The Perfect Murder: CLUE’S Infamous Fourth Ending
In 1985, Paramount Pictures proved themselves to be almost two decades ahead of their time when they released the first film based on a board game, Clue. Back then, this was an outrageous idea and critics and audiences enjoyed a hearty scoffing at the presumed folly of using such a thin backbone to form the foundation of a feature film.
In today’s twenty-first century America, of course, we’ve lived through three Transformers movies, two live-action G.I. Joe films, and Battleship, so studio execs are more accustomed to looking to anything and everything that any child may have played with 20 years ago whenever they’re unable to find a superhero to on which to base a new franchise.
But in the ‘80s? The Transformers movie was a cartoon made for kids, and board games were for playing when the power went out and you needed something to do to keep you from murdering your entire family by candlelight because you didn’t have the TV to distract you anymore. So back then the idea of basing an entire movie on a board game invented in England in 1944 and intended to be used as a distraction during long hours spent in underground bunkers during air raid drills must have seemed like an outrageous idea, and critics and audiences enjoyed a hearty scoffing at the presumed folly of using such a thin backbone to form the foundation of a feature film.
But then, the game play in Clue lent itself to story-telling more than the random letter and number guessing strategy of Battleship, and with John Landis pitching a story idea around town for a few years hot after his successes on An American Werewolf In London, The Blues Brothers and a little music video called Thriller, then it doesn’t take too much imagination to understand why Paramount decided to give it the green light to go into production.
The truly remarkable thing was that they decided to let John Landis move forward with his idea for the ending -- he wanted more than one.
In fact, he wanted four, and in each ending he wanted a different suspect revealed as the killer. And while home video audiences of today are familiar with the voiceover and title cards leading you through two different “possible” endings before telling you what “really happened,” during its theatrical release each theater got a different version, and audiences wouldn’t know which ending they were going to see until they arrived there.
“Landis thought it would be really great box office,” Jonathan Lynn told BuzzFeed’s Adam Vary last year. “He thought that what would happen was that people, having enjoyed the film so much, would then go back and pay again and see the other endings. In reality, what happened is that the audience decided they didn’t know which ending to go to, so they didn’t go at all.”
Like Troll 2 and so many other modern cult classics, it was really pay cable channels looking to fill in off-peak hours with cheap movies that were family-friendly enough for all hours that helped Clue find its core audience. A generation grew up watching Tim Curry running from room to room at sleepover after sleepover, and when the camp and fast-paced witty dialogue didn’t keep the attention of your older brother’s friends, Yvette’s cleavage would do the trick every time.
And of course, on TV and in the home video release, you could see all the endings in one sitting, without having to worry about which theater you were going to and which ending you were about to see. Those multiple endings that let you assume anything could have actually happened (as long as someone is an undercover FBI agent) only added to the charm of loving this film. But did you know there was a FOURTH ending that never made it past the cutting room floor?
Spoilers ahead, obviously, so don’t read on if you don’t want to know about the fake ending for the movie with three other endings already.
For everyone still with me, here’s a quick recap of the endings included in the film:
Miss Scarlet did it! Sort of.
Miss Scarlet actually had Yvette, who used to work for her, murder Mr. Boddy and the cook. Then she killed Yvette to make sure there were no loose ends and her real business (not prostitution, but selling secrets) would stay safe.
She holds the entire group hostage at gun point, and Wadsworth reveals that he’s actually a super secret FBI agent and he also knows that there are no more bullets in the gun because one plus two plus two plus one.
Wadsworth gets the gun, and to prove it’s empty he fires a shot in the air. Of course, it’s not empty, he hits the chandelier, and it falls right behind Colonel Mustard. Curtain.
Mrs. Peacock did it!
And so she holds the group at gunpoint and starts to make her escape, until Wadsworth reveals that he’s actually an FBI agent, the whole evening was a set up to spy on her, and the police take her away.
This must have been the most disappointing ending to see on its own in the theater…
Everybody did it!
This time Wadsworth isn’t an FBI agent, he’s actually Mr. Boddy. The body that they thought was Mr. Boddy was the actual butler. Professor Plum was the one who killed him, and then everyone else killed someone because they had some connection to their past.
