I love the 1985 movie Clue. Now, Fox and Hasbro are working together on a remake. They probably shouldn’t be doing that. Here are some things you might not know about the original Clue.
Hold on. My introduction can’t be that short, can it? Don’t I have to, I dunno, tell you all about my childhood memories of watching Clue on HBO, roll out the old standard, “And I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing – a movie with three different ending!”? Or at least describe the plot (blackmailed people in 1954 New England arrive at a mysterious mansion for an invited meal, their blackmailer mysteriously dies and an Agatha Christie novel breaks out) and maybe offer a brief history of the board game (e.g., it was first invented in 1949) and all that? Actually, I think just covered all of those things.
We’re good, right? You saw the title of this article. You’re probably already familiar enough with the movie. Let’s just get to the trivia already, via this fantastic Buzzfeed longform piece on the film’s production history:
1. Tom Stoppard, Stephen Sondheim & Anthony Perkins were all attached at one point or another to the script
Today, Hasbro has the Clue film rights. However, back in the early 80s they belonged to Parker Bros., which was still a decade away from being bought by Hasbro. Producers Debra Hill (the yin to John Carpenter’s yang behind the scenes of Halloween) and Peter Guber (An American Werewolf in London) viewed Clue as a natural launching pad for a fun murder mystery movie. So, Hill and her executive partner Lynda Obst traveled to England to negotiate with Parker Bros., and came back with the rights, eventually setting up a package deal at Paramount with John Landis attached to direct.
Landis quickly worked out the basic plot, and would actually act it out in meetings with prospective screenwriters, probably not entirely unlike Tim Curry’s eventual re-enacting of the entire film in the powerhouse conclusion (more on that later). Landis had everything outlined but the ending. He couldn’t figure out who actually done it in his whodunit, which is how he realized he needed a screenwriter to flesh it out and figure out the ending.
Easier said than done.
According to Landis, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead playwright Tom Stoppard was contracted to pen the script, but after a year he hit a wall and sent out a “I give up” letter along with a check reimbursing the studio for what they had paid him. Stoppard, of course, remembers it differently, telling Buzzfeed, “I remember John Landis of course, but I can’t remember Clue. I don’t think I worked on it. I’ve never heard of Clue.”
Classic Stoppard. Probably.
Stephen Sondheim and Anthony Perkins were next up on the docket based on Landis’ admiration for The Last of Sheila, the 1973 film the unlikely duo had penned together. The only reason Clue didn’t join Sheila on their resume is because their agents asked for too much money.
Peter Guber recruited the eventual writer, but even that might not have happened if not for…
2. An Offer to Fly First Class Hooked the Writer and Eventual Director
In 1983, Englishman Jonathan Lynn was riding high off the success of his BBC TV series Yes Minister, and had no idea why Peter Guber had flown to London and requested a breakfast meeting with him. Once at the meeting, he similarly had no idea why the fast-talking Guber had decided he was the perfect choice to write Clue. It was entertaining, meeting this Old Hollywood style producer, but there was no way Lynn could be talked into writing a freakin’ Clue movie.
Then Guber threw something unexpected on the table: an all-expenses-paid trip to Los Angeles to meet with Landis and Debra Hill. If not for that, Lynn would have politely turned them down, and Clue as we know it would not exist. However, he took the LA trip, met Landis and was finally convinced to join the team. But what got him to LA in the first place was Guber’s offer of a free flight, “Frankly, the reason I said yes was because I’d never flown first class,” says Lynn, “and I thought that would be really interesting to do that once in my life.” That’s adorable.
3. John Landis Chose Spies Like Us Over Clue
After all of that, Landis ended up mostly departing the project, bowing out as director when another one of his projects, Spies Like Us, moved through development faster and would keep him away from directing Clue for another year. Rather than hold up production, Landis volunteered to recede back into a producer’s role and nominated Lynn to direct, who quickly said yes. Ironically, Spies Like Us and Clue, distributed by competing film studios (Warner Bros. and Paramount), were released within one week of each other in December 1985.
