Martin Mull’s performance as Colonel Mustard in Clue is full of subtle hilarity. At first it seems that he is going to be a one-note, stereotypical character and serve as the straight man for the comedy. His first several moments in the film depict a career military man (who has a super sweet mustache) with all of the expected trappings. He is the first to arrive to the party, hinting at a devotion to punctuality. He is the first character to press Wadsworth for answers, and seems to be trying to achieve some position of dominance by interrogating him. He even tries to show off his classy, cultured side when he responds to Wadsworth’s Tennyson quote with a Kipling quip. This setup makes it all the funnier when it is revealed (via tiny acting moments) that he is kind of a wimp and not the brightest crayon in the box.
The assumption when you first start watching Clue is that Colonel Mustard should be brave, tactical and posses some sort of defensive capability. He’s a freaking military officer. You know, someone that seems like he would be good to have on your side in a fight. Colonel Mustard proves to be the very opposite. He is the first to physically issue a challenge to the man they believe to be Mr. Body, but then he is taken down quickly by what looks like a Three Stooges fight move. (And is seen to still be dramatically holding his face in pain several minutes later.) Whenever the group races into a new room to check out the latest calamity, he is always one of the last to enter, looking like he is partially hiding behind the others. The contrast between these moments and his earlier bluster is brilliant.
In addition to his seeming lack of fortitude, the Colonel sometimes just Does. Not. Get. It. When other characters engage in winding, witty banter, he seems to just…lose track part-way through. Mustard’s “confused face” makes many, many appearances. In one such moment, he asks Wadsworth if he is trying to make him look stupid, to which Wadsworth responds, “You don’t need any help from me, sir.” He is also seen to be extremely literal, such as when Miss Scarlett responds to a question with “Search me,” and he proceeds to begin patting her down. Near the end, Wadsworth tells Green “I choose to expose myself,” and the Colonel blurts out “Please! There are ladies present!.”
There are times that the Colonel steps up, and you see a glimpse of a person who could have feasibly been given top Pentagon clearance. He goes into full-tilt military mode when suggesting a tactic for splitting up and searching the house, even barking “This is war, Peacock!.” It is perfectly executed by Mull and lends some reality to his character.
Little moments like these, coupled with great nonverbal acting, create a hilarious overall performance. Martin Mull wasn’t given as many over-the-top bits as some of the other characters, and, in a farcical ensemble, is one of the more muted characters. But his look of complete disgust when he is paired for the search with Miss Scarlett, after hopefully putting his clearly mismatched stick against Yvette’s, is perfection. Mull has several such moments that could probably be missed if you aren’t watching closely. So much of the movie is quick, back and forth banter and witty one-liners, but some of his greatest stuff happens in between the (amazing, ridiculous and perfect) dialogue. He takes what could have been a one-note character and creates something rich, layered, subtle and, most of all, funny.
More About Katherine Weatherford:
- Favorite Movie – Vertigo
- First Clue Experience – watched it while sleeping over at a friend’s house. It was most definitely in VHS format.
- Where and With What Would You Kill Mr. Body? – In the conservatory with the candlestick. It just seems like a pretty classy way to off someone.
- Most-Anticipated Movie – Excited for “Concussion” coming up! Also, Zoolander 2. Because the first one is magical.
- Give an Oscar to a Nominated Performance That Didn’t Win – Mark Walhberg for The Departed, David Strathairn for Good Night and Good Luck, and Shohreh Aghdashloo for House of Sand and Fog.
More of Ensemble Flashback!: