Clue (Jonathan Lynn, 1985)

Communism was just a red herring!

After his marquee role as Dr. Frank-N-Furter in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Tim Curry seemed set to conquer Hollywood. It was the mid-70s and the young actor was bristling with his trademark maniacal energy. Alas, what  lay in store for him was not the stardom he deserved, but an endless parade of parts for odd villains and quirky side-characters. I think Curry was too bizarre, too British, and his intonation too unique to entice anyone to let him play the lead.

Of course, that hardly diminished his cult fame. Fans relished his every appearance, from a bizarre song about Halloween to a scary clown monster in the sewer and cross-dressing vvvvvilderness girl bearing cocaine-laced cookies. What a shame for such a versatile actor though.

In Clue we see the closest Curry has ever come to being the lead. The movie may be an ensemble piece through and through (derived as it is, weirdly, from the famous board game), Curry outshines every single colleague on set. Playing as the butler (“What do you do, sir?” “I’m the butler. I buttle.”) he guides the events of an evening where a group of strangers is locked inside a mansion in search of a murderer.

With such a laughable origin, it comes as a surprise that the film (which bombed horribly in theaters) is actually wickedly funny. Well, of course it is, it’s written by John Landis, an absolute master of comedy. What could’ve been a tedious proceeding turns into a highly amusing farce. The group splits up, secret passages are found, chandeliers come close to splattering various people and hysteria breaks out at the merest flutter of curtains. Then, after a good hour or so, the real treat starts. Curry begins to unravel and explicate the plot. He does this by racing around the room – the surviving guests in tow – and frantically pointing out clues and inconsistencies. There is no describing this tour de force, it must be seen. At one point, in his enthusiasm, Curry drags a lady up the staircase, she can’t keep up with him and he simply deposits her on the flight and runs on.

When all is said and done, he has stolen the show. I think there’s part of the actor that always longed for a real leading role after Rocky Horror. That may not have happened, but there are worse ways to dry one’s tears than with eternal cult fame and the instant recognition by that upper-class British drawl that announces without fail that a devilish performance is on its way.

Roderick Leeuwenhart