Everyone except Mr. Green, that is, because this time he’s the FBI agent. So then he draws his own revolver and kills Mr. Boddy (who used to be Wadsworth) and the police come in and arrest everyone else so that Mr. Green, previously believed to be a homosexual, can tell them all that he’s about to go home and have sex with his wife.
That’s a very good ending, and undoubtedly the best one of the bunch. After all, it’s during that ending that Madeline Kahn did her famously improvised line about “Flames… flames on the side of my face…” that was one of the big reasons we wanted to celebrate this movie with a Quote-Along in the first place. It’s crazy that when the movie first came out TWO-THIRDS of the people who went to see it in theaters never got to see that at all! Anyway.
The fourth ending was cut because Landis and Lynn either didn’t really think it was that good, or they just thought it was too dark for the tone of the rest of the movie. Unfortunately for them, they forgot to tell Michael McDowell, who was working on the novelization for the film. Thanks to that gaffe, and to a Clue Storybook that they put out as a kiddie novelization with pictures and everything, the infamous fourth ending was preserved, and now we can all talk about it and imagine what could have been.
Here’s what WOULD have happened:
Wadsworth begins his explanation by telling everyone that Professor Plum is the murderer, and just as in Ending 3 he explains that Professor Plum knew Mr. Boddy was still alive.
Except that Professor Plum couldn’t have killed the cook, so of course he was working with Mrs. Peacock the entire time. Case closed!
But not so fast! Professor Plum demands his own chance to speak up, and points out that Wadsworth has done all of the talking so far. “He knew where the secret passages were!” he explains to the other guests. “And now the gun's missing, right? Everyone, empty out your pockets and purses. Whoever has the gun shot the singing telegram girl." Wadsworth pulls the gun out of his own pocket, and begins to confess to all of the murders after all. In this version he’s not Mr. Boddy, just the butler, so why did he do it?
Because all his life he wanted to be perfect. He wanted to be the perfect husband, but his wife killed herself. He wanted to be the perfect butler, but then he was driven to killing his boss… so then he decided that he would at least commit the perfect murder, but that it wouldn’t be fun without an audience.
I know. It doesn’t really add up. But it keeps going:
Someone points out that he didn’t commit the perfect murder, because he left six witnesses, and that’s when Wadsworth reveals that they won’t be alive long enough to rat on him because the drinks he served them all earlier were poisoned, and everyone is going to die in three hours unless they get the antidote. Of course, the cops aren’t coming in this ending, because once again no one has called them, so it seems as if the guests are all screwed.
Wadsworth goes around the house ripping out the phones and saying that he’s going to lock them all in the house to die, but then there’s a knock at the door, and it’s the elderly salesman again. This time he’s the FBI agent or something, and he lunges for the gun and wrestles Wadsworth to the ground while a bunch of other police come in, as before.
The police ask who’s responsible for all the murders, and the guests all point at Wadsworth. “It’s true,” he confesses, and then starts telling the whole story again. The police get mesmerized by the confession, and when Wadsworth gets to the part where he’s talking about Colonel Mustard being at the door… he walks out and locks them all in the house to die after all.
The guests and the police wind up escaping the house through the conservatory, and Wadsworth steals one of the police cars and starts to drive away, making the perfect getaway.
Until he hears the growl of the policeman’s Doberman from earlier in the back seat, and he is presumably attacked.
The best part about having all of these various endings available to us now, of course, is that we also have everything else on the Internet, where so many people have taken to posting which one is actually the “real” ending based on their own sleuthing throughout the movie.
Did Yvette really have time to kill the cook? And didn’t Mrs. White at least try to kill Mr. Boddy when the lights first went out and he had been standing behind the couch where she was sitting? How did Mrs. Peacock turn off the lights in her ending if she was in the boiler room right after they went out? And if Colonel Mustard killed the motorist, then how did he get to the door when he didn’t really know about the secret passage?
Which one is what really happened??? Were Lynn and Landis just toying with us, trying to get us to see that there’s really no good that can come from trying to guess the ending of a whodunit so you might as well just go along for the ride?
Or is there an unfilmed fifth ending yet to be discovered, waiting out there, lying dormant in a plain-looking manila envelope on a big wooden desk in a library?
This was originally published in the March issue of Birth.Movies.Death. Join the Clue Quote-Along at the Alamo Drafthouse this month!