It seems like the 80s were fascinated with the idea of genius kids getting mixed up with top-secret government projects, but maybe it was just the inevitable collision between teenaged geniuses and mistrust of the government that both have plenty of independent examples. This time it’s lasers and remote assassination plots.
I’ve already covered the 1945 version of this story, but I knew that eventually I’d come to this one. This is the 7th movie adaptation of the 1902 novel just in English, and at this point it’s surprising that it hasn’t been tried again. The reputation this version has is tepid, and it’s the version people think of when the name comes up (the last version with the same title was made 40 years previous), but it’s clearly a story with staying power, and within the next ten years, every memorable movie from the 80s is going to get remade if it hasn’t already.
I watched an episode of Pee-wee’s Playhouse once and I didn’t get it. I wasn’t repelled by it, it just didn’t make sense. Everything seemed random for the sake of being random, and it was like an educational children’s show without a lesson, a story, or a point.
So why am I getting ready to watch the Pee-wee Herman movie? Because it looks like it’s got a story and possibly a point. It’s a vehicle for Paul Reubens, and vehicles go places.
I’m not sure what year it was, but I know when it happened. My first grown up Christmas. The year of revised expectations. I think it was when I was in high school. All through the final build up to the day, something was wrong. Something was missing. Something wasn’t Christmas about that Christmas. I couldn’t put a finger on it, it just wasn’t working. Into that malaise, none of my gifts that year were anything that was particularly able to excite me. Maybe I was just burned out.
I was told that there was another present meant for me. A very major present. But it had vanished. It had even vanished from memory, for I could not be told was it was. I understood. I couldn’t blame anyone. It was just one more way that holiday wasn’t working out the way I’d come to expect. In my state of mind that year, it probably wouldn’t have saved Christmas for me anyway. However, in its absence, the most significant gift I received was a movie.
It was a Christmas movie, which was already a strike against it. As someone who likes to keep things compartmentalized, being a Christmas movie meant that it was going to be out of season the next day. I respected that that view may not be widely held, and tried to look past it. It stars Mary Steenburgen, whom I’d liked in Back to the Future 3. If I recall correctly, it has Wayne Robson in a major role, and I like him on The Red Green Show. The familiar cast should have helped me like it.
However, its plot was something like a modern take on It’s A Wonderful Life, with a whole heap of problems building to a crisis, followed by a magical second chance. It ended up being more depressing than enjoyable. But I wasn’t really enjoying anything that year. I still have no idea why, but there was no magic in my Christmas, and One Magic Christmas didn’t provide any.
With the movie fresh in my mind now, I think the two main parts of the problem were that it’s a much more pure drama than anything I would have ever expected, and I wasn’t in a frame of mind to be receptive to what it actually does. Ginny’s life is already miserable, and in order to find the Christmas Spirit, she has to reach a much lower point than that, so that she essentially has nothing left but faith in Christmas magic. It’s like if It’s A Wonderful Life spent two thirds of its runtime on the day Uncle Billy lost the money. The moments of relief from the depression are subtle, and not something I was originally able to notice, let alone appreciate. The payoff of the unrelenting hardship is the catharsis of how her experience has changed her, and maybe it is arbitrary, and the magic involved confusing, but now it feels good anyway. Over ten years later, when if anything I’m more of a pragmatic adult like Ginny, I can let the movie’s magic in.
I’m not sure if this will work, but I’m going to experiment with something different. I’ve gotten into foreign movies a little bit before, but this is much more out what I’m familiar with than the others. I haven’t even seen a Godzilla movie before. So I’m not sure how well this will connect with me. I’m going ahead anyway, because I want to spend a while escaping from ideologies, dictators, monsters, and country-destroyers with a propaganda movie produced by a dictator about a monster destroying a country.
Movies of my Yesterdays is an irregular series where instead of writing about a movie I’ve never seen, I choose a movie important to my past and discuss why that is.
I clearly remember that the first time I saw this movie, it was on a New Year’s Eve at home. It was one of the rare movies we had on hand that wasn’t made for children, didn’t even look like it was for kids, and wasn’t Star Trek (The only other one that comes to mind is Trading Places, which is very not for kids.) I don’t remember how old I was at the time, but I must have been in middle school or close to it, because I was staying up for midnight and my parents put this on for us. It must have been on the basis of how much I enjoyed the movie that first time, because I remember nothing else about that particular New Year’s, but watching the movie was so formative for me that I recall it every New Year’s Eve, and I’m always pleased when I have a chance to include the movie or the game in a New Year’s now.
A few months or years later I developed an obsession with Back to the Future, and the fact that Christopher Lloyd has a prominent role here deepened my appreciation of this movie. I also think this is most of the reason Martin Mull makes me happy whenever I see him pop up in something. Tim Curry is of course, simply a legend. I can probably make a list of all the movies he makes better, but that would be a needless digression (and it’s probably “everything he’s been in except Rocky Horror” anyway).
As anyone who’s seen the movie probably knows, what makes Clue particularly unique is the multiple-choice ending. I never got to experience the buzz when it was released, where different theaters got different endings and I don’t think it was announced there would be differences, but home releases on tape include all three endings and releases on disc have the option to play one at random. I do have a favorite, but I find it interesting that the linear version declares only one of them to be “the real one”. I think I’ve heard that it’s the only one that actually lines up with all the details, but I’m not sure if that’s true. There are too many subtle moments to keep track of. Regardless, it’s a fascinatingly unorthodox approach to storytelling.
I’m not sure if I’ve played this movie since college, but it’s never been one I got tired of. By now I can recognize that, in concert with the amazing wit in the dialogue, one of the biggest strengths on display is that the script supports a large ensemble with fantastic characterization for everyone involved without giving too much focus to any one of them. It’s like an English high society detective novel without the high society or the detective, just a bunch of people being nasty to each other while trying to solve a puzzle. Lovely mansion though.
Over thirty years later, this continues to be the paragon of game to film adaptations. Clue is a fairly simple game but with a lot of data points, and while every single one of them are included here, none of them feel forced. There are even half a dozen extra characters added (mostly as cannon fodder) and it still somehow doesn’t feel unwieldy. I don’t think this movie will ever get old.
This is clearly a cash-in on the Indiana Jones franchise, but it’s a response to a pulp adventure pastiche with one of the original pulp adventurers. I don’t know much of anything about Allan Quatermain (I’m discounting everything I might remember from League of Extraordinary Gentlemen because it’s a bouillabaisse of literary big names with little regard for detail) other than that he’s the inspiration for a lot of more recent adventure throwbacks.
I guess I saw him in The Three Musketeers, but I don’t really have a very strong impression of Richard Chamberlain yet. I have a hard time keeping the Musketeers that aren’t D’artagnan straight.