How Clue Went From Box Office Flop To Cult Hit

“Clue” is set on a stormy night in 1954 as six strangers are summoned to an isolated New England mansion by a mysterious invite. They are greeted by the butler Wadsworth (Tim Curry), who assigns them each a pseudonym to protect their identities. First to arrive is blustering Colonel Mustard (Martin Mull), who is later joined by crotchety Mrs. Peacock (Eileen Brennan), the black widow Mrs. White (Madeline Kahn), lecherous Professor Plum (Christopher Lloyd), closeted Mr. Green (Michael McKean), and vampish Miss Scarlet (Lesley Ann Warren).

Wadsworth quickly reveals the purpose of the invite: All six are being blackmailed by the same person over their shady secrets. He has called the cops with the intent of revealing the extortioner, who arrives as the late-arriving seventh guest, Mr. Boddy (Lee Ving). Boddy appears to have the jump on the butler, however — he gives them all a weapon (candlestick, revolver, lead pipe, etc.) and suggests that someone does away with Wadsworth to prevent their dirty laundry from being exposed.

They all have a motive and the means but, after the lights briefly go out in the study, it is Mr. Boddy lying dead on the floor. Cue much frantic scrambling around as the guests try to discover the killer before the police arrive. A lot of the comedy comes from bawdy farce (typified by Colleen Camp’s saucy French maid, Yvette), groan-worthy innuendo and wordplay, and broad slapstick.

Eventually, Wadsworth reveals how the mystery all went down, which is where we reach the movie’s big gimmick. “Clue” was shot with three separate endings, which were screened in different theaters at the time of release. The last is probably the most satisfying in relation to the madcap plot — while preposterous, it isn’t that much more far-fetched than Agatha Christie’s solution in “Murder on the Orient Express.”

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