In the short term, Landis appeared to make the more shrewd business decision since Spies Like Us grossed the equivalent of $143m at 2016 ticket prices and Clue bombed to the tune of $14.6m or $34.7m at current prices. Landis kept working steadily, moving on to Three Amigos and Coming to America, whereas Lynn was firmly stuck in director’s jail until he returned to jolly old England to make Nuns on the Run which then netted him the job to direct My Cousin Vinny.
4. Thanks, McCarthyism
It was Landis who had the basic plot outlined, but it was Lynn who provided the specifics, such as the period setting. He picked 1954 because, well, here’s what he told Buzzfeed:
“I had to find a way to make sense of a situation in which there were a whole lot of people with obviously false names. I knew all about McCarthyism because I had friends much older than me who’d been involved in it. That was the period of American history that I knew most about.”
5. Tim Curry Was Neither the First Nor Second Choice for The Butler
The first choice was a man, Leonard Rossiter from Oliver!, who promptly died on stage. No, seriously, he literally croaked during a stage production of Loot while Lynn was writing the script. So, with all due respect to Rossiter, that was a firm no on putting him the movie.
The second choice was Rowan Atkinson, who was making a name for himself on Blackadder in the UK, but was just some random British TV actor as far as Universal was concerned. This was nearly a full decade before Atkinson created Mr. Bean and broke through around the world. However, when Atkinson submitted his reel to Universal for Clue no one at the studio even watched it despite Lynn campaigning on his behalf. Ouch.
Thus, Tim Curry was Lynn’s third choice for the part, and the studio signed off because he was at least someone people knew thanks to Rocky Horror Picture Show. However, this wasn’t exactly a director having to settle for someone’s leftovers. Lynn and Curry were actually good friends, having gone to boarding school together.
Maybe that friendship is why Lynn never told Curry he wasn’t the first choice for the part. Curry didn’t hear about Rossiter and Atkinson until the 2015 Buzzfeed interview, to which he kindly responded, “Both would have been wonderful.” You take that back, Tim Curry. You are the one and only Wadsworth and you know it!
6. Lee Ving Was Definitely Not the First Choice for Mr. Boddy
Despite the Rowan Atkinson kerfuffle, Lynn was mostly allowed to cast whoever he wanted for all of the roles except for Mr. Boddy. The studio was rather adamant that the lead singer for the punk band Fear end up in that role. Again, here’s what Lynn said:
The studio wanted Lee Ving. He had some big hit record or something. I had imagined somebody rather different, but I said no to every one of the studio’s requests, and so finally I thought, Well, I’d better say yes to something.
And that, kids, is how a rock singer was cast in a part requiring him to play dead for most of the movie.
7. Colleen Camp Wore a French Maid Costume to Her Audition
Today, the above picture of Camp as Yvette, the busty French maid, would probably be turned into one of those memes designed to test if you can possibly notice anything other than her cleavage. For example, without looking back at the picture can you tell me the color of the wallpaper behind her? If you just hesitated you failed the test.
Camp actually had a lot of competition for the role, as she told Buzzfeed, “Jennifer Jason Leigh, Madonna, Demi Moore — a lot of actresses were really interested in this part. And I really wanted it.” So, she wore a rented French maid costume to her audition and got the part because she made Lynn laugh. He concedes the obvious, though, “I mean, the bosom is there. There was no avoiding it.”
In fact, Camp now admires the way Lynn worked her ever so considerable cleavage into the comedy, “The genius of Jonathan Lynn was that he was able to use the assets of each person. I think it was so obvious that I was so well endowed that it became a perfect thing for the characters to react to my breasts.”
8. Carrie Fisher Was the Original Miss Scarlet, But It Was the 80s. So, You Know, Cocaine
This was the 80s. We’ve seen Wolf of Wall Street. We assume there was some cocaine abuse going around. In Clue‘s case, it all centers around Carrie Fisher, who had a real rough couple of decades and has since been refreshingly candid about it.
Originally cast as Miss Scarlet, Fisher called up a week before rehearsals to let Lynn know she was in rehab. I’ll let him take it from here:
“I was very naive. I didn’t know what she was talking about. When I met her at a restaurant, she had actually fallen over a chair, but I had just thought she was shortsighted or something. She sniffed a lot, and she said she had hay fever, which of course I believed.”
