::: Rob Shure
n 1985, the movie Clue was released to lukewarm response. The film had a strong ensemble cast of talented comic actors, but no major box office names. Audiences and critics alike were left confused by the movie’s gimmick—three different endings. Theatre audiences saw one of three endings depending on which screen they chose, but the videotape and DVD releases contain all three endings. The film found a wide audience on video and cable television and it now has a minor cult following.
Some of its popularity can be explained by viewers’ (most likely unconscious) recognition that much more is going on in the film than is apparent at first glance. Clue, in fact, is really about the most famous unsolved murder of the twentieth century—the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. The film is set in New England, where the Kennedy clan comes from and still largely resides, and because it opens in 1954, years before Kennedy emerged on the national scene, it gives viewers a grim preview of the events that would occur in nine years. In presenting a vastly complicated murder plot, it also presents three possible solutions to the Kennedy mystery, one of which is an obvious favorite.
In this ending, it is revealed that Miss Scarlet is the murderer. She plans to continue to blackmail the remaining guests not for money but for their secrets. It turns out that while she runs a house of prostitution, her real business is dealing in high-level government secrets. She is, in effect, a spy. The Miss Scarlet ending represents the idea that a Communist conspiracy killed John Kennedy. In this theory, Communist factions held Kennedy responsible for the Bay of Pigs fiasco. U.S. tension with Communist countries was at an all-time high during the Cuban Missile Crisis; the world was on the brink of nuclear war for thirteen days. According to this theory, a Communist element, be it an entire country or a fanatical splinter group, driven by hatred of Kennedy, killed him.
Evidence? One immediately notes that her alias is Miss Scarlet—a shade of red, the identifying color of the Communist party and Communist nations—“Red China,” “the Red Menace.” The Russians did have several spies in place in top-level government institutions (Aldrich Ames et al.). Miss Scarlet deals in secrets. She could easily be under contract to a Communist power.
The idea is given further credence in the scene where Col. Mustard and Miss Scarlet, while searching the house for the murderer, come upon the ballroom. Col. Mustard tells her to check behind the curtains while he searches the kitchen. What follows is a long series of shots splicing Miss Scarlet with images of these thick, heavy curtains, symbolic of her relationship with the Iron Curtain and reflecting the air of secrecy and censorship that surrounded the Communist Soviet Union. Taking all of this into account, Scarlet clearly represents the theory of a Communist murder conspiracy, one that the United States did not want to investigate publicly because of the threat of thermonuclear war.
Mrs. Peacock is revealed as the murderer in the second ending. This represents the theory of both the Warren Commission and Gerald Posner’s book Case Closed—that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone assassin of President Kennedy.
Oswald was known as awkward around people and very much a loner. Mrs. Peacock is presented in the movie as socially awkward. At dinner, she makes a spectacle of herself trying to make conversation with the other guests who are repelled by her overbearing personality. Her weird headpiece, made of what appears to be leaves and feathers, is another sign of her social ineptitude.
An item that makes this identification more credible is that Mrs. Peacock, like Oswald, has government connections. Mrs. Peacock is the wife of a senator and has connections that allow her influence and her to be influenced, as did Lee Harvey Oswald. She is being blackmailed for taking bribes from a foreign power in order to deliver her senator husband’s vote on certain key issues. She is, in effect, a double agent. Oswald himself defected to Russia after receiving intelligence training in the Marines and education in the Russian language. His defection appears to have been a U.S. intelligence operation to put an operative deep inside the Russian intelligence community. Like Mrs. Peacock, Oswald was a double agent.
The Oswald theory of the Kennedy assassination is regarded as flawed. The House Committee on Assassinations declared in 1977 that a “probable conspiracy” is what killed Kennedy. This fits into the Peacock-as-Oswald motif perfectly. There is a plot hole in the movie that blemishes the second ending. Mrs. Peacock, as the murder, supposedly switches off the electricity (located at the top of the cellar staircase) and murders the last three victims. Yet immediately after we see a gloved hand turn off the electricity, we cut to Mrs. Peacock, deep in the cellar, backing into the furnace and thinking it is the lecherous Professor Plum; she yells out “Don’t touch me” and slaps the furnace. It is a funny moment, but it renders the second ending impossible. She couldn’t have done that if she was the one who flipped the switch. She couldn’t have gotten from one place to the other so quickly, particularly if she was busy killing three people. The Oswald theory is likewise flawed because of chronological impossibilities. The Warren Commission stated that Oswald got off three shots in six seconds with an old, manual bolt action Manlicher Carcano rifle. He then was able to sprint down several flights of stairs and appear perfectly relaxed when he ran into the police, who were by now in the book depository. It’s highly unlikely that he could have done so much in so little time. The fact that the Peacock ending is flawed makes it all the more similar to the sketchy “angry lone nut” theory that casts all blame on Lee Harvey Oswald.
The final ending is preceded by a title card that reads, “But here is what really happened.” It presents the true story as being that everyone is in fact guilty of at least one murder. This massive conspiracy is evocative of the theory Jim Marrs puts forth in his book Crossfire: The Plot that Killed Kennedy. It was mainly on this book that Oliver Stone based his own assassination theory, presented in the 1991 film JFK. Perhaps it is no coincidence that the cook’s name is Mrs. Ho and the executive producer of JFK is A. Kitman Ho.
