning for its removal. Still, Paramount had their three endings and the unique plan for Clue was about to come into play.
Jonathan Lynn was never a fan of the idea to release three different versions of the movie into theatres. He'd worked incredibly hard on ensuring all three endings worked logically with what came before, and it seemed a shame that audiences might not venture out to see the other two endings. Further, he felt that it robbed the picture of some of its genius - with only one ending attached Clue was just like any other picture - its brilliance shone when all three were shown together. The studio pushed ahead with their plan, working on the idea that audiences would be intrigued by whichever ending they saw and would seek out the other two. Unfortunately, as they would soon discover, Lynn's fears were well founded.
Critics were not kind to Clue, and more than a few took offence at Paramount's insistence on releasing three different versions of the film. This wasn't helped by the studio failing to inform critics which letter referred to which ending (they were named A, B and C in newspaper adverts). People were left confused, unsure if they needed to see all three endings or how to avoid seeing the same ending twice (or thrice). Some cinemas referenced the lettered ending with their show time listings in an effort to help out their patrons. The idea of getting repeat business backfired spectacularly - instead of going three times, audiences simply didn't bother going at all.
The picture opened on December 13th up against the Romancing the Stone Sequel, Jewel of the Nile. Rocky IV was still doing great business and John Landis' Spies Like Us had already made over $16M in the fourteen days since opening. Clue was in 1,006 theatres initially though it's unclear if they had three prints (one with each ending, which they rotated) or were only issued one with a specific finale. Whichever it was made little difference. Clue placed sixth on that first weekend, with a disappointing $2M. A week later and with three new releases (and a re-release of 101 Dalmatians) added to the mix, the movie found itself already out of the top ten. While its weekend-to-weekend drop was only 30%, because its initial start was so poor it made little difference.
Things improved a little by weekend three and the film made it back into the top ten, but this was due more to the post-Christmas holiday period (when almost every film receives a boost) than any word of mouth. Clue lasted only five weeks on general release and made $14.6M. It may have covered its production budget but prints and advertising costs would have still put it in a loss. There were also the costs involved in developing it originally, for both Universal and Paramount. How ever one dressed up the numbers, it was still a flop.
For Jonathan Lynn, it was even more crushing. While finishing up work on the picture he'd signed a deal to direct the Steve Martin comedy Roxanne. However, within ten days of Clue opening, he was replaced by Fred Schepisi. He returned to England, yet it would be five years before he would write and direct another picture. Nuns on the Run, which Lynn also wrote, was a hit in the UK and a minor success in North America. He returned to the US in 1990 to direct the pilot for the short-lived Ferris Bueller TV show. He then became a director for hire on My Cousin Vinny, which was both a critical and financial success, earning star Marisa Tomei a best actress Academy Award.
It was around this time that Lynn discovered Clue had taken on a life of its own. No longer was it shunned or slated, rather it was being celebrated. Upon release on VHS, the film had all three endings restored, playing one after another, with title cards in between each one suggesting that this was how it could have ended. Thanks to a lack of nudity and bad language, Clue had become a staple on basic cable channels, where it could be screened at any time of the day as a family film. The advent of the internet furthered its life as fan pages and theories were put forth onto websites, including the rumour that there was once a version with six endings - with a different guest being the killer in each one.
There are regular screenings of the film, some of which Jonathan Lynn has attended, complete with a Q&A session at the end. A shadow cast performance, in which real actors perform in front of a screen playing the movie, is also a regular (and popular) occurrence in Los Angeles. The TV show Psych even organised a Clue reunion of sorts for its 100th Episode. Martin Mull, Lesley Ann Warren and Christopher Lloyd featured in a wacky murder mystery plot set with in a huge mansion. Sadly it seems Paramount are still stinging from the film's failure - it received only a bare-bones DVD and Blu-Ray release in recent years. Despite Jonathan Lynn offering to do a commentary for a possible 30th anniversary edition, Paramount refused to entertain the idea.
After working on Clue the cast and crew went their separate ways. Christopher Lloyd enjoyed success with the Back to the Future sequels, along with a nightmare-inducing role in Who Framed Roger Rabbit. In 1991 he played Fester Addams in Barry Sonnenfeld’s big screen adaptation of The Addams family. He reprised the role two years later for the sequel. Over the next two decades Lloyd worked seemingly without a break in all manner of TV shows, TV movies and films. In recent times he's had a recurring role on the show Granite Falls, provided his voice to a character in The Simpsons and appeared in Sin City: A Dame to Kill For and Seth MacFarlane's A Million Ways to Die in the West.
Similarly, Martin Mull has worked consistently since the release of Clue, favouring TV work over film. Various one-off appearances in the likes of The Golden Girls, Lois & Clark and The Larry Sanders Show came alongside recurring roles in Rosanne, The Elllen Show and memorable turn as Mr Kraft in Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Of late, Mull has been seen in Arrested Development, Two and a Half Men and Dads. He is also something of an accomplished artist, his work appearing in solo and group exhibitions. He's provided art for books and album covers, including the Steve Martin/Edie Brickell collaboration, Love Has Come For You.
Like Tim Curry, Michael McKean has not one but two cult movies to his name. His work on Clue has been overshadowed by the continuing popularity of This is Spinal Tap. In the years since its release he's appeared as David St. Hubbins on numerous TV shows and Spinal Tap performances. Like Christopher Lloyd and Martin Mull, McKean has worked on a variety of TV shows and movies. He's also lent his voice to a vast array of cartoon characters, both as one-offs and recurring characters. He also became (at the time) the oldest regular member of the Saturday Night Live cast and, according to Wikipedia, the only person to ever appear as a musical guest, host and cast member (in that order) in the show's entire history. In 2015 he appeared as Chuck McGill on the AMC show, Better Call Saul and for 2016 he'll reprise the character Morris Fletcher in the X-Files revival.
