"Ladies and gentlemen, you all have one thing in common: you're all being blackmailed. For some considerable time, all of you have been paying what you can afford, and in some cases MORE than you can afford, to someone who threatens to expose you. And NONE of you know WHO's blackmailing you. Do you?"
One rainy night in 1954, six strangers are invited to a dinner party to discuss their "financial situation". After the butler Wadsworth explains their invitations and exposes their secrets all hell breaks loose. One murder after another is committed with no clear motive or sign of the perpetrator. Hijinks ensue as the group searches the house and accuse each other. Based on the popular Parker Brothers game, this film is a forbidden delight. No movie based on a board game should be this good but the ending(s) will leave you wanting more.
Each player is perfectly suited to their role and this film is chock full of heavy hitting comedic talent. Tim Curry plays Wadsworth the butler. Martin Mull as the not-too-bright Colonel Mustard, Christopher Lloyd as the somewhat lecherous Professor Plum and Madeline Kahn as the deadly Mrs. White.
While the film is based on the board game it's nice to note that the characters are realistic. They don't wear their respective assigned colours though their cars match their pseudonyms. They also have developed back stories, placing them in a specific location and time period. For example, Professor Plum works for the World Health Organization at the UN, otherwise known was UNO WHO. In the game their personal histories were far more ambiguous. You will be happy to note though that the mansion's layout echoes the board game's setup.
There are so many jokes packed into this movie that some go by so fast you're likely to miss them. One of my favourite moments has Madeline Kahn trying to explain about Yvette and starts rambling about "flames on the side of her face", a scene which she apparently ad-libbed.
This is the kind of film that you need to watch several times in order to understand the series of events. Wadsworth provides an explanation but even the guests are confused. Logically the ending(s) don't make logical sense if you watch the placement of the actors in specific scenes. While I found this frustrating it doesn't detract from my enjoyment of the movie. After all, it's based on a game that has a million variations and the characters in this movie were all about deceit and lies.
While I appreciated the fact that this was a period piece, I often forgot that this story wasn't taking place in the present. They do drive vintage cars and there are various references to McCarthyism but it's not enough to create the kind of atmosphere I expect in a movie set in the 50s. The movie gets away with though because in essence this is a comedy. It would have been unforgivable had it been a drama.
Somebody find Eli Wallach.