We’ve seen video games turned into (sometimes bad) movies, as well as movies having video game tie-ins. It’s also not uncommon to find popular films with board game tie-ins (e.g., Monopoly editions based on Star Wars and Pirates of the Caribbean). However, rarely are board games used as the inspiration for a film. For this adaptation, we are going to look at the popular board game Clue and its move to the big screen.
One of the greatest attributes of the game Clue is the fact that the game has a clear storyline: someone is murdered, and your job is to find out who did it. It’s the classic murder mystery, but as a board game! You’re already provided with colorful characters, weapons of varying types, and an expansive mansion location. All that’s missing is motive, which never really exists in the game, unless you have overly creative players. By adding motive, the game provides enough information upon which to base a movie. And rather than make such a murder mystery as serious as it is when played, better to up the ante with an injection of humor!
The film begins with basic introductions of each of the game “pieces.” They are all brought to a cryptic mansion by the request of Mr. Boddy (obviously, the future victim). As it plays out, each is blackmailed for various actions they have done in the past (most of which are illegal). While the game never goes into why any of the characters are present at this mansion (or why there is a dead guy at all), it does create back stories for each character that allows the viewer to believe that, yes, these people could commit murder.
The film is narrated by the butler (an original character) by the name of Wadsworth, played perfectly by Tim Curry. Throughout the film, he is the one figuring out who committed the murder and how it was done. In simplistic terms, Wadsworth is the player, and each of the remaining characters is both a suspect and another investigator. This is the same as in the game, where even though you (the player) are trying to find out the killer, you may very well BE the killer. This film continues that trend as well.
And as for situation, the movie pushes beyond the basic premise of the game. Rather than one dead body (as in the game), the film has several, each one linked in some way to each character. This increases not only the motives, but just what the killer is capable of. It is also noted that in the game, Mrs. White is almost always the maid. In the film, Mrs. White is switched to a sarcastic widower (played by Madeline Kahn), and the new character of Yvette replaces the maid position in the game.
It must be stated that the representation of each “game piece” is done with extra detail for the film. Everyone looks the part and has respective histories that explain their names (Professor Plum, for example, has a Ph.D. in psychology, while Colonel Mustard has history in the last war, etc.). As the story progresses, the characters grow more high-strung over the situation, and sometimes resort to paranoia as more secrets come out (and finger-pointing begins). The exaggeration of the situation definitely lends to sympathizing with and even liking these characters, regardless of their suspicions of murder.
The viewer is allowed to see several of the murders occur; however, stylishly the killer is always kept in the dark. There are no “those are man hands but the killer was female” situations (à la Friday the 13th), nor any over the top ways of how one person could get to the other end of the house without being seen in order to kill. The explanations of how the murderer goes about their work, again, is fully explained by Wadsworth (after an hour of rambling and “making a long story short”).
Anyone who has played Clue would know that the answer is never the same twice. Since the weapon, killer, and location are always random, a player is allowed a new experience in playing the game each time. To apply this idea to the film, three endings were made (with three different killers), all of which are plausible, explained fully, and hilarious. When the film was released, it depended on which theater you went to as to what ending you would receive. When the film was released on video (and subsequently shown on television), all three endings were provided, with the final ending (and my personal favorite) being the “right” one.
It must be said that for one of the only board games to have been brought to the screen, it really couldn’t have been done better. Sure, the movie could have been a serious murder mystery, with a deep involved storyline that has the viewer aching for more. But why would we want that? Give us a slapstick romp with amazing performances and laughs along the way. In the end, playing Clue was all about having a good time, and the film provided that same thing just as much.