“She said, ‘Oh, yes, they’ll let me out during the day and I’ll just come back at night,’ And I thought, Really? So I asked [producer] Debra Hill, and Debra said, ‘Yes, that sounds good.’ I think Debra was also on cocaine, but I didn’t know that. Then it was put to Dawn Steel, and she didn’t seem to have a problem with it. I didn’t know that everyone in Hollywood was snorting cocaine. I was really naive. They weren’t doing that in Hampstead, where I lived. Then the insurance company got involved and said, ‘Absolutely not. What are you thinking?!’ — which surprised everybody but me.”
And that, kids, is how Lesley Ann Warren ended up playing Miss Scarlet.
9. Mrs. Peacock Was Fresh Off a Stay at the Betty Ford Center
If Carrie Fisher had made it into the cast she would not have been the only one struggling with addiction, although poor Eileen Brennan was coming off a set of serious injuries. In her case, she had developed a painkiller addiction while recovering from a significant car crash which damaged her legs, jaw, nose and one of her eyeballs. Her six-week stint at the Betty Ford Clinic to kick the painkillers was barely behind her when Clue came along. As Christopher Lloyd remembers:
“I had a lot of sympathy for her because she was still struggling. She was working very hard to get back on her feet and be able to work again. Not that it showed in her performance at all. But I could see the effort it took for her to get up and do what she was doing. I thought she was absolutely marvelous.”
10. The “Flames” Moment Was Unscripted
Madeline Kahn, you national treasure, thank you for giving us the above “flames” moments, especially since it was coming straight from your brain and not from the script.
As Michael McKean recalls:
“All that was written was, ‘I hated her so much that I wanted to kill her,’ or something like that. 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?“
11. There was a fourth ending that may or may not have involved Wadsworth killing everyone like a boss
From before Jonathan Lynn joined the project, the plan was always to film four different endings, and then release multiple cuts of the film with the different endings so people would have to see the film multiple times to see all the possible resolutions. However, only three endings made it through, with the fourth having been dropped somewhere during the editing process. Sadly, though, the details of the fourth ending are a foggy memory for those involved.
Lynn: No, not a thing. No idea […] I have no idea what’s reported online, and I have no idea what the fourth ending was. It’s really gone from my memory, and I don’t have a copy of the original script.
Curry: [Remembers shooting an ending where his character kills everyone] They thought it was too obvious that the butler did it
McKean: “Most of the cast… being chased by Dobermans,” is all he remembers of the abandoned fourth ending.
12. The Chandelier Was Supposed to Be a Lot Closer
Do you remember the chandelier dropping dangerously close to Martin Mull, aka, Col. Mustard? Well, jump to 1:25 in the following clip, and look again. You can see he’s actually quite safely away from the falling chandelier.
It’s not exactly Lynn’s favorite moment in the film. It was supposed to look a lot more precarious. However, at the time of filming Hollywood was still only two years removed from the tragic, fatal incident on the set of Landis’ Twilight Zone: The Movie, and Lynn felt an extra responsibility for ensuring the safety of everyone on set:
I screwed that up, I think, because I was so frightened that there would be some accident. It should have only just missed them, and it misses them by quite a bit, and that was me not having the nerve or the confidence to trust the stunt coordinator […] The last thing in the world that could have happened on this picture with [Landis] as the producer could have been an accident on the set, so I was being very, very cautious.
13. All the Running & Shouting Throughout the Grand Finale Left Tim Curry So Beat He Ended Up in the Hospital Due to Exhaustion
Tim Curry suffered for his art. His comedy tour de force performance in the film’s finale ended with him in the hospital due to pure exhaustion, as he explained when looking back on the experience last year:
I was exhausted at the end of the movie. I actually had a sort of incident of high blood pressure towards the end, when all of the conclusions were happening, because I was running around like a mad person. They took me to the doctor and I had to take pills for a week, my blood pressure was so high. Which was very tiresome.