After finishing work on Clue, Lesley Ann Warren appeared opposite Whoopi Goldberg in Burglar and with James Woods in the James Ellroy adaptation Blood on the Moon, released as the movie, Cop. Notable roles in the 1990s included (amongst many others) Life Stinks, Color of Night and The Limey. She switched back to TV for a four episode stint on Will & Grace and played Teri Hatcher's mother on Desperate Housewives. She followed this up with a regular part on In Plain Sight. In 2013 she played Steve Jobs mother in the Ashton Kutcher picture, Jobs.
Eileen Brennan made up for lost time in the second half the 80s and well into the 1990s, racking up a variety of credits, both film and TV related. She reprised her Last Picture Show role for the 1990 sequel, Texasville, before going on to appear in the new Dennis the Menace show, Murder She Wrote and ER. She worked on Will & Grace for six episodes and on 7th Heaven for another nine. Her final credit is as Gram Malone in 2011's Naked Run. Eileen Brennan died from cancer in July 2013.
The brilliant Madeline Kahn struggled to find work that fully utilised her talents in the years after Clue. She worked opposite George C. Scott on the short-lived sitcom, Mr President then appeared in ensemble comedies Betsy's Wedding (1990) and Mixed Nuts (1995) with Steve Martin, Juliette Lewis and Rob Reiner. She worked on the Mary Tyler Moore drama, New York News, which lasted for a single season. Kahn also provided the voice of Gypsy Moth in Pixar's A Bug's Life. She went on to win a regular role on The Cosby Show before succumbing to cancer in 1999, aged just 57.
Tim Curry followed up Clue with a bizarre cameo in The Worst Witch along with a role opposite Bill Paxton in Pass the Ammo. In 1990 he appeared with Sean Connery in The Hunt for Red October and gave a memorable (and utterly terrifying) turn in the Stephen King TV movie, IT, as Pennywise the clown. Further movie worked followed, including Home Alone 2, Congo and The Three Musketeers, opposite Kiefer Sutherland and Charlie Sheen. However, it was for his voiceover work that Tim Curry would be known throughout the decade and well into the next. His voice appeared in countless cartoons running into thousands of episodes, including (amongst many, many others) Gargoyles, The Wild Thornberrys, Hey Arnold, Scooby Doo and Rugrats.
His work wasn't limited just to cartoons, he continued to act in movies, TV Shows and lent his voice to numerous video games, notably the Gabriel Knight series. Theatre, where he got his start, wasn't neglected either, with parts in A Christmas Carol and My Favourite Year, for which he earned his second Tony nomination. 2004 saw Curry take the lead in Spamalot, which opened in Chicago before moving to Broadway (it sold an incredible $1 million dollar's worth of tickets in 24 hours). He would win a third Tony nomination for his work. The show transferred to the West End and the actor went with it, earning a Laurence Olivier nomination as well as a Theatregoers' Choice Award. Sadly, the actor suffered a major stroke in 2012 and was all but absent from public life over the next three years. However, he continued to provide his voice for the likes of Randy Cunningham: 9th Grade Ninja and The Clone Wars. Curry made a rare public appearance in 2015 to collect a Tony Lifetime Achievement Award. More recently he joined a cast reunion of The Rocky Horror Picture Show arranged by Entertainment Weekly.
As for the talent behind the camera - Jonathan Lynn directed the aforementioned Nuns on the Run and My Cousin Vinny. He then dealt with American politics in the Eddie Murphy comedy The Distinguished Gentleman, and helmed the Steve Martin Sgt Bilko remake. In 2000 he saw success with The Whole Nine Yards. In 2013 he returned to the small screen, writing and directing a new version of Yes, Prime Minister. He remains incredibly proud of his work on Clue, and states that of all the projects he's been involved with, it remains the one for which he still receives the most fan mail.
John Landis followed Spies Like Us with The Three Amigos, and later reteamed with Eddie Murphy on Coming to America and the misfire, Beverly Hills Cop 3. An attempt to revive his earlier success with The Blues Brothers 2000 fell flat with audiences in the latter part of the 1990s, as did comedy The Stupids. His most recent theatrical release was dark comedy, Burke & Hare, which featured Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis.
Clue was and remains a slice of pure brilliance. The genius of setting the picture in the 1950s gives it an ageless quality, making it seem as fresh today as it did thirty years ago. The chaotic yet logical way in which all the pieces fit together means each ending can be enjoyed independently, but the picture really soars when they're put altogether. Tim Curry gives a breathless, career-best performance and he's ably supported by the rest of the strong cast, with Martin Mull and Madeline Kahn being standouts. Clue is one of the brightest of all the hidden gems the 1980s had to offer and remains a must see for all.
Usual credit to IMDb and Wikipedia.
Of further note was a great Buzzfeed interview done in 2013 (but pulling info from a number of old source).
The brilliant Art of Murder website, a resource for Cluedo related items. This was invaluable for script length, dates and supporting information
A New York Times interview (OFF THE BOARD) from 1985 prior to the film's release, which helped sort out who had the rights
A Den of Geek interview with Jonathan Lynn
The Movies and Stuff Podcast
An issue of Starlog from Summer 1985
And Jonathan Lynn himself, who was fantastic and confirmed not only the budget, but also fact checked the entire article.
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