The Marrs/Stone theory presents the idea that Kennedy was killed by a massive and far-reaching government conspiracy. This theory is immediately evident in the third ending of Clue. As all of the characters arrive, an early and cheap joke has everyone step in dog excrement outside, which is actually a preview of the movie’s true ending. Everyone is guilty. Everyone has shit on his or her shoes. Let’s take it character by character.
Mr. Green is actually an FBI agent. The FBI was instrumental in suppressing and covering up vital parts of the Kennedy assassination. Some say that J. Edgar Hoover knew about the plot for the Kennedy assassination before it happened but remained silent because of his deep hatred for the Kennedys. Others suggest he took an active role in the cover-up that followed the assassination. J. Edgar Hoover actually calls for Mr. Green during the movie. Taking it a step further, we discover that Mr. Green’s guilty secret is that he is a homosexual, which J. Edgar Hoover is rumored to have been during his life. Mr. Green thus represents the FBI and specifically Hoover’s involvement in the Kennedy affair.
Col. Mustard murders the motorist in the final ending. He is representative of the military and specifically the Pentagon’s involvement in the Kennedy affair (he does have a top-secret Pentagon job). Stone suggests that a Pentagon and military faction wanted Kennedy dead because he planned to withdraw from Vietnam. The scene in JFK with Donald Sutherland appearing as “X” presents this theory fully. To them, pulling out of Vietnam was a sign of weakness. The Pentagon generals feared Kennedy would lose Vietnam to the Communists as they thought he had lost Cuba. They also, it is alleged, had personal money invested in various arms contractors. They were after the lucrative arms contracts that a full blown war would bring. They thus needed someone in the office of commander-in-chief who would commit to war. Col. Mustard identifies himself as a war profiteer. This is the secret the motorist gives Mr. Body in order to blackmail him. Col. Mustard, in order to both allow and hide his war profiteering, killed the motorist, much as the Pentagon generals, in this theory, killed Kennedy.
The motorist himself represents the limo driver who slowed down the Presidential motorcade to twelve miles per hour while driving in Dealey Plaza, thus allowing an easier shot at Kennedy.
Mrs. Peacock represents Oswald here again, but not as the sole killer. Instead, she represents Oswald’s involvement and possible knowledge of the conspiracy.
Miss Scarlet once again represents the Communist element of the massive conspiracy.
Wadsworth the Butler, who is revealed in ending three as actually being the real Mr. Body—and thus the real blackmailer—is representative of the Mafia’s involvement in the Kennedy assassination. He is involved in blackmail, extortion, and murder, the known bread and butter of organized crime.
Miss White, who dresses completely in black clothing, represents the role played in the Kennedy assassination by such racist factions and people as the KKK and Guy Banister. Kennedy’s administration saw great strides made in civil rights. Integration and civil rights legislation were integral parts of Kennedy’s domestic program. The dissociation in Mrs. White between her name and her clothing symbolizes racial tension exploding into racist factions and thus providing assistance to the conspirators, one of whom was Guy Banister, played by Ed Asner in JFK.
Professor Plum represents the doctors who botched the Kennedy autopsy and damaged and lost vital evidence. When Mr. Body is shot for the first time, Professor Plum declares him to be dead. He botches the most obvious part of an autopsy as we find out that he was in fact faking his own death in order to escape. The naval doctors who performed Kennedy’s autopsy have long been accused of incompetence and being manipulated by higher powers to willfully bungle the autopsy.
The police offer who stops by the house and is killed in the third ending by Miss Scarlet is representative of the corrupt Dallas Police Department, which lost key evidence, allowed Jack Ruby into the police station to kill Oswald, and generally made a mess of things. The Clue cop is corrupt as well, for we find out that he was on Miss Scarlet’s payroll.
The cook, Mrs. Ho, is a woman of undetermined Asian descent. She represents the underlying tension of the escalating Vietnam situation. The Vietnam era produced such a great amount of government lies and deception that it is no wonder that she, like the country at that time, is stabbed in the back.
Finally, we have two secondary female characters. The singing telegram girl who is shot within seconds of appearing onscreen is a former patient and lover of Professor Plum and had caused him to lose his license as a psychiatrist. She later informed on him to Mr. Body. Yvette the maid is revealed as being a call girl who worked for Miss Scarlett. She had an affair with Mrs. White’s husband, which led to Mrs. White killing her. These women represent Kennedy’s legendary sexual voracity and adultery. Marrs suggests that Kennedy’s secret love affairs made him more vulnerable to assassination attempts because it is easier to kill someone with something significant to hide than to kill someone who is innocent.
Also consider the fact that everyone who is killed was one of Mr. Body’s network of informers. This is a representation of the fact that, after the Kennedy assassination, many witnesses and observers died under mysterious circumstances, as if the government that killed Kennedy was tying up its loose ends. And indeed, the third ending of Clue ties up the loose ends nicely, dramatizing the now famous conspiracy theories of the Kennedy assassination by revealing the massive conspiracy at the heart of all of its murders.